Review Roundup: Keyboards and mice

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Want to add a little zing to your desktop or traveling gear? Older accessories becoming sluggish or outdated? A new keyboard or mouse may liven up your act, get some wires out of the way, or help you work faster, more accurately, or more comfortably. We’ve scoured the marketplace for innovative new keyboards, mice, and keyboard-mouse sets and chose 28 products from a dozen vendors to review for our roundup, published in the December 2008 issue of Macworld. (Jump to our mouse and keyboard tables.) These pages contain additional information about the keyboards and mice we reviewed, which we could not, for space reasons, include in the magazine. It also includes information about left-handed mice and the wireless connections you have to choose from.

While we don’t pretend to cover every single new mouse or keyboard out there—indeed, new products are introduced regularly, this is far from our last word on the subject of Mac input devices.

Lefties: Where’s the love?

If you’re a southpaw, you’ve surely noticed—both in our recent flood of mouse reviews and on the shelves of your local retailers—that most hand-specific mice, and especially most ergonomic mice, are designed for right-handed people. Back in late 2006, when we published our last big keyboard and mouse roundup, we published an Editors’ Notes blog entry about this dearth of left-handed mice. Unfortunately for lefties, not much has changed since then. You can read that original article for the full scoop, but here’s a quick recap.

According to input-device vendors we’ve spoken to over the years, the biggest reason for not making left-handed versions of their mice is cost. Creating a lefty version of a mouse isn’t as easy as sticking the same parts into a differently shaped shell; many components need to be completely redesigned as mirror images and then produced separately. Considering estimates that only 9 to 11 percent of Americans are left-handed, and as many as half of those choose to use a right-handed mouse, the market for left-handed models is often too small to justify the costs. For many vendors, this means that only the best-selling models even have a chance at a lefty status; for example, Logitech’s $60 MX610 Left-Hand Laser Cordless Mouse is the left-handed version of the popular MX610 (which has since been replaced, in the right-handed version, by the MX620). Other left-handed mice come from smaller vendors focusing on ergonomics, who pass on their higher costs in the form of higher retail prices; for example, Contour Design’s $110 Perfit Mouse Optical, which is also available in sizes for small, medium, large, and extra-large hands.

Of course, some lefties forego mice altogether, instead opting for trackballs such as Kensington’s $100 Expert Mouse or tablets such as Wacom’s Bamboo and Intuos series.—DAN FRAKES

Which wireless?

Wireless input devices use one of two technologies: radio frequency (RF) or Bluetooth. RF devices connect to your computer using a small receiver that plugs into a USB port; your Mac immediately recognizes the mouse or keyboard. Bluetooth devices require either a computer with built-in Bluetooth or a USB-based Bluetooth dongle. Connecting a Bluetooth input device requires you to pair it with your computer, a process that’s a bit more complicated than simply plugging in a cable; however, once you have set up such a connection, the mouse or keyboard should maintain it unless you intentionally delete the pairing.

Because it’s newer, many people assume Bluetooth is better, but each technology has its advantages. Bluetooth is convenient if your Mac has built-in Bluetooth—as all current Macs do—since you don’t have to keep track of a USB dongle and you don’t sacrifice a USB port. On the other hand, many of today’s USB dongles are so small they barely protrude from your USB port, and RF offers instant plug-and-play use. (Bluetooth input devices can exhibit reconnection delays after your computer wakes from sleep or after a period of inactivity.) It’s also easier to use an RF mouse or keyboard with multiple computers; you just move the USB dongle. Finally, both technologies are susceptible to interference from nearby wireless signals and electronics; one or the other may perform better in your particular home or office.—DAN FRAKES

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