Microsoft is not normally known for its beauty and style; its success has come from making computers more accessible, not more attractive.
However as the computer becomes a part of the sitting room, people have begun to look for machines and software that was more aesthetically pleasing, comfortable and intuitive. Suddenly style is as important as speed.
Microsoft’s Arc mouse is a sign that the computer behemoth is finally catching on to this trend. The device operates wirelessly and has the usual two buttons and scrolling wheel; there is also an extra button tucked away on the left-hand side which can be given any purpose you wish.
The set up is simple – you just plug the tiny USB receiver into your PC and assuming it runs on Windows XP or Vista the drivers are found and installed within seconds. If you are using a Mac set up is instant, which is to be expected but somewhat ironic given the mouse’s maker.
So on paper the mouse is bog-standard; what makes the Arc different is its body rather than its buttons. The mouse’s name gives away its unique design, which is a curved casing that lifts in the middle leaving only the top and bottom of the mouse in contact with the mat. The shape fits surprisingly well in the hand too and is probably one of the more comfortable devices of its type out there.
The unique design is not entirely aesthetic – the Arc is also designed to be folded into a more portable package for travelling. The wireless USB receiver that connects the mouse to a PC attaches itself to the underneath of the mouse magnetically and is secured in place when it is folded, making it much harder to lose. When folded the device also switches off, making it a useful way of conserving battery power.
Of course the battery will eventually die and unfortunately there is no way to re-charge it through the machine – you just have to replace the battery or use an externally-charged re-usable one. Microsoft claims you can get over 6 months life out of a battery, which seems hard to believe, but regardless it would be far more user-friendly if the device could be docked and charged via USB.
There is also an indicator light on the mouse to alert you when the battery is nearly empty but this is so small it is hard to see in daylight. In a worst case scenario you could be left rooting for a fresh battery when the old one runs out of juice without you realising.
This is a small complaint to have for a wireless mouse that is comfortable and easy on the eye. Whether it is by design or accident the device also sits well with a hand wrapped around it, which means you can put its 30 ft. wireless range to good use as a presentation clicker.
While the move by Microsoft towards style is clearly in response to what companies like Apple are doing it is good to see that this is more than an imitation. It does not try to look or feel like an Apple mouse and succeeds in its own right as a triumphant mixture of form and function.