Microsoft Explorer Mouse review

Price when reviewed

In technological terms, the evolution of the humble mouse has been an incredibly slow one: it’s taken over 30 years for the ball mouse to be replaced by now-prevalent laser technology. Microsoft, though, has tried to speed up the evolutionary process with the introduction of its latest Explorer mouse, which features its much-touted ‘BlueTrack’ technology.

BlueTrack promises to greatly improve precision thanks to some clever fiddling around with the various lasers and LEDs that inhabit normal mice. Instead of the traditional LED, BlueTrack uses an LED that operates at a higher, wider angle to swallow up more desk space, and a CMOS detector that evaluates the surface on a far more detailed level.

The result of this, according to Microsoft, is that the BlueTrack mouse can scan whatever is under your mouse with far more precision than previous mice – which could be of significance to those who demand precision for their work, perhaps, or when gaming.

The new technology also promises to work with a degree of accuracy on plenty of unusual surfaces beyond the standard desk or mouse-mat thanks to the precision of the new laser.

In practice, though, you’d be hard-pressed to notice the difference that BlueTrack makes when sat at a desk. There’s an attractive electric-blue glow when you detach the mouse from its charging caddy but, apart from that, performance on standard surfaces is on a par with the best regular mice we’ve seen.

If you need a mouse that will work on any unusual materials, though, BlueTrack could quickly become a godsend. Carpet provided little challenge – although the Explorer worked a little better when following the grain of the material rather than going against it – and various fabrics, again, didn’t halt progress. We’ve also tested the BlueTrack on rougher materials, such as bark, and can report that, amazingly, it still worked.

Quality understandably suffers when the laser is forced to work harder, but the mouse is still usable – which is more than can be said for the average laser mouse under the same harsh conditions.

Aside from the major new BlueTrack innovation, everything else about the Explorer mouse is present and correct. The usual two buttons are joined by a pair of svelte buttons on the left-hand side that feel far more natural to use than their Razer equivalents, and the mouse wheel is well-featured, too: as well as the standard scrolling and clicking, it can rock from side-to-side to enable side-scrolling and other functions. Our only qualm is that clicking the wheel is surprisingly difficult, with the Explorer offering too much resistance.

The included driver provides plenty of scope for customising the Explorer. Every button can be mapped with a variety of different actions: Instant Viewer works similarly to Exposé in Apple’s Mac OS X, and the precision booster is self-explanatory.

it_photo_6142Applications can be bound to certain buttons, which will prove useful if there are certain programs used all the time. These programs can also be subjected to application-specific settings – so clicking the scroll wheel, say, could have a different effect in Mozilla Firefox or Microsoft Word.

Gamers will be pleased with a couple of potentially useful functions, too. The Gaming Toggle can record common groups of keys or mouse-presses and assign them to a single button, and buttons can be set to rotate your character, quickly, through 180 degrees – so you don’t have to do it yourself.

The Explorer also supports customisable macros, and it’s easy enough to create them – simply press the button you wish to use, and how you wish to use it. It’s also simple to string groups of actions together and assign them to single buttons of the mouse.

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