How to Choose the Best Computer Mouse

Apple turned the computer mouse into an essential tool with the release of its first Macintosh computer in 1984. This new method of visually navigating a computer proved popular with those who found the complex structures and language of keyboard-based navigation intimidating. Since then, everyone has been in search of the best computer mouse.

Early mice had one or two buttons at most and operated with a rubberized ball that transferred motion to a pair of rollers inside the mouse that translated the ball's movements into a horizontal and vertical position on the monitor. While this type of computer mouse was efficient, the rubber ball sometimes swelled in humid weather and the rollers would clog with desktop debris, making the computer mouse less accurate over time.

Skip the ball for your next computer mouse. An optical mouse uses an LED to track motion, eliminating the problems of dirt buildup. Optical mice work on most surfaces without a mouse pad, but if you have a translucent glass or polished stone desk you'll need to keep the mouse pad.

A computer mouse with laser optics provides greater precision for designers, architects and digital artists. Unless you need a truly precise mouse, say for freehand drawing or modeling, it's better to choose a less-expensive optical mouse.

Computer Mouse Connections
USB is the most common connection option for computer mice. Some manufacturers will include an adaptor that lets the computer mouse connect to an older, five-prong mouse port.

If you hate cables enough to part with a few extra dollars, you can choose a wireless mouse. If you have a newer PC, look for a Bluetooth-enabled mouse that will work right out of the box with no additional hardware. If your PC lacks Bluetooth capability, you'll need a wireless computer mouse that sends a signal to an infrared or RF dongle that is typically attached to a USB port. RF is a more versatile choice, as infrared mice need a clear line of sight to operate, but an RF computer mouse is subject to interference from remote controls and other RF devices.

Wireless computer mice run on batteries, and laser mice tend to be a bit more efficient than LED optical mice. Disposable batteries can add a lot to the lifetime cost of a wireless computer mouse, so consider getting some rechargeable batteries and a charger or look for a wireless computer mouse that includes a docking station that recharges the mouse while it's not in use.

Buttons and Wheels
The number of buttons and wheels you'll encounter while shopping for a computer mouse can make you want to shriek and jump up on a chair. All of these computer mouse buttons have a specific function, and you may come to depend on some of them.

All mice now have a left and right button or a single top rocker button that calls up different functions when the left or right side is pressed. The left-hand button performs traditional computer mouse functions, such as clicking, dragging and highlighting. Right-hand computer mouse buttons enable specialized functions that are programmed into the software you use. In Microsoft Internet Explorer, for example, clicking the right mouse button anywhere on a Web page gives you Print and Properties options.

The scroll wheel is perhaps the best PC innovation since the computer mouse itself. This wheel is usually mounted at the front center of a computer mouse, between the left and right buttons. Rolling the wheel up and down allows you to scroll from the top to the bottom of Web pages and large documents without moving the computer mouse.

Forward and back buttons are a new computer mouse feature. These buttons let you navigate to and from Web pages in the same manner as the forward and back buttons on a Web browser, but again without moving the computer mouse. If you want these buttons on your computer mouse, pay careful attention to their location. Some are mounted low on the sides of the mouse, which can make them uncomfortable to reach.

Computer Mouse Fit
Futuristic ergonomic designs have changed the shape of the computer mouse, and some will cradle your hand in comfort while you control the action. But before you snap up that sleek-looking mouse, think about the size of your hand. A mouse should feel comfortable in your hand, and you should be able to reach all the buttons without straining or arching your fingers, which can lead to fatigue and carpal tunnel syndrome.

If you're left-handed, look for a computer mouse with programmable buttons or one that offers dual-hand operation. Most of these mice have symmetrical designs, though there are a few ergonomic mice on the market designed specifically for left-handed users.

Mouse Alternatives
Dedicated laptop users who prefer their touchpads can find it challenging to operate a traditional computer mouse. Fortunately, touchpad mice are available, though you'll pay more for the technology. Look for programmable buttons and durable surfaces that resist damage from spills. Higher-end touchpad mice include "virtual" buttons on the touchpad surface that you can program to perform common tasks or open a favorite Web site.

Trackball mice use a plastic ball suspended above the surface of the mouse that directs on-screen movement. Laptop users may find this preferable to a traditional computer mouse, as the mouse itself never moves. Gamers and designers find that trackballs offer precise control, and these mice are recommended for those with arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome or stiff arms, as they reduce the amount of arm and hand movement needed to operate the mouse.

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