Looks, I am often told, can be deceptive. This is certainly the case as far as the Microsoft Arc mouse and the new Arc Touch mouse are concerned. Sure, at first glance there is not much different about the two in terms of that innovative arcing design; but look closer, and more importantly pick the Arc Touch up and start using it, for the differences to become clear. In other words, the form may be broadly the same but the function has moved on. There's the transformational function for a start, which no longer folds up into a mouse-sized clamshell but rather simply snaps totally flat. This 'curve for comfort, flatten to pack' concept is a great one for the Microsoft marketing and design people and I would argue for anyone who travels a lot with a laptop. Sure, there are those who would argue with some conviction that the average 'mini-mouse' designed for portable use is hardly difficult to pack away. Indeed, some of these such as the SwiftPoint which I reviewed last year http://www.daniweb.com/reviews/review330639.html is so small that you can comfortably carry it in your pocket or purse.
However, most traditional portable mice simply remain too 'thick' to pack comfortably in a fashionable laptop bag, a problem that is getting bigger as laptops and netbooks are getting smaller. The flattened Arc Touch overcomes this by having a very 'thin' profile: from 7mm to just 15mm at the battery end. So it is slim in breadth, and just an additional 20mm longer at 130mm in length when flat, but what about the weight? Well at just 89g including the batteries it's not going to leave you with aching arms after adding it to your PC bag either. If you have big hands then the near full size body of the Arc Touch will probably appeal more than the reduced sized mice usually associated with 'portable' products. I am not left handed, but I know a man who is and he assures me that the Arc Touch was perfectly comfortable and practical courtesy of its symmetrical design, and with no silly compromises either. You still have traditional left and right click buttons, which fall nicely under your fingers as your palms drapes across the arced form of the mouse, but when it comes to scrolling Microsoft has introduced a touch-sensitive surface. Think Apple Magic mouse, or laptop touchpad if you prefer, and you are not far off the reality. There's some basic haptics thrown in, a force feedback mechanism which provides the click resistance so you get the feel of a scroll wheel as well.
It's a really good design which works well in practise, and you can be forgiven for forgetting it's not a wheel that you are scrolling when your attention is focussed on the laptop screen where it belongs. A slow drag along the touch strip produces a slow scroll, but flick your finger and it automatically provides the kind of fast scrolling you would expect from a real deal wheel. Best of all, well at least to my gadget loving mind, was the fact that a solitary tap of the finger resulted in an instant stop to the scrolling. It's a great mouse for general usage, from web browsing to email and including the kind of productivity software essential for any true road warrior. The Microsoft exclusive BlueTrack technology which promises to combine the power of optical with the precision of laser really does work rather well, enabling the Arc Touch to track accurately on most any surface (mirrors/glass excluded) you fancy. I've managed to mouse around the carpet, a newspaper (anyone remember them?) and my denim-clad leg without complaint. No complaints here, either, about the wireless range of 30 foot which is more than enough for most uses that I can think of. The 2.4GHz USB nano transceiver which snaps into the bottom of the mouse had no problem with the wireless signal, which remained rock solid throughout testing. But the Arc Touch isn't much cop for anything other than the lightest bit of causal gaming. Which shouldn't be much of a problem to be fair, after all it isn't marketed as a gaming mouse and I doubt any hardcore gamer would give it a second glance anyway as it just isn't customisable enough.
Microsoft claims that the battery life is 'up to' six months on a single set of 2 AAA alkaline batteries but, obviously, I was unable to put this to the test or it would be the middle of Summer by the time the review was published! However, even if this turned out to be half of that I wouldn't complain too much as it just uses bog standard triple A batteries that you can buy anywhere. Some might say that this isn't quite as revolutionary as the Apple Magic mouse, and I agree: this outdoes Apple in the design stakes, it's more revolutionary thanks to the collapse flat arc. Considering this is a Microsoft product I have to say I was pretty impressed from a design perspective. Better yet, I remained impressed after using the Arc Touch for a week of some serious mouse testing. Style and substance in one package, what's not to like? Other than the price, of course.
Cost is always an issue when it comes to designer mice, and the Arc Touch is no exception at the full retail pricing. Some online shopping around can easily reduce the impact on your bank balance by around $20 though which pushes it firmly into good value for money territory. The Arc Touch is, for the time being at least, the ultimate portable mouse.