Mouse and stylus roundup: Microsoft Surface Precision Mouse, Azio Atom and Adonit Droid

Is it worth still using a mouse in a world of touchpads and touch screens? It's time to go back to the future.
Written by Simon Bisson, Contributor

Over the years I've shifted away from mice and pens to touchpads and touch screens. It's a move that's as much one of convenience as anything, sacrificing accuracy for reaching out and tapping a screen, and using a laptop as my day-to-day computing device. But now there's a new generation of mice and other pointing devices that's making me rethink how I work, yet again.

Microsoft Surface Precision Mouse

Buy here $99.99

Microsoft Surface Precision Mouse​

Microsoft Surface Precision Mouse

Microsoft's Surface Precision Mouse arrived with the latest generation of Surface hardware. If the shape seems more than a little familiar, that's because it builds on the older Wireless Laser Mouse design, with a curved shell and a thumb rest on the left. That sadly leaves left-handed users out, as the three thumb buttons are on the same side.

For right-handed users it's one of the most comfortable mice around, fitting neatly into the palm with the buttons right under your fingers and thumb. They're customizable too, so you can use the recommended Mouse and Keyboard Center software to configure your mouse just the way you want. While you can still use the Windows Settings tool to handle basic mouse functionality, there's a lot more in the dedicated app, including the ability to tune the mouse resolution. The lower the resolution, the finer the motions you can make, giving you the control you need to work in CAD and other design tooling. It's technically not a gaming mouse, but there's enough here to make it usable here too.

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Connection is via Bluetooth, using Microsoft's new Swift Pair option. If you've enabled Swift Pair in Settings, turning on a Precision Mouse and putting it in pairing mode will automatically pop-up the Swift Pair dialog without you needing to go into multiple levels of Windows' device-management tools. It's a surprisingly easy time saver, and I'm expecting a lot more peripherals to support it over the next year or so.

Unlike most wireless mice, the Precision Mouse is able to connect to up to three different devices, so you can easily switch between home and work devices. However there's a neat trick that comes along with the Windows 10 version of Microsoft's Mouse and Keyboard Center software. With it installed, you can use the same mouse to control three different PCs, sliding off screen from one to the other. It's not as flexible an option as software keyboard and mouse-sharing tools like Sharemouse or Synergy, as its only the mouse that switches focus by switching Bluetooth connection.

Customizations aren't limited to a single PC, and they'll transfer to other paired PCs if you've enabled the option. It's a good idea to do so, as muscle memory from one setup does not go away quickly when you switch to another -- especially when using an ergonomic device.

The built-in battery holds plenty of charge. I forgot to pack a micro-USB charging cable on a recent trip, but didn't notice, as I didn't need to recharge the mouse at any point. It's also nice to see that Microsoft doesn't just limit your mouse to Bluetooth; if you're worried about connectivity or security you can use the charging cable as a USB mouse cable. That also means that the charging port is in a logical place, so there's no contortions needed to recharge and you can carry on using your mouse while it's charging.

Microsoft has done an excellent job with the Surface Precision Mouse. It's a comfortable and attractive updating of a familiar form factor which manages to add innovative new features. If you've got a Windows 10 PC, then it's well worth investing in one -- especially now there's a black option alongside the Surface grey.

Azio Atom

Buy here $49.99

Azio Atom​

Azio Atom

Azio's Atom is technically a gaming mouse. But it's also an effective precision pointing device, with a flexible DPI setting and an adjustable polling rate. And with most of its controls through switches and buttons on the device, there's no need to worry about drivers; all you need to do is plug it in and away it goes. The manual is also simple, just a set of basic instructions on a fold-out flap on the box.

The Atom is an ambidextrous mouse, suitable for both left- and right-handers, with a braid-covered USB cable that should stand up to most usage. Two buttons on each side are selected by a configuration switch under the device, and if you prefer just to have the traditional two buttons and scroll wheel, it's possible to turn them off completely. All the buttons have gaming-quality microswitches, and they've got a nicely positive feel. The same is true of the extra wide mouse wheel. It's slightly softer than most, with a wide tread that makes it surprisingly comfortable to use.

SEE: 50 time-saving tips to speed your work in Microsoft Office (free PDF)

Flip the mouse over and you'll see the button control and polling rate switches. While a configurable polling rate is most useful for gamers, I found the top two settings gave a nice smooth operation. As they're adjusted by switches, you can flip between modes without leaving your current application context and opening a mouse configuration app. A button under the mouse lets you toggle between a range of different DPI settings. Higher settings are good for confined spaces, and lower for where you want more accuracy. For everyday use a DPI of 1200 or 1600 is probably a good choice.

The same button can be used to control the Atom's LED lighting effects. It wouldn't be a gaming mouse without some form of personalization, and here you get to choose from a selection of color effects: you can pick a single color (in static or "breathing" modes) as well as two RGB options, a cycle through all the available colors and an animated light chasing sequence. If you're in an office, you'll probably want to stick with the basic color schemes, or just leave the LEDs off.

I've actually ended up using the Atom as my day-to-day mouse. It's comfortable, configurable, and even though it needs a cable, it's an excellent companion for my laptop. And if I do get the urge to fly spaceships for an hour or two, rather than piloting Word, it's responsive enough that I can hold my own in multi-player games.

Adonit Droid

Buy here $24.99

Adonit Droid on a Nokia 8​

Adonit Droid on a Nokia 8

Touch screen phones don't tend to support accurate styluses. Yes, there's the option of active pens in Samsung's Galaxy Note series, but as the latest devices there now cost more than a laptop, they're not really an option for handheld note-taking. As it is, I'm spending more time with lower cost devices with reasonable specifications, like the Nokia 8 or the OnePlus 5T.

However I'm a terrible touch screen typist, even using swipe keyboards like SwiftKey or GBoard. That makes taking notes in OneNote close to impossible, even using a capacitive stylus. They're generally clumsy and inaccurate, making my terrible handwriting even more unreadable than usual (when they actually leave a track on the screen). In the past I've used Adonit's take on the capacitive stylus with tablets, and found its disk-based pointer a big improvement over the alternatives. So it was good to see that they'd attempted to deliver a smaller pointer for mid-sized phones like my 5.3" Nokia.

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The Adonit Droid stylus has a 4.75mm capacitive disk that slides across the screen as you move the stylus, giving your phone's touch sensors an accurate position for the stylus tip. The result is better than rubber-tipped capacitive styluses, and almost as good as an active pen.

A smaller disk makes for an easier writing experience on phone screens, and it works well with notetaking apps like OneNote which offload handwriting recognition to cloud services. It also functions well with drawing apps, though obviously there's no pressure sensitivity. The stylus is small, just over 4.5" with its screw cap on. Unscrew the cap and fit it to the end of the stylus, and it's a comfortably balanced 5" long. The metal barrel gives it a pleasing weight, helping it write more effectively.

I've been very happy with the Adonit Droid. The stylus is small enough to sit in my back pack with my other pens, so it's ready to use as and when I need it. It's not compatible with all Android hardware -- it needs a high resolution touch screen for best effect -- so you should check before you purchase one. However, with most modern devices supporting these screens you shouldn't have any problems.

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