Product Review: Evoluent Ergonomic Vertical Mouse
EDIT: I’ve switched, full-time, to the Contour Mouse, primarily because the Evolutent Vertical Mouse reviewed below tapers at the top in a way that forces one to uncomfortably “pinch” the mouse. I didn’t notice this irritation before I wrote the review, but it became more evident over time and makes me recommend the Contour Mouse instead. I’m using a “large” size, but the size you need will vary for obvious reasons.
The Evoluent Vertical Mouse takes the shape of a traditional mouse and essentially rotates it 90 degrees. This probably means nothing without a picture:
You then grip it like this:
That contrasts with a traditional mouse because your forearm doesn’t rotate:
The Evoluent posture is supposed to be more ergonomically sound. Judging the ergonomic claims is difficult, and I haven’t found any strong research to support them, as described in greater detail below. But the mouse, though it takes a little bit of time to acclimate, does feel better. The difference between a standard mouse and an Evoluent Vertical Mouse isn’t as great as the difference between a standard keyboard and a Kinesis Advantage, for example. That being said, it still seems like an improvement over a mouse design that seems to have come about chiefly by accident rather than planning.
The mouse retails for at places like Newegg, but you can find it for $53 from Google shopping as of this writing.
With any exotic, expensive device that promises dramatic improvement, it’s worth considering what, if any, research backs it up. The answer, so far as I can tell using a combination of Google Scholar and the University of Arizona’s online databases, is “not much.”
The best I found came from two sources: The prevalence of neck and upper extremity musculoskeletal symptoms in computer mouse users (2000) and Can a more neutral position of the forearm when operating a computer mouse reduce the pain level for VDU operators? (2002; VDU is researcher speak for “visual display users,” or, as we might call them today, “computer users.”) Both articles are behind pay walls. The first finds that some pain in the upper extremities of mouse users tends to exist, and the latter essentially answers “yes” to the question of whether a neutral forearm position and reduce pain, although the study doesn’t really get around placebo effect problems—that is, merely showing users that one is interested in their problems can sometimes make users work faster or alleviate their ills.
You can see this in a slightly different context in Matthew Stewart’s “The Management Myth,” which appeared in the June 2006 Atlantic:
While a group of female workers assembled telephone relays and receiver coils, Homer turned the lights up. Productivity went up. Then he turned the lights down. Productivity still went up! Puzzled, Homer tried a new series of interventions. First, he told the “girls” that they would be entitled to two five-minute breaks every day. Productivity went up. Next it was six breaks a day. Productivity went up again. Then he let them leave an hour early every day. Up again. Free lunches and refreshments. Up! Then Homer cut the breaks, reinstated the old workday, and scrapped the free food. But productivity barely dipped at all.
The second study also looked at mice that were more like joysticks than like the Evoluent mouse. But it also demonstrates that keeping one’s arm in a more vertical position is probably superior to keeping it in a horizontal position, all other things being equal.
But the study doesn’t measure whether and how moving one’s hand from a horizontal keyboard to a vertical mouse might change the experience: since most of us probably type more than we use the mouse, we regularly switch from one input device to the other. The Evoluent mouse requires you raise your hand slightly as you go from the keyboard to the mouse because of the mouse’s instead of letting your hand fall onto the mouse. This might obviate some of the ergonomic benefits in real-world use.
Finally, a 1995 study called “Design Criteria of an Ergonomic Mouse Computer Input Device” by Richard Pekelney and Robin Chu mostly calls for more research and discusses some of the research performed up to that time. It doesn’t even consider the possibility of a vertical mouse. If anyone knows of better researcher on mouse design, send me an e-mail or leave a link in the comments section.
Sensors and Tracking
The mouse has three buttons on the right side (a lefty version is also available), with a scroll wheel between the top two buttons. In OS X, those buttons correspond to a traditional left click, a traditional right click (bringing up context menus) and expose, which shrinks all currently open windows. The layout is easy to use; the mouse is slightly too small for my hand, but scoop on the mouse’s left side offers a comfortable spot for my thumb. There’s also a button that will offer a rapid scroll in some programs, like Firefox, but which otherwise isn’t active. Textmate, for example, appears not to do anything with the other button.
The sensors are apparently a selling point for gamers. As Evoluent’s website says:
An Avago 3080 gaming grade infrared sensor tracks more accurately on many surfaces than most laser sensors. The Rev 2 has a button and indicator light on the bottom for cycling the true optical hardware resolution among 4 settings: 2600, 1800, 1300, and 800 dpi. This makes adjusting pointer speed easier and further improves tracking.
I have no idea what “An Avago 3080 gaming grade infrared sensor” is, or whether that description is merely speaking speak or a genuine feature, but I do know that the on OS X the mouse scrolled way too fast out of the box: I’d barely move my wrist, and the mouse would fly across the screen. Consequently, hit a button on the bottom of the mouse to lower its sensitivity, and I also had to adjust the mouse tracking and clicking speeds in OS X so that I could actually use the mouse for precision work. The out-of-the-box settings might not be very good for reasons discussed in the next section.
Lousy Mac Support Might Not Matter
One annoying part of Evoluent’s website: they have a section devoted to why they don’t provide good Mac support. Maybe the number of mice they sell to Mac users is small, but this seems unlikely since 12% of U.S. households now own Macs. In addition, given how many hackers are now starting to use Macs in earnest again, Mac users are probably important out of proportion to their raw numbers for the reasons Paul Graham describes. If you’re offering esoteric computer products that require a certain amount of openness and willingness to try new things, it would seem rather foolish to exclude a market that presumably overlaps substantially with yours.
I’m sticking with the Evoluent mouse rather than moving back to my old mouse. As I said above, there’s not a great deal of difference, but I spent a lot of yesterday scrolling as I edited a novel. I think the mouse made doing so at least somewhat easier. Considering the amount of time one spends using a computer, even marginal enhancements are probably worth the small cost of retraining and the somewhat higher costs of the mouse itself.