Cool gadgets: The Swiftpoint enhances mobile mousing

The Swiftpoint optical mouse is a strangely shaped little device that resembles something you’d find at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. But there is method in this madness: The mouse provides mobile computer users with a tiny, lightweight but comfortable alternative to laptop touchpads.

What does it do?

The Swiftpoint (which lists for US$70) measures approximately 2.5 x 2.0 x 1.5 in.; the black-and-red surface dips in curves that are hard to describe. You use the Swiftpoint by grasping it lightly on either side with your thumb and middle finger; your forefinger rests on top, where there are two buttons that act as the left and right mouse buttons. There is a scroll wheel directly to the right of the buttons.You can use the mouse (rather than your touchpad) on any surface — not only on the table next to your laptop, but also on the surface of the laptop itself, making it easier to work with your computer on your lap or in an airplane seat.

It uses a tiny USB “dock” that extends out about half an inch when inserted into your laptop’s USB port. The dock acts as a wireless receiver for the mouse’s 2.4GHz radio signal and also recharges the mouse when it’s resting on the dock; a magnet keeps the two securely fastened. According to the company, a full charge (90 minutes) gives 2-4 weeks of normal use; a feature called RapidCharge lets you use the mouse for up to an hour by charging a flat battery for only 30 seconds.

What’s cool about it?

I approached the Swiftpoint with not a little suspicion — it looked so small that I couldn’t imagine it was comfortable to use. But after working with it for a couple of weeks, I’m pretty much a convert.

I tested the device with an Asus EeePC 1005PE netbook. Much to my surprise (because, let’s face it, the thing looks weird), I found the Swiftpoint simple to operate and much better for long computing sessions than the netbook’s touchpad. The two buttons are well placed — your forefinger rests directly on the larger “left” button; the “right” button is slightly in front of it and raised so that your finger can find it immediately. When I wanted to use the scroll wheel, it was a simple matter to shift my forefinger slightly to the right.

Despite the fact that my netbook doesn’t offer a lot of free surface — and has a rather shiny, slick surface, which isn’t ideal for the mouse — I was able to use the Swiftpoint quite comfortably while the computer was on my lap.

Interestingly enough, the Swiftpoint is actually a lot more rugged than it looks. Although it’s fairly secure in its magnetic dock, it can be accidentally knocked off while in transit, which I proved a couple of times when I carried my netbook around the house without paying attention to the device sticking out of the side. But while I managed to chip a couple of slivers of paint off the top of the mouse, it continued to work well.

What needs to be fixed?

In order to give people a convenient place to dock the Swiftpoint when it isn’t in use, the company has provided what it calls a Parking Accessory: an adhesive film that fits over the wrist rest of your laptop. A small magnetic square in the center of the film lets you “park” the Swiftpoint in between your hands while you type.

Unfortunately, while the Parking Accessory may prove useful for a full-sized laptop, it doesn’t work at all for a netbook. Although there are guidelines on the film to help you cut it down for various laptop sizes, they were all way too large for my netbook. And even after I created my own guidelines and cut the film to fit my netbook, the magnetic square blocked any use of my cursor keys, although it didn’t interfere with use of the touchpad itself. I found it worked better to “park” the mouse on the docking device than on the Parking Accessory.

In addition, the Swiftpoint’s price of US$70 seems high for a convenient, but not necessary, add-on (although it is only a dollar more than Apple’s Magic Mouse, which can be said to be in the same category of enhanced input devices).

Bottom line

The Swiftpoint mouse can be very useful for owners of laptops and netbooks, especially if they find themselves working with their systems on their lap or in confined spaces — as long as they can swallow the US$70 price tag.

ComputerWorld (US)

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