Microsoft Arc Touch Review

12 January 2011
Comments: 1
Author: Anthony Garland
12 January 2011, Comments: 1

The Arc’s size makes it perfect for road warriors, yet it is still comfortable to use for long period of time. The intuitive touch sensitive sensor bar also works well too but the mouse lacks forward and backward thumb buttons that might deter some. 

Anthony Garland

Arc 2.0 Design

While the overall shape and appearance is very similar to that of the original, the all new Arc Touch is not simply a product refresh with one new feature. In what is a very bold move, this mouse is almost completely different in all the key areas. Please don’t get me wrong, on a quick cursory glance the two generations of Arc mice do look very similar. They have the same overall “arc” design where only the front and back of the mouse actually touch and thus have very similar ergonomics and handling characteristics; but in the actual function of this mouse they are radically different.

The biggest change is in how they transform their shape for storage. With the original Arc, the mouse basically was hinged in the center and turned from a long and tall full-sized mouse into a fairly compact ball (or a clam). This was certainly interesting and unique, but when you are dealing with a laptop bag, storage length is not an issue but width is an issue; and boy did the original Arc take up a lot of room in a laptop bag. Microsoft may take a lot of flak, but one thing they actually do very well is listen to their customers; and when their customers told them in no uncertain terms that the original “compact” design was extremely flawed at its intended purpose of making it easier to travel with… Microsoft listened.

The all new Arc Touch does not fold into a ball, rather it flattens out and looks a lot like a cell phone. Basically, you push gently down on the center peak of the curve and the mouse gets longer but much thinner. This is a brilliant move as my laptop case has plenty of additional length (as my laptop is a 15″ model) but not much spare depth (as I don’t own a ultra thin macbook air). Slipping this mouse in along side of laptop really is a heck of a lot easier than it would be with finding room for a frickin’ ball.

As an added bonus when you fold it flat or pop it back up into position this action acts as a on/off switch turning off (or on) the mouse. MS claims you can get upwards of 6 months off of one set of batteries. Even better is the fact that it uses standard AAA batteries which are not only easy to replace but easy to find at even a gas station late on a Saturday night.

Of course where this is a wireless mouse it comes with a small 2.4GHz nano-transceiver which MS claims is good for about 30 feet. I don’t know about 30 feet but it easily worked from across my 25 foot room with no noticeable lag in responsiveness. To help out all us road warriors, MS designed the rear half of the Arc Touch with magnets so this itty-bitty transceiver can be stored with the mouse (and stays put). While I am not a fond lover of the idea of magnets and computer equipment, the magnets are not exactly super powerful and only are strong enough to keep the transceiver in place – but nothing more – so this is not a deal breaker as far as I am concerned. As an added bonus the size of the transceiver is microscopic compared to the original’s, making it easy to install the transceiver in your laptop’s free USB port and then simply leave it there (as it doesn’t stick out enough to get snagged on things while in transit).

The mouse's wireless USB receiver (middle).

The mouse’s wireless USB receiver (middle).

Where this is a new mouse, Microsoft opted for their high end “BlueTrack” laser & sensor technology. This laser and sensor combination allows for accurate tracking on near any time of surface. This is a great thing to have in a laptop as any road warrior will tell you: you don’t always have access to a mouse pad and anything from a boardroom’s table to the top of your leather brief case can and will be used in a pinch. While I did not try it out on glass I did try it out on near everything from highly polished, high gloss wood to the top of my attach case and it tracked amazingly well on everything.

Sadly there is one area that MS improved upon and yet still royally screwed up. The key area I am talking about is in the control buttons included. The original Microsoft Arc had your typical left, right, buttons, wheel and one side button for input control; sadly the Arc Touch only has the main left and right and touch sensitive bar for a wheel. Yes MS in their infinite wisdom removed the side button. Instead of adding a second button they really did go and give it less input controls. Side buttons really are crucial this day and age; and as the old song goes “you don’t know what you got till it’s gone”. I caught myself numerous times searching for these missing buttons with my thumb until I remember they were removed. This is not a good thing.

On the positive side, Microsoft removed the wheel and replaced it with a pretty nifty silver touch sensitive bar. If you want to scroll up you simply slide your finger upwards. To scroll down you slide your finger downwards and supports accelerated scrolling which just requires you to flick your finger up or down to get it scrolling like a madman. Making things even better is the fact that Microsoft included vibration feedback which helps mimic the feedback you would get from a typical “click” wheel; heck it even makes a clicking sound when you use the “wheel”. If you don’t like this physical and audio feedback, it can be turned off via the software. It is simple, easy and very intuitive; and the fact that the silver contrasts nicely with the glossy black buttons and matte black arch is just icing on the cake. If only this mouse had those thumb buttons and I would truly be happy.

IntelliPoint Software

While the software IntelliMouse software does not come with this mouse, it is compatible with the Arc Touch and does allow you to fine tune and customize it. For anyone who has not used the latest IntelliMouse software, it is fairly straightforward and easy to use.

As with any mouse compatible with this slick (if overly simplified) piece of software you can easily customize what the main buttons do. More importantly you can customize to your hearts content what they do in specific programs. This does make up for the lack of side buttons to a certain extent… but not really.

To be honest, the only really useful option you will want to customize is under the “Touch” tab. Under the touch tab you will be able to fully tweak exactly how the scroll bar acts and how much (if any) feedback it gives you. Personally, I like having this maxed out as it does a very convincing job of making you think it really is a click wheel based on its verbal and physical clues it gives you. I seriously caught myself playing with the scroll bar just hear and feel the fake clicking sound it makes.

User Experience

For testing, I have broken it down it into two main sections. The first is gaming. For the gaming section I played three 6 hour marathon sessions using three different games over a period of three days. For the fast twitch genre, I picked Battlefield Bad Company 2 Multi-player and Left 4 Dead 2 single player. While similar in their need for fast reaction, both have different needs that can only be met by different capabilities. BFBC2 has four main gaming styles which have different needs, but for the most part (with the exception being Assault Class) puts less emphasis on fast 360º movements and more on precision aiming; whereas zombies in L4D2 can and do swarm you from all sides at near the same time. For the RTS crowd I dug out a golden oldie Star Craft. And got my Zerg rush on. Here precision and not speed is the key to success.

The second set of testing consist of real world usage. When you are dealing with road warriors, who need to get serious work done and don’t have time for hand cramps the mouse had better be comfortable for extended periods of time. To this end a combination of excel, Photoshop and Firefox web surfing over a 8hour period will help replicate a more “mundane” really world scenario.

Gaming Apps
This really is not a gaming mouse and while many laptop users do game on their laptops, it is usually more of the casual variety than the hardcore competitive gaming. This is certainly a good thing, as while the Arc Touch is pretty ergonomic it is going to get uncomfortable after long periods of use if you try to grip it like you would a normal full size mouse. Some things do have to be sacrificed in order to make any mouse ultra portable and the ergonomics were one of the areas MS cut corners on. Sadly, compounding things is the lack of any “on the fly” DPI adjustment as you have to use software to do that. This right here is not a good thing, but once again given the niche this mouse is designed for it’s not a deal breaker. All in all, this would not be the first mouse I would grab for gaming, but its accurate tracking abilities and wireless nature would make it far from the last I would chose too.

Productivity Apps
This right here is the area this mouse should out and out dominate at, and for the most part it does. Sadly, the lack of forward and backward thumb buttons really does hinder it in certain tasks, such as surfing the web (aka “researching”). On the positive side, the touch sensitive bar really does make scrolling both easy and precise and this really came in handy when dealing with long excel spreadsheets; it is just too bad it is a vertical scroll bar only and can not do horizontal scrolling. For moderate lengths of time this mouse really would be a great mouse, but as with the marathon gaming sessions, it can be fatiguing to use for extended usage. With that being said, for the intended “road warrior” niche, this probably would be the first mouse I would reach for as it is both extremely portable yet provides much nicer ergonomics than any compact mouse I have previously used could provide. It really is a big, little mouse that can slip into any spare compartment yet still affords you a big gripping area when you need it.

Recap

I can honestly say that I was actually pleasantly surprised and impressed by the Arc Touch. This ultra portable mouse really can fold flat making it easy to find room in even the most crowded of laptop bags. While portability is a nice bonus, when I started to actually use this mouse I found it extremely precise and easy to accurately control on a variety of surfaces. This of course is thanks to the BlueTrack technology it boasts. The biggest claim to fame of course is the sensor bar, and here I was extremely impressed as it was amazingly easy to use and I never once missed not having a “real” wheel. If you are a gadget lover this feature alone will make this mouse a “must have”.

With all that being said, the Arc Touch would not be my first choice for a PC; and it certainly will not be replacing any of my main rig’s “go to” mice. To be perfectly blunt, this mouse has easily best in class ergonomics for a ultra portable mouse, but compared to a true “full size” mouse it does fail to compete. The lack of forward/backward buttons really is a deal breaker for me. This is perfectly acceptable as this is not the niche this mouse is meant to compete in; this is a mouse meant for laptops and here this mouse simply rules. In the end, only you can decide if this mouse is right for you, but I personally think it should be on your short list if you are looking for a mouse for your laptop.

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  • Christopher Gibbons

    This is the most un-ergonomical device ever created. It is a good mouse otherwise, but it is like a personal rack and pinion for your hand for anything more than occasional use.