A scrolling revolution?

Earlier today, Logitech announced a new line of mice called, with sufficient bravado, Revolution . Comprising a full-size home model, the MX, and a smaller (though still sizable) portable model, the VX, the Revolution line aims to, as the company so modestly put it, “transform the experience of finding and manipulating the vast amount of digital content on a person’s computer or on the Web."

Now, I’m generally not one to get excited about input devices. Sure, after your CPU and display, they’re the parts of your computer you use the most, and your choice of input devices can mean the difference between comfortable use and carpal tunnel syndrome, between productivity and plodding. But to actually be excited about a mouse? Let’s just say it takes more than cleverly-worded PR-speak to get me raving.

But after using one of these mice, the VX, for several weeks—one of the perks of working at Macworld is that we often get review units before products hit store shelves—I’m nearly convinced. Although the mice have a number of unique features, the one that’s dramatically changed my mousing for the better is Logitech’s new MicroGear Precision Scroll Wheel. Unlike most scroll wheels, which are made of rubber or plastic, the Revolution mice use an alloy wheel that’s significantly heavier. But more important than what it’s made of is how it spins . As you’d expect, the faster you spin the wheel, the faster you scroll—and this new wheel scrolls even faster than traditional models, letting you fly through pages with ease. But the real innovation here is that the weighted wheel has a “freewheel” mode where a gentle flick of your finger spins the wheel freely, coming to rest only after its momentum dies (approximately seven seconds) or you manually stop it.

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What’s the big deal? I performed a simple experiment using a lengthy Word document: With a standard scroll wheel, it took me over 60 “scrolls,” ratcheting along, to get from the beginning of the document to Page 25; so much effort that in real-world work, I’d choose to reach for the keyboard or use the window’s scroll bar instead. With the Logitech mouse’s freewheel, it took me just three spins. Or consider a more common task for me: When browsing the Macworld forums , using a standard scroll wheel to navigate a 100-post thread is more trouble than it’s worth. With the Logitech mouse, a quick flick whisks me down the page at a surprisingly fast speed; when I see what I’m looking for, I place my finger on the wheel to stop it and the scroll stops immediately. And scrolling through a large iTunes Library is also much easier with this new wheel. But the appeal of the feature is obvious even when working with a much shorter document or viewing a much shorter Web page—a single spin, instead of many scroll-wheel rotations, moves you through the entire document.

Logitech got the feel right, too. The amount of force it takes to spin the wheel is minimal; the wheel is—and I’m almost embarrassed to write this, as it sounds hokey when talking about a mouse—a pleasure to use. (Note that the VX and MX work slightly differently; I’ve been using the VX while one of my colleagues is testing the MX.) In fact, on those occasions over the past couple weeks when I’ve had to use a mouse with a traditional scroll wheel, it’s felt klunky and limiting—like going from a high-end road bike to a Big Wheel. In my day-to-day computer use, which is admittedly far too extensive, this “freewheel” scroll wheel has been the biggest mousing improvement since the advent of the scroll wheel itself.

Sound like an infomercial? I can assure you that neither I nor Macworld is receiving so much as a dime for my apparent enthusiasm. The truth is that although I’m an editor at a tech publication, I’m also a computer user, just like you, and sometimes a new technology comes along that’s worth getting excited about. We’ll be performing objective reviews of these mice—their tracking, comfort, software, and so on—in the near future, but one thing is clear to me: Logitech is on to something here. (And I’m left wondering, “Why didn’t anyone think of this before?”)

[ Dan Frakes is a Macworld senior editor who wishes his Kensington Expert Mouse trackball had a "freewheel” scroll ring. ]

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