Review: Microsoft's Arc Touch is Perhaps the Most Portable Mouse Ever

Last Updated May 13, 2011 8:45 AM EDT

You might have seen the original Arc Mouse; it was shaped, well, like an arc. That made it rather distinctive, but the most interesting aspect of the mouse was the way it folded in half for compact travel thanks to a clever hinged assembly. That older mouse was certainly serviceable, but the new Arc Touch mouse is -- and I don't throw this word around lightly -- simply delightful.

The heart and soul of the Arc Touch is the fact that the mouse transforms, like a gadget from the future, from its distinctive arc-shape to completely flat. It doesn't do this with anything as pedestrian as hinges or snaps; the mouse is made of some weird rubberized material with a semi-rigid skeletal structure underneath. The result is that it goes from working mode to travel mode with a fun and elegant snap that you'll do over and over again just because it's so cool.

The whole mouse is designed with travel and portability in mind. For example, I've used many mice that only power off when you insert the USB dongle. If the dongle falls out of its little cubby in the mouse while it's rattling around in your travel bag, then the mouse immediately starts draining its battery. But when you snap the Arc Touch flat, the mouse automatically powers off and won't come back on until you flex it into an arc again. And then there's that USB Bluetooth dongle. It is incredibly tiny -- the smallest I've ever seen, and easily small enough for me to pretty much leave it in my laptop's USB port all the time, even when it's in my travel bag. It only sticks out about half an inch. But when I do remove it from the laptop, it firmly, magnetically sticks to the underside of the flattened mouse.

So what's it like to use the Arc Touch?

The shape might look clumsy, but the reality is that it that fills the scoop of my hand quite naturally, making it comfortable to move around the desktop. Instead of a traditional scroll wheel, the Arc Touch features a touch-sensitive touchpad of sorts between the left and right buttons. This definitely takes a little getting used to -- there's no tell-take bump that informs your finger where to find the scroll wheel -- but you'll quickly develop the muscle memory to scroll up and down without looking at the mouse.

As befitting a portable travel mouse, the Arc Touch will track on pretty much anything. It worked superbly on every surface I tried, from wood to glass to polished metal.

Regrettably, the Arc Touch is missing a Back button, so there's no single-tap way to go "back" to the previous page in Web browsers. Aside from that one complaint, though, the Arc Touch is a terrific mouse, designed to appeal to anyone who needs to take a mouse on the go a lot. I doubt you'll find one that's more compact and ready to go where you need to take it.

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Dave Johnson was employed by Microsoft Corporation at the time this article was written.

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