One of the perks of being a computer journalist is that every so often products arrive on the doorstep to test – some we rip open and start using immediately, others elicit yawns and never even make it out of their shrink wrap. A recent crop of goodies from Kensington piqued our interest, though, and we found some products worth checking out, along with a couple that didn’t make the cut.
PocketMouse Pro — Jeff here. My main computer is a PowerBook G4, which goes with me almost everywhere. When I’m at home or at my office, I connect a mouse and an external keyboard; at other times, I use the PowerBook’s built-in keyboard and trackpad. However, I can’t use the trackpad over long periods of time, especially with mouse-intensive programs like Adobe GoLive or Photoshop. In those situations (such as a recent unexpected six-hour stint at a Starbucks), a mouse becomes a necessity, and my mouse of choice has become Kensington’s $40 PocketMouse Pro.
I’d swear that the PocketMouse Pro was designed specifically with me in mind. It’s smaller than most mice, measuring 4.375 inches long, 2.25 inches wide, and 1.5 inches tall, which sits well amid the nest of cables in my bag. I’ve also been told by people with smaller hands that it’s a more comfortable fit than some larger mice. The mouse is optical, so it needs no mousepad and there’s no trackball to clean. And, it sports two buttons and a scroll wheel – I started using a two-button mouse in 1995, and will never go back to a one-button mouse. You define the button actions with Kensington’s versatile MouseWorks software (under both Mac OS 9 and Mac OS X).
So far, I’ve described a typical optical mouse, albeit a small one. (A number of other smaller mouse models have been mentioned in TidBITS Talk; use the link below to read the discussion thread.) But what makes people’s eyes light up is the PocketMouse Pro’s 30-inch retractable USB cable. Push a silver button, and a panel in the left side opens to reveal a standard USB connector attached to a thin, coiled cable. When you extend it, the cord slips into a groove at the front so you can close the panel (which would otherwise lift the edge of the mouse off the table). Giving the cord a small tug releases the catch to retract the cable, much like how many vacuum cleaners retract their cords. I’m almost embarrassed that this one trick makes such a difference, but eliminating even one cable from my disorganized bag is an improvement. More importantly, it shows that the mouse’s architects kept users like me in mind when designing it.
I have two minor complaints with the PocketMouse Pro. Because the cord spends most of the time wrapped around the coiling mechanism, it has a natural curl that can get in the way when I’m using the mouse. And, the optical sensor, which has generally been excellent, sometimes skips momentarily when used on grainy, reflective wood, such as is found in Starbucks stores near me.
Optical Elite Mouse — I could use the PocketMouse Pro at home or at the office, but I don’t want to unpack it each time I change locations, and I don’t know if its small size would bother my larger fingers over time. For years I’ve used a simple two-button desktop mouse with a scroll wheel (and spent years cleaning its rollers), so for a change Kensington let me test the Optical Elite mouse.
This $30 mouse is a bit larger than my old two-button Kensington Mouse-in-a-Box/Scroll unit, which I find more comfortable to hold. The sides slope inward slightly, providing a more comfortable resting place for my thumb, and the EasyGrip coating surrounding the bottom half of the mouse offers a soft, rubbery surface.
In addition to two large buttons at the front, the Optical Elite includes two smaller buttons, located on the left and right sides. They’re small enough that you won’t press them accidentally, but because they’re placed high on the mouse’s middle arch, I find that I use only the one nearest my thumb. I need to lift my ring finger to reach the other button, which I find awkward. However, although you can set up actions for each button, including chording combinations that involve multiple simultaneous clicks, I find myself using the same three actions most of the time: single click (left button), double click (right button), and Control-click (smaller left button).
Slim MicroSaver Notebook Security Cable — If you spend more than a few hours working on a PowerBook or iBook in a cafe while drinking coffee or tea, at some point you may need to visit the bathroom – what do you do with your laptop? The sight of an unattended PowerBook can be a highly tempting target for thieves (it doesn’t help that Apple’s portables are so striking – a rare drawback to the company’s attractive designs). A simple, effective solution is to use a Kensington notebook security cable.
As a PowerBook G4 owner, I tried the Slim MicroSaver Notebook Security Cable, which is a plastic-coated metal cable with a loop at one end and a keyed lock at the other. The lock fits into the rectangular security slot that has been built into PowerBooks since the earliest models. To use the cable, you simply wrap it around a secure table leg, bring the lock end through the loop, then attach the lock to the laptop. (Some tables don’t have secure legs, so I often snake the cable through the back of a chair and a handle on my computer bag.)
The slim model has been designed specifically for thinner laptops, such as the PowerBook G4, which means the lock has a smaller diameter to avoid lifting the computer off the table at an angle. Although I never had trouble using an older security cable with my PowerBook G4, I appreciate the Slim MicroSaver’s rubber bumper that protects my PowerBook’s titanium finish from the metal of the lock’s head. As another nice addition, the $45 Slim MicroSaver comes with a velcro strap to make it easier to wrap the cable when it’s stored in your bag or case; again, reducing cable clutter is an important consideration for me.
PDA Protector for the Palm — The last product Kensington let me try out was its PDA Protector for the Palm, which holds a Palm V or Palm m500-series handheld. The title is more than just marketing alliteration: made of aluminum, this case envelops the handheld in a protective shell.
The clamshell design hinges at the top (yep, just like a Star Trek communicator). Inside, the case is covered in black felt-like material that holds the handheld in place; the case design and the felt eliminate the need for a stabilizing rail or velcro strips to secure the organizer, as with other PDA cases. However, the bottom lip of the case covers the serial port, so you must remove the handheld to synchronize it with your computer.
Everything about the construction of the PDA Protector exudes high quality: the top and bottom pieces fit together smooth and solid, and a small magnet keeps the lid shut. The aluminum is solid and sturdy.
Surprisingly, this last point soured me on the PDA Protector. Because the sturdiness comes at the cost of extra bulk and weight, I found myself not wanting to carry my handheld while it was in the case. I liked knowing my Palm was protected when it was in the PDA Protector, but I was disappointed that I rarely carried it outside my bag (and thus didn’t use it). If you’re more concerned with protecting your Palm, this may not be an issue, but it made me go back to the remnants of my original flipcover, which doesn’t significantly affect the Palm’s thin size.
I’m also curious about how well the inside coating stands up to repeated insertions and removals of the handheld: although my unit offered a snug fit, the model on display at Kensington’s Macworld Expo booth was worn and almost slippery from repeated use.
The $30 PDA Protector comes in color combinations of Platinum/Silver and Blue-Ice/Silver for Palm, and is also available in Graphite/Silver for the Handspring Visor.
Turbo Mouse Pro — Adam here. In part because of my addiction to multiple monitors, I’ve relied for years on Kensington trackballs to move my cursor across my expansive desktop. I started with a two-button Turbo Mouse, moved up to a four-button Turbo Mouse four or five years later when the first one started to have some problems, and recently switched to the $110 USB Turbo Mouse Pro to eliminate the need for an ADB-to-USB converter. I’ve handled Kensington’s other trackballs during these years, and I’ve tried trackballs from other manufacturers, but nothing competes with the basic design and solidity of the Turbo Mouse.
The latest Turbo Mouse Pro retains the solid feel and usability of previous versions, though I use few of its capabilities. With the original two-button Turbo Mouse, I relied heavily on both buttons, and when the time came to switch to the four-button Turbo Mouse, I had trouble using the top two buttons. They were just a little too far out of reach, and since I could configure the function of the right button differently for different applications, I seldom needed even one more button. That problem is even more pronounced in the Turbo Mouse Pro, which adds a scroll wheel and six small buttons across the top for launching applications or visiting Web pages. Since those buttons are even further out of reach for me, I’ve never used them at all. I thought I might like the scroll wheel in particular, but the combination of its location and a fairly rough mechanism (I also have a Microsoft optical mouse that has a far smoother scroll wheel) has prevented that.
These criticisms undoubtedly stem largely from the way I position my hand, with the tip of my index finger on the top of the ball, my thumb on the left button, my ring finger on the right button, and the heel of my hand on a pad in front of the trackball. That position worked perfectly with the two-button Turbo Mouse, but I think Kensington intends users to position their hands much higher on the Turbo Mouse, bringing the scroll wheel and top buttons into reach. After so many years, I don’t know if I’ll be able to retrain myself, but those people who are new to trackballs may be able to use it as intended.
Even though I don’t take full advantage of all the available buttons, Kensington’s MouseWorks software lets me tweak the buttons I do use. For Mac OS X, the beta of MouseWorks 2.0 was essential, since the initial release couldn’t restrict button definitions to specific applications. That limited me for a week or so after I first upgraded to Mac OS X; once I was able to upgrade to the 2.0 beta, I could once again click the right mouse button to double-click in the Finder, go back a page in Internet Explorer, Command-double-click on URLs in Nisus Writer, and Command-click on URLs in Eudora. If you’re using a Kensington mouse or trackball, I’d definitely recommend MouseWorks 2.0, even though it’s still in beta.
FlyLight — The last of the goodies from Kensington I’ve used is the $20 FlyLight, a tremendously simple gadget that plugs into your USB port and offers an LED flashlight on a 15-inch wire you can contort into almost any shape you desire. It’s small and simple, and although I don’t generally use it, I did find it useful on one late night plane trip when it wasn’t appropriate to use the overhead light.
The FlyLight’s simplicity is both its strength and its weakness. It would be nice if it had a switch, so you could leave it plugged in without the light on. That’s especially true because it stays on when plugged into PowerBooks and iBooks that are sleeping – apparently power to the USB ports shuts off only when the machine is shut down, something that seldom happens with portables. It would be even more fun, though probably no more useful, if you could control the light via software, turning it on and off, and perhaps even making it flash in patterns. And if it were linked to an iTunes visualizer, it would be truly useless – sounds like a project for the hack contest at MacHack!