- Nothing else quite like it
- works well
- decent range, not line of sight.
- More expensive than alternatives
- doesn’t use Bluetooth
- replacement batteries will be costly.
Inventors won't leave pointing devices alone. Just because the computer mouse is one of the simplest input devices that worked perfectly well the day it was born doesn't mean you can't reinvent it endlessly. One of the latest variants comes from Gyration, whose Ultra Cordless Optical Mouse looks at first like many others: a radio link replaces the cable, it uses rechargeable batteries, and optical sensors detect motion across a flat surface. The difference comes when you lift it up: it carries on working. Wave your hand around as much as you like, and the on-screen pointer will carry on tracking your hand movements.
Within the curvy dark blue body of the Gyration mouse is a pair of gyroscopes. These aren't the sort with spinning discs: instead, a couple of vibrating beams waggle, one from side to side and one up and down, at high speeds (listen closely to the mouse in operation and you can hear them whine). As you move the mouse, the waggly beams try to continue to move in the same direction as they did before; the battle between how they want to move and how they're being made to move creates Coriolis forces that measure movement up and down and from side to side. Change the forces into signals and send the signals to the radio receiver, and voila: a flying mouse.
Ironically, cordless mice tend to need more wires than their tethered brethren. In the case of the Gyration mouse, you have to plug the radio receiver into a USB port and position it somewhere where it won't be shielded by the PC case, and then find somewhere for the mains charger and lead to the docking station in which the Gyration rests while topping up its batteries. These are nickel metal hydride rechargeables, which should last for about three years in normal use -- but you'll have to buy Gyration’s replacements as they're non-standard. There's room in the mouse for two AA cells, so this is a shame.
Setting up is simple enough. Plug everything in, press the Learn button on the radio receiver and the Teach button on the mouse -- that registers one with the other. We also had Gyration’s Mobile Keyboard, which works with the same radio receiver and is registered in the same way. Then it's just a matter of picking up your mouse and pointing.
The instructions recommend that you hold the mouse in a 'relaxed handshaking' position. It weighs around 150g, so it's not the lightest thing you've ever held in the air for a long period of time, but it is contoured to fit into the palm snugly while letting the forefinger rest naturally on a trigger button underneath. It works like a push-to-talk button on a walkie-talkie; press and hold it to relay the mouse movements. If that's not convenient, double-click the trigger and the mouse will be locked into transmit mode until you either press the trigger again or put the mouse down on a flat surface.
The mouse also transmits whenever you click either of the two normal mouse buttons or use the scroll wheel, and always when you move it on a flat surface and the optical sensors are in use. A small green light below the buttons glows when the mouse transmits; it also fades in and out when the mouse is charging. You shouldn't have to do that too often -- all that business with the trigger is there to minimise transmissions and keep power consumption down, and it's easy to get a couple of days' work out of the device between charges.
Meanwhile, the wireless keyboard is pretty much what you'd expect. It runs off four AAA batteries -- alkalines are supplied, but you can fit rechargeables yourself. It has 88 normal keys, and the usual peppering of mail, Web and media playback buttons. It's just like a laptop keyboard without the laptop; it takes up less space than a normal desktop keyboard and may be just the thing if space is tight. The only downside is that because USB doesn't become active until quite late in the PC's boot sequence, you can't use this keyboard to get at the various BIOS setup and test functions that need you to press F1, Esc or Del immediately after the computer gets going -- you'll need an old-style keyboard for that.
Does the mouse work? Absolutely. This model has a specified 25-foot range, which it managed in the office with uncanny accuracy, cutting off dead at just the promised point. Within that, you can stand away from the desk making small twitching movements and your mouse will dance accordingly. Perhaps the best -- almost the only -- non-trivial use of this technology is while giving presentations; it lets you move around the stage or office freely while still having full control over the computer. How much use you make of this depends on your sense of showmanship -- but unlike infrared mice, the Gyration unit doesn’t require line of site and its radio signals will happily pass through intervening desks, partitions and humans. It's an uncanny feeling, having a pointer follow your hand movements when there's no surface or wire nearby, but it soon becomes second nature.
If you need a wireless, deskless pointer, the Gyration mouse is pretty much your only choice. If you don't, then it'll be an extravagance that only you can justify. It certainly makes people look twice, it works fine as an ordinary cordless mouse and it's got some funky technology inside. It isn't Bluetooth, which is a shame -- and puts it at a disadvantage now that Microsoft has launched its Wireless Optical Desktop for Bluetooth -- and it's expensive compared to almost all other mice. But it does work, and it is unique.