As a PowerBook traveler, I've often hankered for a mouse instead of the built-in trackpad. I have traveled with mice once or twice, but I usually find them more trouble than they're worth -- the cords get tangled up, or there just isn't enough room to use them in the cramped confines of an economy-seat tray table on an airplane or at the kid-sized desks that most hotels offer their guests. Recently I found a viable alternative in the form of Atek Electronics Inc.'s Super Mini Optical Mouse.
Why a mouse instead of a trackpad? Well, I don't find trackpads as comfortable to use as mice, and I don't suspect I'm alone. I've long been sold on the benefits of optical mice, having spent many an hour cleaning the rollers of mechanical mice in my possession. It was for all these reasons and more that I was drawn to the Super Mini Optical Mouse.
The Super Mini Optical Mouse is absolutely tiny -- at 2.5-inches long and about an inch wide, it's about the same size as a cigarette lighter or lipstick -- tiny enough to be unobtrusive in a bag that's already laden with a digital camera, PowerBook, power supply and various other accessories. It sports a three foot long USB cable, and it's not the heavy-gauge plastic you find on other USB-equipped mice -- it's a thinner variety, more like what you'd find on a wireless phone earset. It also comes with a handy little carrying case so you can drop it in your bag without worrying about it getting tangled up in any hidden gordian knots of electric cables that might already be down there.
The diminutive mouse is so small that you can easily use the wrist rest of your PowerBook as a tracking surface -- in fact, Atek uses that image on their Web site to demonstrate the size of the mouse (we'll forgive them for showing the platform-agnostic mouse on a Wintel laptop).
I wear a medium-sized glove, and I found the Atek mouse very comfortable to use, though it did take a little retraining for my fingers to find the two buttons easily. It didn't take that long to adapt, however, and once I grew accustomed to the size, I found the Atek mouse to be a solid little performer. The mouse's rectangular shape is horizontally bisected by a decorative silver-colored band that gives your fingers some orientation without requiring you to look down at the mouse. The most comfortable way I found to use the mouse was to grasp it with my thumb and ring fingers, using my index and middle fingers to operate the two buttons.
Its lightweight construction makes the Super Mini Optical Mouse feel a bit flimsy, but the mouse took plenty of knocks with me both in and out of its protective bag and it held up quite well. As an optical mouse, there's nothing to clean, and the unit's dark plastic shell is translucent -- at idle the optical element glows a dull red, which brightens as soon as the mouse is moved.
For Mac OS 8 and 9 users, Atek Electronics has provided a custom control panel called Advanced USB Mouse -- the software can be downloaded from Atek's Web site. The control panel enables you to program the Super Mini Optical Mouse's left and right buttons for eleven different actions, or none at all. The control panel also enables you to use either system default mouse tracking values or your own. It's not as sophisticated as some other third-party offerings, but it does the job perfectly well. No Mac OS X driver is yet available, but it works just fine without. Mac OS X automatically recognizes the right mouse button as a control-click action, which is what I prefer my right button to do anyway.
For someone who travels frequently with a laptop and prefers the feel and accuracy of mice to trackpads, the Super Mini Optical Mouse is a godsend. I spend long hours working on my laptop when I travel, and anything that makes it more comfortable and efficient for me to work is a definite boon.
With a suggested retail price of US$49.95, you can find Atek's Super Mini Optical Mouse at leading electronics retailers and mail order catalogs including Fry's, Micro Center, CDW, PC and MacMall, UrbanMac.com and others. Atek also indicated that it should be available nationwide in Staples by mid-November.
This story, "Hands on with the Atek Super Mini Optical Mouse" was originally published by PCWorld.