Apple Wireless Mighty Mouse

Less than a year after releasing the original Mighty Mouse (   ; October 2005 ), Apple has improved its powerful input device by replacing its USB cord with a wireless Bluetooth connection and upgrading its eyesight with a precision laser-tracking engine that works on almost any surface. The result is an innovative mouse that’s a near-perfect partner for portables, as well as a convenient desktop mouse.

The wireless Mighty Mouse is powered by either one or two AA alkaline, lithium, or rechargeable batteries that are inserted into the belly of the beast (two non-rechargeable lithium batteries are provided). Apple touts the ability to use a single battery as a benefit for portable users wishing to lighten their loads, but the weight difference of the second battery is negligible. Besides, since the Mighty Mouse doesn’t have a docking station for recharging, prudence dictates carrying around a backup set of batteries.

Although Apple offers no official estimate of battery life, the product manager says two batteries should last well over a month with normal usage, thanks to intelligent power management that conserves energy when the mouse is idle. There’s also an on/off switch on the underside to ensure the mouse isn't inadvertently activated when tossed into a portable bag.

Even after inserting the batteries, you’re not ready to begin using the Mighty Mouse just yet. First you must run Software Update to ensure you’re using Mac OS X 10.4.6 or later, then launch the installer on the provided CD to install some additional software. After restarting your Mac, you must then pair the Mighty Mouse to your computer using the Bluetooth pane in Keyboard & Mouse preferences. The act of pairing must be repeated whenever you change batteries.

Thanks to its use of Bluetooth, the new Mighty Mouse enjoys a wireless range of 30 feet, and it also frees up a USB port (unless, of course, your Mac doesn’t come with built-in Bluetooth, in which case you must use a USB Bluetooth dongle such as the D-Link DBT-120 ). I experienced no interference even when using other wireless devices in the same environment as this mouse.

The wireless Mighty Mouse, like its tailed predecessor, looks like a giant white Tic Tac mint: it has a clean design unmarred by unseemly buttons. By default, it is configured as a single-button mouse for easy adoption by long-time Mac purists, though there are actually four buttons hidden within the shell. Just push down on the front of the Mighty Mouse to click. Sensors automatically and accurately distinguish between right and left clicks, providing the functionality of a multi-button mouse.

In addition to the hidden primary and secondary buttons, the tiny scroll ball on the top of the unit (more on this later) does double duty as a button. In addition, there are two force-sensing buttons on the sides of the unit that act as another button when squeezed simultaneously, though I found that clicking these required so much pressure that I couldn’t do so without inadvertently moving the cursor. This movement may also be painful to users with sensitive hands.

All of the buttons can be configured in the Mouse pane of Keyboard & Mouse preferences (see the bottom screen shot). Each button can invoke Application Switcher, Dashboard, Exposé, Spotlight, or launch any other program you wish. Mighty Mouse’s relatively limited button programmability is its weakest point. In contrast, Kensington’s input devices come with MouseWorks software, which can configure buttons to visit Web pages, open documents, enter keystrokes, paste text, double-click, and simulate a slew of clicks as if modifier keys were being held (such as Command-click).

The scroll ball on the top of the Mighty Mouse is superior to the scroll wheels found on other input devices because it can scroll vertically, horizontally, and even diagonally. This is a tremendous time- and effort-saver because you can pan around large documents (like long Web pages or wide photographs) without moving the cursor to the scroll bars. Furthermore, there's an option for invoking the Zoom feature of OS X’s Universal Access preferences: Pressing a modifier key while rolling the scroll ball temporarily magnifies a portion of the screen.

Like Bluetooth connectivity, the other big improvement to the Mighty Mouse is also invisible to the eye. The wireless Mighty Mouse’s new laser-tracking engine is 20 times more precise than the optical technology employed in the wired Mighty Mouse, according to Apple. I have no way of validating that claim, but I can say that the mouse worked perfectly on a wide range of test surfaces, from smooth plastic to textured fabric.

Macworld’s buying advice

At only $20 more than the wired version, Apple’s wireless Mighty Mouse is competitively priced and an excellent choice for desktop and portable users alike (though owners of black MacBooks might pine for a black model). Until Apple gets around to addressing the shortcoming of limited button programmability, Plentycom Systems’ $20 SteerMouse (   ; Mac Gems weblog ) software can fill the void.

[ Owen W. Linzmayer is the author of Apple Confidential 2.0: The Definitive History of the World’s Most Colorful Company (No Starch Press; 2005). ]

Apple’s Wireless Mighty MouseThe Wireless Mighty Mouse’s four buttons can perform a variety of tricks, but programmability is limited in comparison to other input-device software.

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