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Genius Pen Mouse

Analysis and Conclusion

This is a somewhat difficult difficult to quantify, since it is such a qualitative departure from traditional designs, and most metrics cater to specific markets.  This mouse’s sensor defaults to a sensitivity of 1200 DPI, but with the manufacturer’s drivers, Genius claims it is capable of switching to 400 and 800 DPI as well.  For the artist looking for an inexpensive graphics tablet substitute, you will be disappointed to realize that it lacks both the traditional pressure and angle sensitivity of modern tablets, but more disconcertingly the absolute positioning offered by tablets.  Still, the Genius pen mouse slips easily into a pocket in the provided leatherette case; most tablets are easier to damage in transit, larger, heavier, and more expensive.  (And if not more expensive, they probably also lack those common tablet features!)  Also unlike tablets, the pen mouse can be plugged into any USB port and used without setup; the included ‘pico receiver’ bears a striking resemblance to better known brands’ trademarked ‘nano receiver’ and fits anywhere; it is particularly suited to laptops where a risk of snapping things off in ports is keenest.  Finding power for the pen mouse is also quite easy – unlike most tablets that use either expensive magnetic-induction systems to power the pen, or expensive and rare AAAA batteries (yes, four As) or worst of all button cells, the pen mouse is powered by a single, readily available AAA battery.  Lending to its go-anywhere portability, the optical sensor seems to be designed to work on well near any reasonably smooth surface at nearly any angle – Genius suggests 85 degrees of off-axis tracking; if this is a single 85 degree cone, then this claim seems accurate – 85 degrees on either side would put the sensor nowhere near the mousing surface.  And speaking of mousing surfaces, Genius suggests that their optical sensor does well on a broad variety of them, without coming out and saying it.  While they are clearly not playing with the “big boys” (Razer, Logitech, and Microsoft) in terms of sensor technology, I was pleasantly surprised by the tracking abilities of the Pen Mouse.  Cloth, wood, fake veneered surfaces, aluminum, my mesh office chair, even the glass trackpad of a Macbook Pro – but what really impressed me was an adequate performance on low carpet – clearly it’s not designed for the task, but it seems like a well made optical sensor.  The only thing that slowed me down  – badly – was my early attempt to use the mouse on white paper.  (specifically Ampad Gold Fiber, lined notebook paper)  It absolutely would not track happily on a fresh, clean sheet.

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Since there is no particularly good way to quantitatively test this type of device, I spent a week using it as my primary pointing device, and my conclusions will be drawn qualitatively.  Firstly, while the sensor claims adjustable resolution, there are no spare buttons on the device to adjust it on the fly; you may as well stick to the standard mouse control panel.  I installed the drivers anyway, and was somewhat underwhelmed – the software offers four different alignment settings; two each for left- and right-handed users – two for those who hold it like a pen, and two for those who hold it like a paintbrush, with the thumb over the buttons – and no sign of the promised adjustable sensitivity.  It also increased the time taken between when you plugged in the USB receiver and the protocol negotiation finished and the cursor started to move noticeably.  Having said that, this is a USB HID device, you really have no good reason for drivers at all, in my experience – you probably don’t need to bother with this version, and you won’t miss them at all unless Genius adds some advanced features in a later update.  The scrolling on this mouse is a little awkward – on windows, it went in slightly too-large increments for my taste but was plenty usable.  On Mac with its accelerating scroll behavior, you needed to be careful how fast you moved the tip while scrolling, lest you skip to the top or bottom of the page.  On the other hand, some will consider this a feature, and there are good third-party drivers that let you adjust the sensitivity curve for this if you’re willing to go to some effort.  In between periods of use, the sleep function that preserves your battery will put the pen mouse to sleep – that’s fine, though the aggressive timing it uses means that every few sentences I find myself having to reactivate the mouse, a process that takes three or four seconds and is mildly irritating and flow-breaking.  Given that the alternative is running down the battery in a distressingly short time, this is a tolerable tradeoff.

Mousepad, yes.  Wood table, yes.  Notepad, not so much.

So is this product worth it?  It really depends on what you’re using it for.  If you’re looking for a new advantage for your games, you’re looking in the wrong place.  If you’re an aspiring graphical artist or designer, looking for either a training device or a pocket solution, then this is perhaps right up your alley.  If you have – or are trying to hold off – a case of carpal tunnel or similar repetitive-stress injury, this may be the solution to avoiding crippling wrist pain.  For the road warrior who wants a pointing device a little more space efficient than using a laptop mouse on the palm-rest of their laptop, this is a practical solution. While not stunningly awesome, this is a solid product with several niche markets that should be quite interested in it, and perhaps a decent shot at the mainstream market of laptop users.  The distinct lack of crippling mistakes – or even missteps – in designing the hardware is refreshing, and I look forward to seeing what else Genius comes up with in the future… a roll-up graphics tablet is not impossible, after all.

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