Microsoft is most well known for its ubiquitous operating system and related software. What they’re not as well known for is making some of the best computer peripherals anywhere. Today we’re taking a look at the Microsoft Explorer Mouse with BlueTrack Technology, and I can without hesitation say it is absolutely one of the best mice I’ve ever used. Read on for our full review.
The mouse has come a long way since inventor’s Douglas Engelbart’s singular inspiration back in the fifties. Mousing technology took a huge step forward just a few years ago when the industry moved away from mechanical mice with physical wheels and optical mice with LEDs became standard. Just a few years later and infrared laser diodes replaced the LEDs, increasing resolution and tracking abilities by more than an order of magnitude in some respects.
Enter Microsoft’s BlueTrack technology. The new system uses improved optical architecture with a wider beam of light to capture more of the surface beneath the mouse than even laser optical mice. While there is a huge marketing effort behind the BlueTrack branding and image, it’s my understanding that the color of the LED (obviously blue, in this instance) doesn’t really matter, but how the optics are engineered that is important. This was certainly the case with early optical mice; you can find them in several colors nowadays.
Microsoft makes the claim that the new BlueTrack mice offer vastly improved tracking capabilities. One big downside that came about as a result of the transition from mechanically-based to optically-based mice is that the mouse lost the ability to track on highly reflective surfaces. Glass, polished surfaces like granite, highly reflective plastics and some mouse pads all became sources of frustration to proud new mouse owners. The beam of light coming out of the bottom of the BlueTrack mouse is more than four times larger than traditional mouse laser beams (that’s laser optical mice, not mice with frickin’ lasers strapped on) and this supposedly restores the ability to use the mouse on some of the forbidden tracking surfaces.
Build and Design
The Microsoft Explorer Mouse with BlueTrack measures 4.6 inches long by 3.2 inches wide and comes with a dongle measuring less than two inches long and just over half an inch wide. The mouse itself is covered in several different materials, all looking and feeling fairly luxurious. The upper top half of the mouse is shiny plastic with a polished metal texture. Normally I’m not a fan of the faux-metallic finishes covering so many consumer electronics products today, but it works very well here. It’s very shiny, however, and you can actually see reflections on it in some of the pictures. The lower top half of the mouse is charcoal grey with rubberized finish that really helps to grip the mouse securely. This keeps the mouse both comfortable and easy to direct as well as helps prevent your hand from getting sweaty like many plastic finishes can.
Around the base of the mouse is a silvery, brushed metal plastic. As the Explorer mice are designed to be ergonomic for right-hands, the left side of the mouse features two different buttons generally used for forward and back when browsing the web. The buttons are located a little high on the edge for my taste and require you to lift your thumb off of the mouse to use. It’s not a gaming mouse, though, so that’s not entirely surprising. These are complemented by the scroll wheel, which on this mouse is thick and silver, with tiny horizontal notches. It looks like a thick U.S. dime.
The bottom of the mouse is matte black with two non-stick pads that help glide the mouse along located at the front and back edges. In the middle are the blue LED as well as the battery compartment, which houses one AA cell. The indentation in the battery cover is notched and can be used to store the dongle, which is a nice way to keep it from getting lost.
The two silver prongs are actually charging terminals. When used with a rechargeable AA battery, you can set the mouse on its Lilliputian adapter and let it charge until you need it again. This is a nice compromise as it allows you the flexibility of a rechargeable mouse without needing to pop batteries in and out as well as the freedom to use one –time disposables if you really need to use the mouse right now.
The portable version, the Explorer Mini Mouse with BlueTrack technology looks and feels almost exactly the same as the desktop version. Slightly smaller at 3.8 inches long by 2.7 inches wide, the rounder notebook mouse sacrifices the rechargeability of the full-sized mouse but keeps the exact same dongle and BlueTrack technology.
The only real downside to the mini mouse is that the diminutive stature makes using the left/right rocking of the scroll wheel almost impossible to use without hitting the actual mouse buttons.
Both mice feature a very cool glowing blue strip along the bottom edge. Combined with the tapered design, it makes the mouse look as if its floating right after you remove the dongle from its storage place.
I have to say that the Explorer Mouse performed above and beyond my expectations. Microsoft quotes a thirty foot range for the mouse and while I didn’t precisely measure it, I did try walking a fair distance away while holding the mouse and it still registered movement on the screen.
More importantly, however, was its tracking performance. Did the BlueTrack technologies actually make a difference when it came to registering movement? Definitely. The big push Microsoft made with the release of the BlueTrack mice was that they could track movement on surfaces traditional optical mice couldn’t. While I didn’t have granite to test the mice on, I help up a clear plastic lid and tried to use the mice on it. The BlueTrack capable mouse had no problems at all dealing with the situation, and tracked on it as well as it tracked on my desk surface. For contrast, I also tried mousing around on the clear plastic surface with a Microsoft laser-based gaming mouse I had, which couldn’t track on the material at all. In fact, the BlueTrack mouse had no trouble on any of the surfaces upon which I tried it, including carpet, which is something that Microsoft made special mention of in their original press release.
The new Microsoft Explorer mice with BlueTrack are easily some of the best mice I’ve used in a long time. I liked the desktop version so much that I went out and picked up the notebook one so I could have one to lug around in my bag. I use this mouse most of the time now, although I do still use a gaming-oriented mouse when I want to play around. The luxurious feel, excellent build quality and feature set of this mouse really make it one of the best ones out there.
It’s not all peaches and cream in Microsoft land, however, as the BlueTrack technology comes with a price. The large version which offers the recharging capabilities will set you back a cool hundred dollars, while the slightly smaller mini mouse will run a slightly smaller tab of eighty bucks. Moreover, for now the only place you can buy them is at a Best Buy retail store or online at BestBuy.com. I believe that the exclusivity period is almost up, though.
Perhaps what bugs me most of all is that each dongle is permanently joined with the mouse. If you lose the dongle (and it’s tinier than traditional ones!), your mouse is completely useless. You cannot buy a new dongle. I spent half an hour on the phone with the Microsoft spare parts people talking about this, and it’s just not the way it’s done, apparently. They will offer to sell you a new set at cost, but I can’t help but think how much easier it would be if they’d just put a button on the wireless transceiver like they’ve done for every other wireless mouse they sell.
In short, is the new Microsoft Explorer Mouse with BlueTrack perfect? No, but it comes a fair sight closer to attaining that lofty goal than most mice I’ve tried and I’m willing to deal with the downsides in exchange for its elegance and technological achievements.
Just don’t ever lose your dongle.
- Tracks on everything except clear or very shiny glass, mirrors, etc.
- Excellent build quality
- Built-in battery recharger is handy
- A hundred dollars is a lot to pay for a mouse
- Lose your dongle, lose your mouse