The Magic Mouse

I got a new computer as part of my effort to rejoin the workforce. The computer is a Mac, and came complete with a keyboard (small) and a Magic Mouse. The Magic Mouse is almost the coolest input device ever. There’s just one flaw.

Let’s start with the good. Since the dawn of time Apple mice have had only one button. It’s a religious thing with the boys in Cupertino, I guess; even while their operating system supports (and even embraces) functionality that requires right-clicking and scroll-wheeling, the mouse has remained mired in one-button land. The Magic mouse technically keeps the one-button faith, while providing support for a huge range of input. There’s one button, but where your finger pushes the button can change the action. The entire top surface of the mouse is a trackpad. You can configure the mouse to have as many virtual buttons as you want.

There’s no scroll wheel, but if you slide your finger down the surface of the mouse it acts like one. Slide your finger side to side, and you’re scrolling horizontally. I really like that feature, but it took some getting used to.

With a little extra software, things get even better. You see, the mouse can track all five of your fingers at once, and can respond to a huge variety of gestures. Pinch to zoom in. Reverse the gesture to zoom out. Twist with three fingers to rotate something. It’s all configurable and it’s sweet.

The only problem with this hot little number: It’s wireless. I don’t need wireless; in fact, the vast majority of people who use computers don’t need wireless. It’s a convenience for those who use a mouse with their laptops, but I’ve always been just fine plugging the mouse in (and in fact some people have had problems when their wireless mice have awakened their laptops and drained their batteries).

Yet somehow wireless is better (rhymes with ‘power windows on cars’). The Magic Mouse just seems “magicer” when it doesn’t need a wire to talk to the computer. There is no doubt that the marketplace has decided “wireless is better” and Apple (and the rest of the mouse-producing industry) is not going to fight that.

So what’s my beef with wireless? Simple. It’s the batteries. Batteries cost money, and using this mouse produces a steady stream of toxic waste. If the purchase cost of a battery included the cost of disposing of the hazardous chemicals inside it, maybe people wouldn’t be so fast to use battery-powered devices where wired power is available. How many AA batteries go into landfills each year, creating a toxic mess someone will have to clean up someday, because people buy battery-powered devices that don’t need to be? Let’s reserve the battery power for things that need to be battery-powered.

I know that technically people aren’t supposed to throw away batteries anymore, but people still do. The chemicals in batteries are just as harmful in the soil as plutonium for the same amount of energy (he says with no backing evidence), but people treat them with cavalier indifference. And sure, rechargeable batteries reduce the rate that toxic waste is created, but they don’t eliminate it. Rechargeables will be my compromise so I can continue to use my wonderful mouse with a cleaner conscience. Wired power has environmental consequences as well, but I’d be right stunned if they approached the harm that battery power causes.

So here I am, using the coolest damn mouse ever, happy with it, and feeling slightly guilty. My old Logitech USB mouse is right here, with lots of buttons and a scrollwheel and whatnot, but it’s just not as good. It’s ok to pollute if you feel guilty about it, right?

11 thoughts on “The Magic Mouse

  1. I’ve done a little reading and some modern batteries are less toxic than their ancestors; alkaline batteries have less mercury, for instance. I’m going to try Nickel-Zinc rechargeables, both for the lower toxicity and the higher voltage. Some people have reported troubles with NiMH batteries in the Magic Mouse, and pin that on the 1.2V rating. NiZn are 1.6V (compared with 1.5 for alkaline), but don’t last for as many rechargings. If I remember I’ll report back here in a couple of months.

  2. So, is the mouse holding up? I have the old style with the ball on top. The ball has stopped responding. It is frustrating. Wireless version with rechargeable batteries.

    • Other than the battery thing (it cranks through them pretty fast, in fact – the trackpad is reporting over bluetooth whenever your fingers are near the thing), I like it quite a lot.

      There is one change I’d like to see a third-party developer make to the software. The natural way to grip the mouse puts my fingers at an angle relative to the edge of the mouse (the angle defined by the angle between my thumb and finger). If I could adjust the axis of the trackpad to match my finger angle (and easily reverse it when I use my left hand) this thing would be heaven.

    • The only side effect of the NiZn cells so far is that the higher voltage seems to confuse the battery charge level guesstimator. I get almost no warning before the mouse gives up. That’s not really a problem, though, since I have the other set charged and ready to go.

      • Jerry,
        I’ve been on a mission to find decent lasting rechargeable batteries for my Magic Mouse especially. I figured I needed to explore other options besides NiMh since my experience has been disappointing.

        How long do your NiZn’s last on a full charge with your mouse based on an 8-hour work day?

        I tried Apple’s latest NiMh battery charger/batteries. The charger is great. The batteries are awful. After a full charge, my mouse eats through them in about 3 days. The mouse uses about 2% of energy per hour! The batteries start from 85% since NiMh’s are only 1.2 volts and trickle (rather, stream) down from there. At about 20% life remaining, without much warning, they die.

        Apple may claim their low draw batteries last after months without use. But, they never brag about longevity while in use. Now I know why.

        After my 6-year old Energizer 15-min quick charger, I wasn’t looking for another dud. Although, this Energizer charger is killing my 2200 mAH batteries, at least I can get about 5 days usage before a fresh batch. This also depends on timing. Timing means everything with a substandard charger and batteries. If I use them when they’re still warm, they only last half as long. And if I wait to use them 5 days later, they are just about completely drained.

        I’ve also used Duracell 2650 mAH batteries with the Energizer quick charger and Apple charger. I only get a couple extra days more before I need a fresh set. Of course, they suffer from the same drain when stored over a long period of time.

        Your feedback would be very helpful since it’s relevant to Apple’s Magic Mouse – one of the biggest battery hogs I’ve experienced.

        • I’m satisfied with my NiZn, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say “pleased”. I get a week or so on a charge, but because of the higher voltage (I assume) there is little or no warning when they are about to go. Next time I swap I’ll mark my calendar and try to come up with a more exact answer of duration.

  3. Jerry,

    I use NiZn and I have to say mine seem to die faster than a week, though in my XBOX 360 and my remotes in the house they seem to work just as long, if not longer, than non-rechargables. They’re on the charger now, when i pop them back in I’ll log it here as well.


    • Thanks! One variable that affects battery life for individuals might be the time one spends typing – even if one clicks things just as often. Even having your hand NEAR the mouse causes battery drain.

      So although I spend as much time at the computer as anyone I know (both work, other work, and hobbies) my usage pattern might be more battery-friendly.

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