This is an overview of my thoughts on the Evoluent Vertical Mouse 4 for Mac, a novel ergonomic mouse exclusively offered at the Apple Online Store that I returned for a number of reasons – none of them a deal-breaker in and of itself, but the combined reasons led to me returning the mouse. I’d like to lay them out, both for my friends considering the mouse and perhaps so that Evoluent considers some improvements to an interesting product in a field that I hope continues to grow.

But first, background.

A month or so ago, I noticed my mouse acting strangely. My workstation was acting as though receiving double-clicks when I had only single-clicked, or it would receive a delayed click at a random delayed interval. Some quick Googling revealed this was an indicator of the end of the line for my Logitech Performance Mouse MX. I was a bit peeved, having spent about $100 on it some 6 years ago. At the same time I was a little glad, as I’ve been feeling a need for something more ergonomic.

I started doing some research, and really, the market for mice that fit my needs is pretty small. I like large mice with lots of buttons – my favourite mouse ever, the Logitech MX1000 had 10 programmable buttons (if you include the side-tilt functionality on the wheel). I’ve tried trackballs and trackpads, and nothing so far has beat the total sense of control I feel when I’ve got a solid, many-buttoned mouse in my hand.

Feeling a bit spurned by the sudden failure of my Logitech, I considered the alternatives. First up: the Cyborg R.A.T. 7 Contagion. It’s scary looking, but I’d be willing to deal with the occasional odd look if it felt and worked right. Couldn’t find one to test, so I passed.

Cyborg R.A.T. 7 Contagion.

Cyborg R.A.T. 7 Contagion.

I remembered testing a friend’s Evoluent Vertical Mouse once and finding it novel and surprisingly comfortable. Turning a mouse on its side felt surprisingly natural. Why hadn’t this been done sooner? Seeing that the Apple Store was selling a Mac version exclusively (with Bluetooth, even! No dongles!), I decided to give it a whirl.

Evoluent Vertical Mouse 4 for Mac.

Evoluent Vertical Mouse 4 (side view).

I tried it out for a few weeks, and this past week, I mailed it back to Apple. Here’s why.

Battery life & power management

Battery life on the Evoluent was shorter than any wireless mouse I’ve had. Running on a single AA, I think I got two or three days of use out of it before it went dead. That wasn’t for a lack of efforts on the mouse’s part – it aggressively disconnected from my machine, meaning that quite often, after a several minutes working on an email that required some thought to compose, I’d have to wiggle the mouse and wait a few seconds for it to reconnect before I could do anything requiring my mouse.

Short battery life wouldn’t be a deal-breaker by itself, but for lack of…

Recharging options

The quick power drain on the Vertical Mouse made me long for a nice feature on the Logitech Performance Mouse MX. When the battery in the Logitech dies, I can plug it in via a Micro-USB cable and keep working while it charges. With the Evoluent, I have to swap it out. No spare on hand? Too bad. No mouse for you.

Driver

Evoluent has helpfully developed a Mac-native Preference Pane. Alas, I had trouble getting it to read my keystrokes properly to configure my buttons to control Mission Control. Emailing Evoluent got me helpful, timely support that solved my problem, but the actual workaround was rather cumbersome. Other drivers I’ve encountered (Logitech, Wacom) have handled this much more gracefully.

Accidental clicks

Ostensibly the motive for a new mouse hunt, this is probably the biggest reason why I sent the Vertical Mouse back. My work leaves little tolerance for imprecision. One wrongly-dragged file can cause a major headache.

Evoluent Vertical Mouse 4 (rear view).

Evoluent Vertical Mouse 4 (rear view).

I can understand why the Vertical Mouse’s buttons might have been made a bit softer than most mouse buttons – those willing to spend the time and money on an unconventional industrial design have are more likely to need a mouse whose buttons’ activation threshold is lower – but it simply wasn’t for me, and I found it created a problem for me that was compounded by the mouse’s novel industrial design.

Unrelated physical actions require orthogonality, i.e. performing one action should have zero effect on an unrelated action. By turning the mouse buttons on their side, the Vertical Mouse creates two undesirable situations:

  1. It overloads the horizontal axis of motion. Both cursor movement and button-pressing require the application of horizontal force.
  2. The standard lift-and-reposition action one performs at the end of one’s reach must be replaced with a rotational tip-and-reposition action, since gripping the mouse and lifting it would also trigger an accidental click.

#1 caused me to lose speed and precision while working, as I had to be careful not to click and move at the same time. At times, I performed a mouse-drag when I merely intended to move my cursor. Not good when organizing files, not good when managing code. #2 was just something I never quite got used to, and felt kludgy. Also, I found that depending on a host of factors contributing to the coefficient of static friction between my hand and the mouse’s surface, the grip force required to perform this action varied greatly.

Miscellaneous caveats

The Evoluent is significantly taller than any mouse I’ve ever used. In the first day or two of using it I knocked it over once or twice moving my hand quickly between keyboard and mouse.

I also occasionally encountered a problem where the reporting frequency dropped drastically so that my mouse cursor moved across the screen something like 30 pixels at a time instead of smoothly. As soon as I power-cycled the mouse, this would go away. At first I thought it was a battery power issue, but it repeated itself even with a fresh charge. It might be a Bluetooth issue, though my mousing surface and my machine’s Bluetooth receiver are no more than 2 – 3 feet apart, separated by a particle-board desk surface. Nothing extreme, and I’m not rearranging my workspace for my mouse.

Conclusion

I’ll fully admit that some of the problems listed above were not unfixable – power management or connection drop-outs, for example – but ultimately I didn’t feel it was worth my time to continue to figure them out, and I think most of my friends will feel the same.

For now, I’m going with the Mighty Mouse, enjoying its solid clickiness and gesture support. I’m also considering a lefty keyboard (which relocates the non-alphanumeric keys to the left-hand side, letting the mouse be closer to your centre of balance) and I’m hoping to try out a Contour Design RollerMouse, but their free trial requires you to cover shipping, so I’m holding out until I can try one in a store or at someone’s home.

Links.