The future of Microsoft may be all about touch, but there's still some room for mice: behold Microsoft's elegantly designed mini mouse, made to accompany future Windows 8 tablets.
If you believe what you read about Windows 8 and touch, the mouse will be dead in October. And yet, I'm here to tell you that that's premature...for now. Microsoft, in fact, is making its own set of touch mice in advance of Windows 8's formal launch. The smallest of them, the Microsoft Wedge Touch Mouse, doesn't aim to reinvent the PC's long-standing companion so much as to make it a lot smaller. You may be using a full-size touch pad with your Windows 8 desktop, but for tablets you might crave the opposite: a mouse to make that touch-controlled computer feel more like an old-fashioned desktop.
There's a reason why mice make more sense for Windows tablets than for full-fledged touch computers: some tablet keyboards, like the Microsoft Wedge Mobile Keyboard, lack a touch pad. A mouse can substitute for that missing touch pad and provide needed navigation, in a way the iPad currently can't. On a portable tablet, adding a keyboard and mouse can transform your tiny device into a full-fledged workstation.
The "touch" in the Wedge Touch could seem misleading: this isn't a multitouch pad grafted onto a free-moving mouse. It's really just a design evolution of the touch mice Microsoft already has on the market. Touch, in this instance, is relegated to a few basic scroll functions. You can drag your finger against the mouse's angled matte top surface to scroll in four directions. That basic touch control is all you'll get in the Wedge Touch: no added multifinger gesture language as for the larger Microsoft Touch Mouse. Microsoft may or may not have additional gestural plans for the Wedge Touch mouse in the future, but right now it's a pretty basic affair.
The rest of the Wedge Touch Mouse's mechanisms are standard: right and left click zones in the front have a pleasant tactile response and work even on the front edge. BlueTrack technology, used in other Microsoft mice, does an excellent job of tracking the Wedge Touch's movement on any surface, even glass. Finger scrolling works as well as advertised, too. The Wedge Touch Mouse has inertial scrolling that works intuitively based on how hard you flick, and it worked particularly well on a test PC here at CNET with Windows 8 RTM installed. The Wedge Touch works equally well with a Windows 7 laptop, and even a Mac (on the Mac, however, inertial scrolling felt less smooth than with Apple's own Magic Trackpad and mouse). Android users, the Wedge Touch will even work for you: on a test Acer Iconia Tab, the mouse and even its four-way scrolling worked fine (single-click only, though).
The shape of the Wedge seems incredibly nonergonomic at first, but it makes sense once you use it. The thick end stays at the rear, while your fingers grip the metal sides. When holding it, my hand automatically assumed the position it would be in holding a regular mouse; the Wedge Touch just eliminates the extra bulk. My hand made a lot of surface contact with my desk, almost as much as the mouse itself. This could be completely uncomfortable for some people, and I have no idea what long-term use of such a small and strangely designed mouse would feel like, but I found it easy to adjust to.
The design's charming and very small: one side door pops open easily to accommodate a single AA battery that powers the mouse. Pairing is as easy as a simple button press underneath.
The Wedge Touch Mouse is an elegant, well-designed ultraportable mouse, but it's not revolutionary. It's meant to add traditional input to a hybrid device like a Windows 8 tablet, not offer any advanced touch-pad functions. I've often wished that the iPad had mouse connectivity to go with a keyboard; add a keyboard like Microsoft's Wedge Mobile Keyboard, and you'll have a pretty (and pricey) portable desk set.
Yes, pricey: the Wedge Touch costs $70, and that's a lot to pay for a tiny mouse. I expected a price closer to $40. Other mice are out there that offer similar functionality, and cost a lot less. They're not all as attractive as the Wedge Touch. If you have money to burn and want an ultraportable mouse at any cost, the Wedge is a pretty pick. I just can't personally justify the expense.