You've got an external CD-RW drive, an external FireWire hard drive, a Palm Pilot cradle, a printer, a Web cam, speakers, a microphone . . . and a rat's nest of cords behind your computer. If the popularity of AirPort is any indication, the trend these days is to go wireless, and input devices are no exception. Wireless devices free your desk from cord clutter, and just plain look cool. But how do they perform? We evaluated the Logitech Cordless TrackMan FX and the Cordless TrackMan Wheel, as well as the Macsense USB AeroMouse UM-160.
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While the AeroMouse base station has eight 900MHz radio frequency (RF) channels to choose from, it's prone to episodic pauses and stalls, causing the cursor to move erratically on screen. In our main office, for example, the AeroMouse could not maintain a consistent connection on any channel. In our lab, an area that probably has less RF interference, the mouse behaved erratically at times, but switching channels solved the problem. The Logitech trackballs, while they only run on one channel, consistently maintain a connection with their base stations.
Both the AeroMouse and the Logitech Cordless TrackMan Wheel look like familiar input devices, minus the cord. The Logitech Cordless Trackman FX, however, is set up quite differently. It resembles a space-age beaver, complete with tail, made of molded plastic. The trackball itself is unusually large and set primarily to the right side of the device. This configuration might be ergonomically ideal for some users, but from a practical perspective it requires substantially more finger movement than with other devices. The Logitech Cordless TrackMan Wheel and Cordless TrackMan FX are laid out for right-handed users. The AeroMouse is configured for both the right- and left-handed, and its software features default settings for both.
Unfortunately, the software packaged with these devices does not allow for the creation of program-specific settings. The Macsense software enables users to set buttons to single-click, double-click, click-lock, control-click, auto scroll, pop-up main menus, switch applications, and reverse auto-scroll. Logitech's MouseWare software allows users to do those things and slightly more, including the ability to access some Web features and monitor the battery level in the device. However, MouseWare's WebWheel doesn't offer any functionality not already available in most Web browsers.
Currently, these wireless devices are built for convenience and the gee-whiz factor. For those who like the feel of a trackball but want to lose the cord, the Logitech Cordless TrackMan Wheel delivers. But if you're looking for a full-featured input device, the wireless options have yet to reach that level.USB Aeromouse UM-160