Miscellaneous Ramblings

Contour RollerMouse Free2 Even Better than the Original

Charles Moore - 2011.02.09 - Tip Jar

Rating: 3 out of 4

Having battled typing and mousing pain for nearly two decades now, I've discovered that the most effective countermeasures (at least for me) are to first be very selective about what input devices I use, the priorities being light button action, and smooth, low-effort tracking with mice, and a short travel and a soft landing with a minimum of "over-center" feedback with keyboards.

One of the main tools in my computer input stress-management arsenal these days is a Contour Roller Mouse Free2 - a roller bar pointing and clicking device with incredibly smooth, fast, and light effort required for pointing and clicking. I find the roller bar better than a conventional mouse for many tasks, although a good, well - engineered mouse is still the best choice for certain categories of input, particularly graphics editing. The RollerMouse Free2 is a much more slick and svelte version of the original Contour RollerMouse that I reviewed back in 2004. This comparison shot says volumes.

old RollerMouse and new RollerMouse 2
Old RollerMouse (top) and the new RollerMouse 2 (bottom)

While getting used to using a roller bar does involve scaling a bit of a learning curve in the early going, once the muscle memory has been developed and becomes intuitive, one begins to appreciate how quick and effortless these devices can be. I wouldn't want to be without my Contour RollerMouse.

RollerMouse 2 If you suffer from mousing pain and haven't tried a roller bar, you really owe it to yourself to check them out, but even if you have no pain or repetitive stress issues with mousing, roller bars still offer some significant advantages from an input efficiency perspective.

Roller bars are not very widely known compared with other "alternative" pointing devices, especially trackballs and touchpads, but they essentially consist of a round bar situated between the computer keyboard and the user, who manipulates the screen cursor through a combination of rolling the bar on its axis and sliding it laterally back and forth in its housing. The rollerbar moves the cursor by sliding left to right, up and down, and diagonally (simultaneous slide and roll). Pressing the roller down vertically performs a single click (there is also a central array of click buttons), and the bar click function can modified if you install the RollerMouse software driver. Otherwise, no driver installation is necessary for Mac OS X 10.1 or later.

RollerMouse 2 with i-Rocks Illuminated Keyboard

Roller bar operation is actually a lot more intuitive than it sounds, and the theory is that roller bars reduce physical stress, especially on the elbows and shoulders, by eliminating the reaching necessary when using any mouse - whether conventional or ergonomic.

Contour Design's RollerMouse rollerbar station was developed in Sweden and is designed to be used with standard computer keyboards that have a rectangular form factor and a straight edge on the user side. I find that Kensington's excellent SlimType keyboard,1 the very similar i-Rocks Illuminated Keyboard,2 and most recently the Logitech Rechargeable Keyboard all work well with RollerMouse, but a wide selection of keyboards are compatible.

It also can be used with a laptop.

RollerMouse 2 with 17" PowerBook

The roller bar can be manipulated using either hand or whatever combination of thumb, fingers, and palm control is comfortable for the user. This facility for spreading mousing stress between both hands and various digits is a key element in reducing overall stress on the user's body.

One aspect of roller mousing is inevitably running out of lateral rollerbar travel before you reach the edge of the screen when mousing slowly, in which case you just apply gentle pressure to toggle a switch at the end of the bar's travel to continue cursor travel in the direction you desire. This is similar to picking up a mouse and placing it in the center of your workable area.

The RollerMouse Free2 features the following improvements over previous versions:

  • Keyboard lifters allow the user to adjust height and tilt of the keyboard to a desired setting. I prefer my keyboard to be either flat or slightly tilted away from me, and thin enough to be lower than the wrist rest. I find the RollerMouse Pro2 works nicely with the Kensington SlimType, as well as Logitech's thin diNovo (in USB and Bluetooth versions) and Solar Wireless keyboards, but a wide selection of keyboards are compatible, the prerequisites being a rectangular form factor and a straight edge on the user side.
  • Leatherette wrist supports (instead of the previously used foam texture) make Pro2 more comfortable and easier to clean.
  • Increased productivity with one touch copy, paste, and double click supported.
  • RollerMouse 2 buttons The roller bar is now 67% longer and open to manipulation over its entire length, rather than just through a central access aperture as was the case with my old RollerMouse. Contour says this was done in response to customer feedback that some larger-framed users felt they had to "scrunch" their hands together in order to manipulate the shorter bar. Extension of the bar to the right and away from the function buttons was done at the request of many customers involved in Assistive Technology so as to give users with motor impairment freer access to the bar with minimal risk of inadvertent hitting a function button.

RollerMouse 2

A minor criticism is that the RollerMouse has no USB repeater port, so it eats up a USB port in your system. Unfortunately, this is a pretty general trend in USB peripherals these days, but especially on a device as expensive as the RollerMouse, it would be convenient to have a USB repeater. I would also prefer a non- or switchably-detented, weighted scroll wheel a la Logitech mice and a slightly lighter effort for clicking with the roller bar.

In my estimation, the main downside of the RollerMouse is its price - it lists at $219.95 for the Free2 model and $199.95 for the Pro2 model, quite a bit more than you have to pop for a good conventional ergonomic mouse, such as the Contour Mouse or many others. However, if the RollerMouse will facilitate greater comfort and productivity at your computer, it could pay for itself pretty quickly.

RollerMouse Free2 bundle

The high price is the main reason (along with the lack of a USB repeater port ant that non-freewheeling scroll wheel) I'm not giving the Contour RollerMouse Free2 a full four out of four rating, but price-dependent it has to be three out of four.

Contour invites computer users from any US major industry, education, government institution, as well as qualified home users (some 30 day trials will require a valid credit card) to obtain a 30 day free trial of their choice of Contour products.

  1. The white Kensington SlimType has been discontinued and replaced by a newer black model.
  2. The backlit white i-Rocks KR-6810 has been discontinued. The closest replacement appears to be the KR-6421-WH Ultra X-Slim Keyboard.

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Charles Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987 and began writing for Mac websites in May 1998. His The Road Warrior column was a regular feature on MacOpinion, he is news editor at Applelinks.com and a columnist at MacPrices.net. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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