23 September, 2014

A review of a five-year old mouse, and a new keyboard

I bought more tech

I noted my venerable ten year old Microsoft Wireless Optical Mouse (2.0) scroll wheel was getting a bit erratic, actually it had been somewhat erratic almost from day one, but I was just putting up with it until it started dying. About four months ago, I noted one of the buttons wasn't working properly any more, and needed me to lean on it a bit harder. I switched it over with one of the unused buttons left in the mouse, and continued on. While I did, I started my search for a decent replacement mouse.

My primary requirements for a good mouse

Wireless. An absolute must.
I got sick of cables getting caught up just as I was frantically trying—and failing—to hit a creeper. So wireless is a must. I have less of an issue actually hitting the monster a little late due to wireless lag than I do missing the monster altogether due to losing the mouse out of my hand because the cable caught up on the underside of the desk keyboard tray.
A scroll wheel that tilts.
Not mandatory, but it would be a nice thing to have. The MS mouse had it, but started being erratic not long after I started using it.
More than three buttons.
Most good mice seem to have more than just the clickable scrollwheel, left and right buttons these days, though the Razer Naga goes a bit overboard.
Cheaper than $100 NZ.
A bit harder to match, especially if you want a gaming mouse. Not quite so hard if you want just a good mouse that doesn't have another $100 stuck on merely for the brand.
Replaceable batteries
I get used to rechargeable batteries, and though they're fiddly, I can deal with popping one out and a new one in.
Left handed.
This requirement is a LOT more tricky, considering the previous requirements.

I recently bought the Logitech m950t otherwise known as the Performance MX. So far, it meets every requirement but the last one. I'm seeing what it feels like in the left hand before I get too frustrated. It comes with one of those absolutely tiny USB stub receivers that Logitech seem to be coming out with now. The process for installation is literally: extract from box, plug it in, download the Setpoint software from the Logitech website, install that software and run it. I note that there's an equivalent program (Solaar) for Linux, and though it's not as fully-featured, you can do just about anything you like with the mouse with other Linux utilities anyhow. In fact, often it's easier to configure this mouse under Linux than Windows.

What came in the box.

First, I must state what I thought I'd get, as I'd watched a review of the m950, the predecessor to the m950t. In that review, the box included a CDROM for drivers and software. It also included a shielded extension USB cable, in case our computers were under a table (mine is) and needed the detector a little closer to the actual mouse. It included a cable to connect the mouse directly to the computer, which has the side effect of also charging the included battery. It also appeared to include a power supply so you could charge your little rodent overnight. In comparison, I got no CDROM. This isn't an issue as the software's downloadable from Logitech. I also got no power supply - after all, you don't usually need to charge overnight. I did get the normal direct-connection USB power-only cable, the tiny receiver, a small pouch of documentation and the mouse itself, which included a 2050 mA GP ReCyko+ battery from Gold Peak Group. I swapped this out straight away for one of my 2500 mA Varta batteries. The rest? Empty space. And plenty of look-how-wonderful-this-is marketing.

A left-hander's experience of the Performance MX

You might ask why I changed over. I'm normally right-handed, but organisation of two people onto one big table meant I needed to switch the mouse over to the other side of the keyboard as there's far more room there to move a mouse around. I also had to switch over all the games I could so I could use the cursor keys instead of the accursed WASD movement scheme most modern games seem to have settled on. WASD and Dvorak keyboard layouts simply just don't go together anyhow.

The mouse does fit the right hand really well, especially for those of you with slightly larger hands. As you'd expect, it doesn't really fit in the left hand, but that may be to my advantage, as I'll be less likely to accidentally activate any of the other buttons. So far the knuckle of my ring finger has a tendency to activate the zoom button, but otherwise it's not too bad.

The buttons and scroll wheel.

There's the standard left and right buttons, the scrollwheel which can also act as a middle button, and a hardware button behind the scroll wheel to choose between a wheel that clicks as it rotates, and one that rotates freely without clicking. A freewheeling scrollwheel is one feature that some users rave over, and other users see as utterly pointless because they end up overshooting what it was they wanted to land on. I'll have to try it both ways. Personally, I hate clicky wheels. The MS mouse didn't click, which I loved. I'm finding at the moment that the clicky wheel gives a little more precision when scrolling, but there's a break while I switch between the two methods. If I know most people, they'll want to stick to one or the other method. And the mouse wheel does tilt. Logitech says that if you tilt it harder, horizontal scrolling speeds up.

On the left hand side of the body just above where the right thumb would sit, there's a small cluster that control zoom, page back and page forward. These would mainly be useful for web browsers to flick back and forth in their page history, and changing the size of text. Clicking the zoom button then rolling the scroll wheel up or down zooms the text of the application you're working with, but only for applications that support that. For example, Setpoint provides the same zoom-in function to the Windows desktop, but not to my current editor (vim). I presume that a similar function would be useful in a graphics program, whether still pictures, video or music. You do have to install the Setpoint software for this though, which is a separate download.

The final button of importance is the app-switch button, out of the way on the left flange of the mouse. I reconfigured this to become a DPI toggle, as the OS already provides an application switcher.

The responsiveness

As soon as I plugged it into the computer and moved it around on the table, movement was very smooth, and quick. This is probably due to the large pads on the base of the mouse to assist movement. Finally, a mouse with decent pads. I might even have to wind the sensitivity back down, as I'm now finding it too quick. In game (Minecraft) it seems to work very well, and would probably work well in other games too. I settled on a final DPI setting of about 1000dpi for normal movement, and 500 dpi for more precise movement. That bit at least, I do like.

The price.

I got lucky. I found this mouse for NZ$89.99 at a website I use regularly and took advantage of the discount. At Noel Leemings the mouse is currently $129.99 which would have put it outside my budget. I'm happy with the price. I had to accept that there was no way I could get a wireless Razer for that price, and the Logitech gaming mice were also too expensive and weren't generally ambidextrous.

Laser and wireless for gaming. Really?

Some people dislike the laser sensor, claiming it's inaccurate when compared with optical sensors in the mouse. I don't know, as I don't play games to the extent that competitive gamers do. For me anyhow, my computer has enough trouble just keeping up with displaying stuff to the screen, so I don't notice how the mouse contributes to movement or action lag. My reactions aren't sufficiently fast to notice any lag from the wireless connection instead of having it wired. As for the Darkfield sensor, I don't notice much difference between my old Microsoft mouse and the new sensor. If anything, the difference is more than accounted for with the lovely big smooth feet the Performance MX has. If the MS mouse had these same wide feet and a repairable wheel, I'd have made more of an effort to keep it going.

Other complaints?

Many many people have complained about the buttons going bad in Logitech mice, for various reasons. Sometimes it's the leafspring inside the microswitches Logitech use, and sometimes it's wear on the plastic pressing against the white button of the microswitch. One's easier to fix than the other, but both of them involve opening up the mouse and thereby invalidating the warrantee the mouse has. Less often, people complain about the stiffness of the middle click, and the increased likelihood of triggering scroll events when they're actually trying to click instead. I've found it stiff, but still functional. Very occasionally, these models (and presumably some others too) are prone to electrostatic buildup inside the capacitors, which can cause erratic behaviour. A simple fix for this is to power the mouse off, remove the battery, then press down both the main buttons of the mouse for thirty seconds. This apparently discharges any remaining voltage in the capacitors. You can then put the battery back in and power the mouse back on. This is often the first fix to try, and won't invalidate any warrantees. It's even recommended by several Logitech representatives in the forums.

Fixing the individual switches can be done in two ways. One involves replacement of the switch with another switch of similar pinout. This requires reasonable hand-eye coordination, soldering skills and a soldering iron. The other requires very good hand-eye coordination, and disassembly of the switch itself to access the leafspring. Reassembly is no mean feat with one attempt of reassembly taking over two hours, most of that taken up by trying to refit the spring after retensioning.

Fixing ridges in the plastic pressing on the white button when the button itself is fine but the action isn't fine, either means filling in the crack perhaps with good glue, or perhaps even buying a new plastic housing.

Conclusions

My initial impression is that this mouse is very nice and well worth the price I paid as a replacement for my previous mouse. It's not a gamer's mouse but that's not why I bought it. I don't need a gamer's mouse and I'm unlikely to ever require the response speed that the G series of mice provide. The fact that I'm using it in my left hand is proving complicated but not unusable, though there's absolutely no doubt that this mouse is meant to be used in the right hand. In my right hand the page history buttons are too hard to reach with my thumb without accidentally running into the zoom button first. I'm sure I'd get used to that in time. I'd love if Logitech actually provided a left-handed variant of this mouse. It's been out for more than five years, surely there's enough demand by left-handed users to warrant the same treatment as Razer, who provide ambidextrous and even fully left-handed variants of some of their models.

Because I have large hands I used previous mice using a claw-grip. Most mice aren't big enough to fit my hand, so my fingers have got used to being bent to reach the buttons. I have to retrain my hand, which isn't a bad thing for me. This mouse still isn't quite big enough to fit my hand, but it's far closer than previous mice that I've used.

As you can rightfully understand, I hope I don't have to fix this mouse for a good long time especially given its price. It's meant to be a premium mouse, it should have premium componentry inside, even if it's not commanding the same price as Logitech's gaming mice. Logitech's customer support is apparently stellar in a lot of cases, with many people able to receive replacement mice when theirs goes bad. Frankly, with the number of people asking for replacements I would have looked very hard at what's going wrong with the mouse, and how to prevent it in later models of the same hardware.

A new (to me) keyboard

I've just received a second-hand (but well-loved) Logitech K750 to go with my Performance MX. The keyboard seems to be in good order, but it feels quite different to type on. It remains to be seen how well I get used to it, as it's almost nothing like the DSE $14 keyboard I was using before. It's quite a solid feeling keyboard that weighs in at 760 grams (1.66 lb) with keys that remind me of laptop keyboards in travel. This is a full-size keyboard though, with all the keys you'd expect on a US keyboard. It might be only 7.5 mm thick, but it's heavier than the DSE keyboard. It's solar-powered, with a backing battery (the ML2032) that's really hard to replace, intentionally. If it goes south, you're normally meant to send this keyboard back to Logitech under their limited three year guarantee. This won't apply to me as I'm a second purchaser, not the primary one.

Pairing the keyboard up to the receiver was as simple as starting up the Unifying software, turning the keyboard off and on, waiting until Vista did its thing with installing new devices, and I was good to go. I'm now typing the article on it, and though it's a little noisier than the other keyboard, I'm not complaining much. It's most certainly a membrane keyboard, but instead of the normal dome with a key mechanism sitting on it, it appears to use a more hinge-like construction similar to laptop keyboards I've disassembled.

How well does it convert to Dvorak?

I've changed out the caps and switched them around to Dvorak layout, though I can already touch-type in Dvorak so it doesn't matter much to me. It's really nice to be able to swap caps around though. Be aware that for this job, you'll need a flat blade, such as a small screwdriver. Also, lever the bottom left and right corner of the key up gently as it clips there in two places inside the cap and hinges from the top. Pop off the caps, and don't remove the rest of the hinge, or you won't get it back together right. Arrange the keys how you need, considering your required keymap. Keycaps simply reattach by placing each key squarely on top of the hinge and pushing down straight until you hear and feel a couple of clicks. If one side lifts up, you haven't got it properly clipped down. Push down on that side until it goes click, and check it depresses and returns cleanly.

About the only other issue I'll have will be keeping the solar panels well illuminated so that the battery remains well topped up. I've raised my keyboard tray a little, that seems to boost the amount of light received. The keyboard normally comes with a micro-fibre cleaning cloth to help out with that. In addition, I'd better not spill any drinks on it, as there's no spill protection whatsoever. Anyone want my Coke?

It also remains to see how well I game on it too, given the shorter travel and the slightly different keyboard layout. It's a little more standard arrangement of movement keys, and the | is above the Enter key, not squeezed down beside the right-shift. At least it's somewhere nearby. Time to game on.

Keyboard Problems

This keyboard hasn't shown me any issues yet, as I've only had it thirty hours. However, this keyboard isn't unbreakable, and you should take the usual care not to knock keycaps off, especially if you break the scissor hinge underneath. Logitech will probably cover accidental damage that's not a result of stupidity, but may not cover the damage if you drop a coffee mug onto the keyboard.

Again, if you kept the original purchase receipt - you did keep it, right? If you did, scan it in and save it as a JPG or PNG image file. You may need this if you need to make a claim under the limited three year guarantee. If you're outside the guarantee period, then you will have to investigate other options.

Others have found that the rechargeable 3 Volt ML2032 gives up after a very short time, or within the first few months. These batteries can be replaced, but you have to replace them with another ML2032, and not a standard CR2032. If you're still within the three year guarantee period, it's simpler to check back with Logitech or your retailer who'll be able to advise what to do. If you're outside the guarantee period, have a look on line. They're not easy to find, but you can find them if you hunt hard enough. Of course, if you don't live in the U.S., then getting them to your location can be nearly as much of a problem as some postal companies have restrictions about sending batteries through the postal system.

Keyboard conclusions

So far, I've found this keyboard pleasant enough to type on, with enough feedback to let me know I've hit the key, without having to hammer it to do so. It's been compared to chiclet keyboards but each key has a subtle dish allowing your fingers to find the centre of the key for better accuracy. Touch typing on this keyboard won't win me any speed awards but I can touch type without any real issues I'm currently aware of. Typing on the other Dick Smith keyboard is certainly louder in comparison, whereas touchtyping on this keyboard is a bit quieter, perhaps similar to the Apple keyboards.

Like the mouse, I don't expect keyboard lag to be perceptible for gaming unless my battery is running low, but I won't know this for several weeks or months yet. The speed of response is certainly adequate enough for my current needs and this should be a very long lasting keyboard if I look after that battery. Would I recommend this keyboard? Currently, yes. It doesn't have the same issues for battery life that the K800 has, though it has its own issue. About the only thing missing from this is the modern trend to backlighting, but you can only do so much with one battery cell.

The cost is a bit of a dampener, even considering what you're getting for your money. I got lucky, and purchased mine second-hand for less than half the retail price, but if you want this keyboard new, be prepared to pay a bit for it. Perhaps not as much as the G-series keyboards, but perhaps more than the K800.

It has the advantage of working under all three major operating systems, though if you wish to customise what the application keys do, you'll need to check what your OS thinks each key does. Under Windows and Mac OS X, basic functionality is provided by the OS, with extended functions provided by the SetPoint and SolarApp programs. Under Linux, check the Solaar program, as you'll probably need this to check battery life.