Katherine Boehret

Squeaky Wheels: Tracking Mobile Mice

As more and more people switch from desktop PCs to laptops, one very handy piece of technology can easily get lost in transition: the mouse.

But several companies now sell wireless mice designed especially for laptop users for whom the laptop touch pad just won’t do. These mice are small, sleek, colorful gadgets that more fashion-conscious computer users can happily show off in an airport, in a coffee shop or on campus.

photo See a chart comparing the three mice

This week I tested three entry-level mobile mice designed for laptops, from Logitech (LOGI), Microsoft (MSFT) and Kensington Computer Products Group. These $30 mice include a USB receiver that plugs into a laptop, allowing the mouse to work wirelessly. When not in use, this receiver fits snugly beneath the mouse, turning its power off to save battery as it snaps into place. These mice are also somewhat smaller than regular mice so they can easily slip into a laptop bag.

Mobile mice are now more stylish than the traditional desktop mice, and like laptops and digital cameras, come in various shapes and colors. The mice I tested are available in pink, white, red, blue, orange and gray. Next week, the Microsoft mouse I used will be available in shades of pomegranate, aloe, dragon fruit (dark pink) and milk chocolate; a khaki-colored shade called crème brûlée will follow in June.

I tried Logitech’s $30 V220 Cordless Optical Mouse in black, Microsoft’s $30 Wireless Notebook Optical Mouse 3000 in aloe, and Kensington’s $35 Ci75m Wireless Notebook Mouse in orange. To gain some perspective on high-end mobile mice, I also looked at two pricier options from Logitech: the $50 V470 Cordless Laser Mouse with Bluetooth (instead of a USB receiver) and the $70 VX Nano Cordless Laser Mouse.

My vote for a favorite low-end mobile mouse had me struggling between portability and comfort. But overall, I found that the Logitech V220 offered the best combination of small size and usability. The Microsoft mouse was also comfortable to use, but its slightly bulkier size made it less portable, and it didn’t feel as sturdy as the Logitech. While the Kensington was the flattest and most portable, it wasn’t as comfortable to use as the Logitech or Microsoft mice.

To conserve battery, all three of these mice go into low-power mode after 10 minutes of nonuse, but none of them turns off completely. Battery indicators light up when juice is running low. According to company estimates, the Microsoft mouse has a battery life of over six months and the Logitech mouse has a battery life of up to six months. The Kensington mouse’s battery life was estimated to be three months. I didn’t use any of them long enough to prove the company claims.

These mice are compatible with Macs and PCs, and are plug-and-play — meaning you don’t need to install any additional software to make them work. I used each on laptops running Mac OS X and Windows Vista without any problems. The Microsoft and Logitech mice also can work with their own special software programs, but the extra features, such as reassigning a mouse button to open an application, aren’t really necessary for the average user.

The $30 Logitech V220 fit comfortably in my hand, with rubber grips on its sides and a generously sized, smooth-gliding rubber scroll wheel that made it easy to use. This scroll wheel can be nudged to the left or right for horizontal scrolling, a feature found on most of Logitech’s mice.

Unlike the Microsoft and Kensington mice, which show flashing red sensor lights, the Logitech uses an invisible optic sensor. This sounds cool, but because the mouse doesn’t use any lights, it can be left on accidentally. I did this a few times before remembering to stow the USB receiver in the mouse to automatically turn off its power.

Of the three, the Logitech mouse was the only one with a manual on/off switch — so you can turn it off without snapping the USB receiver into place in the mouse. This could save frequent travelers from having to detach the USB receiver every time they want to turn off the mouse, and could let people keep the receiver plugged into the laptop.

Kensington’s $35 Ci75m was the flattest mouse by far, making it a cinch to slip it into the outside pocket of my already full laptop bag on a train trip to New York. And this mouse has a bonus feature: It can work wirelessly or with a USB wire, which wraps up inside the mouse and serves as a backup in case the mouse runs out of battery. I tested this by removing the batteries and using only the USB wire, and it worked like a charm.

I also liked the way the Kensington USB receiver disappeared into the body of the mouse, while the Microsoft and Logitech receivers protruded a bit when stowed, adding to the thickness of the mouse when tucked into a laptop pocket.

But though this bright orange mouse received approving feedback from passersby, it wasn’t all that comfortable to use after a while. Its flatness saved room in my bag, but didn’t give my hand much support. It also felt flimsier than the Logitech, and its small wheel wasn’t as satisfying to use.

I received early test units of Microsoft’s $30 Wireless Notebook Optical Mouse 3000 in aloe, pomegranate and milk chocolate.

This mouse has rubber sides for a better grip, like the Logitech, and an arched shape for comfort. Its wheel is slightly smaller than Logitech’s, though its overall size was bigger and more like that of a regular mouse — not one designed specifically for mobile use. But even though the Microsoft mouse was larger, it didn’t feel as solid as Logitech’s; rather, it felt more like the thin Kensington. Its right and left buttons felt less stable, and its wheel didn’t roll as smoothly.

I did like Microsoft’s nod to new colors, and the aloe — a cool hue of green — was my favorite.

For people who don’t mind spending a little extra money on a mouse, the $50 V470 Cordless Laser uses Bluetooth, eliminating the need for a USB receiver altogether. It took only a couple seconds to pair this mouse to a MacBook with built-in Bluetooth, and it worked smoothly. A manual on/off switch on this mouse’s underside can help to conserve battery.

The $70 Logitech VX Nano Cordless Laser is sleek with shiny black accents and a silver-edged wheel. The “Nano” in this mouse’s name refers to its ultra tiny USB receiver, which sticks out only about a quarter of an inch when plugged in, so it can be left in a laptop at all times for ease-of-use. If needed, this receiver can be hidden away in the cavity of the mouse, under a snap-on lid. I used the VX Nano to glide around Web pages and Word documents with buttery smoothness.

No matter what mouse you choose to use with your laptop, most will be considerably more comfortable than touch pads and trackpoints, especially while working on long, mouse-intensive projects. But of the three lower-end mobile mice, the Logitech V220 Cordless Optical Mouse delivers the best combination of comfort and transportability.

The chart below (click on it to make it larger) compares features of the three mice described in this column.

mouse chart

Email mossbergsolution@wsj.com

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