MacAlly, the venerable Mac accessory maker, recently introduced the BTMicro, a $50 portable Bluetooth mouse in the ubiquitous two-button/scroll-wheel format. This tiny silver-and-white optical mouse matches modern Macs well.
The BTMicro is easily the smallest mouse I’ve ever used. The mouse and charging cradle together are smaller than an Apple Pro Mouse. The mouse itself is about the same size as most flip-style cell phones. I’ve included a photo of the mouse sitting on the palm of my hand to give you some impression of its diminuitive size. The photos on MacAlly’s site don’t really convey a good sense of size or scale, which can only be truly appreciated in person.
Since I have fairly large hands, small mice tend to be less than optimal, but this one is surprisingly comfortable after a few days of getting used to it. The small size makes it extremely portable, and if you’re a road warrior who can’t stand the built-in trackpad on your laptop, this is definitely worth a look. This would also be a great mouse for young children, as it seems fairly rugged and will fit their hands very well.
The trick for us large-handed folks seems to be letting the hand assume a natural curved position, as if typing, and resting the index and middle fingers on the mouse. Don’t try to wrap your hand around the mouse like you would with a full-size rodent, because that will only lead to discomfort and stress. The soft rubber grips can be squeezed lightly between the thumb and ring finger should you find yourself in need of something to hold. The mouse is small enough that most cursor movement can be done merely by moving the fingers, giving your wrist and arm trackball-like relief.
There is no software to install with the mouse; it relies on Mac OS X’s built-in support for multi-button scrolling mice. This simplifies things greatly, but an optional driver that gave the user control over button assignments would be nice, especially for left-handed users. Setup is fairly painless, involving a quick trip to the Bluetooth Setup Assistant application and a press of the “pairing” button on the bottom of the mouse. Since mice are the default Bluetooth device, you need only to launch BSA and then hit return until the mouse is recognised and paired.
Scrolling and tracking are smooth as silk, even if your mousing surface isn’t. Like other optical mice, the BTMicro has no problem tracking smoothly over nearly any non-reflective surface. Tracking and scrolling speed are controlled by Apple’s built-in drivers which, though feature-poor in comparison to Kensington’s, are perfectly adequate for most needs. As most portable mice are designed to be a compromise between usability and small size, it’s hard to fault the mouse for this minor shortcoming. Pixel-pushing graphic artists will just have to make do with the limited control Mac OS X gives them while on the road.
As a wireless device, the mouse relies on its included rechargeable batteries for power, and herein lies its biggest weakness. To conserve battery life, the mouse has a fairly aggressive built-in sleep timer that turns off power after a factory-specified idle time (another setting that a custom driver could control, but doesn’t). It also has an on/off switch for manual power control. Waking up the mouse involves hitting both buttons, which is no big deal, though it takes some getting used to. The problem is that despite the conservation measures, battery life is fairly poor. After 24 to 36 hours away from the charging cradle, the mouse often spontaneously disconnected and stubbornly refused to work at all until recharged for a few hours. Fortunately, the mouse charges fairly quickly.
While you can use standard alkaline AAA batteries in the mouse, the manual — which, incidentally, is written in fairly entertaining Engrish — recommends against it. (Attempted recharging can cause alkaline batteries to leak or explode.) This effectively means you’re required to bring the charging cradle and rather bulky power adapter on the road with you, which somewhat diminishes the portability of the mouse.
The BTMicro cannot be used while in the charging cradle, and in fact, won’t maintain a Bluetooth connection whilst charging. Fortunately, it’s designed to be very easy to re-connect with a Mac after a pairing interruption (mouse sleep, computer sleep, recharge cycle, etc.). All you need to do is click both buttons simultaneously, just like you’re waking up the mouse. Re-pairing with Bluetooth Setup Assistant should only be necessary in very rare cases. Kudos to MacAlly for making this process so painless.
The other problem with the BTMicro is one it shares with several scroll-wheel mice where the wheel is supposed to be a third button. Clickable scroll wheels are almost universally unusable, with the notable exception being the Intellimouse series from Microsoft. The BTMicro’s scroll wheel is darn near impossible to click because of the mouse’s small size, but it has a terribly mushy and unreliable action that is reminiscent of MacMice’s The Mouse, further exacerbating the problem. Don’t expect to use the scroll wheel as middle-click.
While you might find cheaper Bluetooth mice out there if you look hard enough (good luck), you’re unlikely to find one this portable. MacAlly has always had a reputation for solid, inexpensive products, and the BTMicro is further proof that there are indeed bargains out there in the Mac accessory realm.