A non-Apple mouse that doesn’t completely suck

I’ve used an Apple Magic Trackpad with my Mac for the last three years. I love it.

Problem is, it doesn’t love me. A few months ago I noticed I was getting pain in my right wrist and elbow, and after some investigation (ie: seeing if it got better after I switched to a regular wired mouse), I pretty definitively nailed the Trackpad down as the cause.

Makes sense really – to use the Trackpad, your hand has to hover above the surface, only touching the Trackpad when you actually want to click or drag. In my case, this was translating to 8 hours a day of tensing the muscles on the back of my wrist and hand, to keep it in the right position. Not good.

So, I went about finding a mouse

Turns out, if you’re a Mac user who likes the Trackpad, finding a mouse that can replace it is a really, really hard task.

My requirements were:

  1. Ergonomic – my hand should be as close to resting position as possible
  2. Wireless – nobody has time for cables getting in the way
  3. Bluetooth – it should connect to my Mac without a USB adaptor
  4. Smooth scrolling – it should complement the slippy-slidey momentum scrolling in Mac OS X

Apple Magic Mouse: A joke

The Apple Magic Mouse was out immediately – I’d used it for a few years in the past and really disliked the feel of it. The edges are sharp and the whole thing is way too flat to be comfortable. You spend most of your time jabbing your thumb and pinky into its sides just to get the right hold on it. The “gestures” you can make on the top are gimmicks, and nigh impossible to perform without repositioning your hand before and after to continue using the mouse.

And—the pièce de résistance—you can’t use it while it’s charging, because the lightning port (err, what happened to micro-USB, Apple?) is on the bottom of the device. Meaning you have to turn it over to charge it.

It’s a joke. And at upwards of £65, it’s a particularly bad joke, at that.

Razer Ouroboros: If the Terminator had a mouse…

Having been seriously impressed by the quality and the simplicity of Razer’s Kraken Pro headset, I was intrigued by their bombastic-looking Ouroboros mouse with its weird customisable panels and body shape.

Problem is, while it takes a single AA battery (nice) it absolutely chomps through it, with some people claiming less than a full day’s use until they had to swap out the battery or recharge it with the USB cable. At £110 on Amazon (down from £140 RRP) it was just a bit too expensive a punt for me to take. Maybe something cheaper…

Logitech Performance MX: Three out of four

When you start Googling for things like “best mouse”, “most comfortable mouse”, etc, it isn’t long until you come across the Logitech Performance MX. Launched in 2009, as a replacement for the equally popular MX Revolution, the Performance MX combined a comfortable chasis with Logitech’s “Dark Field” laser (ie: it works on fabric and glass, because, y’know) and a free-spinning scroll-wheel (rather than one that clicks in increments). It was wireless, and cross-platform, and had a bunch of extra buttons on the side, like Back and Forward.

So we’ve got ergonomic, wireless, and smooth scrolling. All that’s missing is Bluetooth. Like most Logitech products, the Performance MX used their “unifying” receiver (which operates at the same 2.4GHz frequency as Bluetooth and Wifi, but is completely proprietary). Unifying receivers are a hold-over from the bad old days when computers simply didn’t have Bluetooth built in. They are also yet another thing to lose in your bag.

Logitech MX Master: Full house (just about)

Thank God, then, for the Logitech MX Master. All the best bits of the Performance MX, but with a proper Bluetooth 4.0 chip, disposing of the need for a propriety USB adaptor.

After a few weeks’ research, the MX Master appeared to be the best choice for me and my Mac, at a sub-£100 price point. (Currently £60 on Amazon, although I think I bought when it was £70.)

It’s still not ideal, but here’s a run-down:

MX Master: The good bits

  • Comfortable, large body.
  • Bluetooth, so no dongle required.
  • Internal batteries charge over USB cable, so you can use it while it recharges.
  • “Dark Laser” technology works on basically any surface, including glass and fabric.
  • Way more comfortable than constantly hovering your hand over the Magic Trackpad, and also way more comfortable than the low-profile Magic Mouse.
  • Looks grown-up and professional (sorry Razer!)

MX Master: The iffy bits

  • The two-speed “SmartShift” scrolling is pathetic, and never kicks in when you need it.
  • Also, the SmartShift makes an audible click as it engages and disengages – very distracting.
  • Inertial scrolling doesn’t work like it does on Apple devices – for example, usually, a hearty “flick” up or down on a Magic Mouse or Magic Trackpad would make one burst in that direction inside the window your cursor was over at the time of the flick. With the MX Master, however, that scroll applies to whichever window the cursor moves over while the scroll is completing. I spent a week or so accidentally starting a “flick” scroll on a long document, absent-mindedly moving my cursor over another window elsewhere, and recoiling with horror as the original window immediately stops scrolling and the new one takes over!
  • Also it doesn’t accurately replicate the inertial scrolling you’ll be used to from Apple trackpads and touchscreens. Especially when scrolling large distances at speed, the Logitech caps out at a top speed far below what an Apple device would, which makes scrolling to the bottom of a 20 page document a lot like pushing through congealed custard.
  • Battery status isn’t shared via the Bluetooth connection like it is with other Bluetooth 4 devices such as Magic Mouse and Magic Trackpad, so you don’t get a battery percentage in the Bluetooth menu bar item, nor a Mac-standard warning when the power’s running low. (Although Logitech does throw up its own warning window when your mouse is running out of power, to make up for it.)

As you can tell, inertial scrolling is the only major sticking point. Most people probably wouldn’t notice, but after more than five years using Apple mice and trackpads, it’s painfully clear that even a third-party mouse as good as the MX Master still can’t replicate the natural scrolling physics of the Apple-sanctioned drivers.

It’s a real shame. But there are a few things you can do to improve it on your Mac:

MX Master: How to make scrolling feel at all natural on a Mac

  • Open up the Logitech Options app.
  • Assign the little square “Mode shift” button behind the scroll wheel to anything other than the “Mode shift” action (I set it to “Keystroke: Home” which means I can press it to jump back up to the top of a long web page, like tapping the status bar at the top of an iPhone or iPad.)
  • Set “SmartShift” to “Disabled”
  • Set “Fixed scroll wheel mode” to “Free spin”
  • Set “Scrolling speed” to about 10%
  • Set “Smooth scrolling” to “Enabled”
  • Set “Thumb wheel speed” to about 30%