In the early days of electronic pagination some 40 years ago, I worked for a newspaper that bought the first one on the market. It was a monster of a computer, with a screen that was more than 30 inches wide. The screen's resolution was awful. The monitor flickered anytime a task was performed. The mouse was about as big as a size-15 men's shoe and its movements typically didn't coordinate with what was on the monitor.
Before computerized pagination, printers were in charge of making up pages by gluing photographic paper that had type on one side onto page-size paper boards. It was piecemeal and not very efficient, but it worked just fine for years. A competent printer could make up Page One in less than half an hour. Even though printers were offered jobs as paginators, none volunteered. Pagination would make their jobs obsolete, and many took early retirement.
There were unintended consequences to computerized page design. After a year of use, under constant deadline pressure, paginators -- now called page designers -- started developing carpal tunnel syndrome, a painful condition of the hand and arm, caused in this case by repetitive movements. One by one, they went from wearing wrist braces to minimize the pain to surgery. Some lived with pain for the rest of their lives.
I recount all this because those pagination machines lacked ergonomics, in which keyboards, mice, monitors and even desks were designed to lessen the muscle and eye strain of long days spent using keyboards and mice. Ergonomics became the buzz word that separated issues such as carpal tunnel syndrome and healthy computing. Hardware manufacturers such as Microsoft designed keyboards that were split, to conform to a natural way of typing. Mice were shaped for minimum stress by conforming to the hand and monitors were designed to be flicker-free. As important as ergonomic keyboards are, the real challenge was designing ergonomic mice -- ones that conformed to the hand and required little in the way of pressure.
Computer mice come is several varieties: mechanical, optical, gaming, trackballs and trackpads. Even the cheapest optical mouse is infinitely more ergonomic than the old pagination mouse. As mice became more ergonomic, they became more sophisticated electronically by becoming wireless. If you've ever used a tethered mouse, one that is connected to a PC with a cable, you'll understand that the cable always got in the way of the mouse.
Following are my recommendation for everyday ergonomic mice. Since I've never used a gaming mouse, that category isn't covered here:
Mechanical mouse: These earlier generation mice typically are packaged with cheap PCs. Since they aren't optical (see below), they can are be imprecise. I don't recommend them.
Optical mouse: This group of mice uses optical sensors on the bottom of the mouse to move the cursor on the monitor. It's likely that a moveable optical mouse is most familiar to PC and Mac users. For the past five years I've used the $35 Microsoft Ergonomic Sculpt mouse. It tracks precisely with my movements. It's wireless, making its connection to my PC via a tiny USB device. The left side conforms to the shape of my thumb, and the familiar left and right buttons are accompanied by a button that switches between the classic Window screen and the Windows 10 screen I spend many hours a day in front of a computer, and it's been problem-free. Its two AA batteries last for months. For the money, it's the best mouse I've used.
Trackpad: If you use a laptop computer, a trackpad will look and feel familiar. You guide the cursor with your forefinger and click on the touchpad to bring up applications. My favorite, for iMacs, is the Magic Trackpad. Like all things Apple, the Magic Trackpad is beautifully designed and perfectly executed. The second generation, the one I use, has a glass top on its 4.3-by-6-inch surface. It's rechargeable -- no AA batteries needed -- and, weighing more than half a pound, it stays put on a table. This new generation is far superior than the first-generation aluminum touchpad, which is smaller and not as responsive. Both connect easily to a Mac via Bluetooth, but I couldn't pair it with my Windows PC. The newer one has what Apple calls "force touch"; it senses when there's a little bit heavier touch on the surface, and will launch applications or anchor the cursor where you want it. I have a 27-inch monitor on my iMac and unlike the mouse that comes standard with an iMac, the trackpad navigates that real estate precisely. Like the Apple Magic Mouse (Apple engineers are nothing if not self-congratulatory), the trackpad responds to finger movements for tasks other than moving the cursor. Swipe right with two fingers and you get to the launchpad, where all your apps are listed. Put a little pressure on any of the app icons and the apps are launched. The trackpad slopes down about 10 degrees, making it far more ergonomic than laptop trackpads, which are flat. For home use (as opposed to carrying it through airports), it can pair easily with MacBook laptops. I use my trackpad about as much as I use the optical mouse on my Windows PC, and haven't experienced any hand or wrist issues. It does take some getting use to, especially if you're accustomed to a mouse that moves. The trackpad is wireless, connecting to the Mac via Bluetooth. If you're ordering a new iMac, you might want to consider paying the $50 difference between the traditional moving mouse and the trackpad. Sold alone, it costs a hefty $129, making it the most expensive device in this review, and it's worth it. Trackpads for Windows PCs work pretty much the same way, and can be bought for as little as $30, to ones costing nearly $300.
Trackballs: If the Magic Trackpad is a hardware engineer's fantasy-come-true, the Logitech MX Ergo stands out in a class of mice that don't move. Instead of pushing the mouse, trackballs have a ball, typically on the left side of the mouse. Sitting at the top of the unmovable class is the Logitech MX Ergo, which works on both Windows PCs and Macs. Unlike cheaper models of other brands, the trackball is ultra-sensitive as the cursor is moved with the right thumb. The side with the trackball is recessed to conform to the thumb, and the scroll wheel sits at a natural distance from the hard-plastic trackball, which looks like a ball bearing, and acts like one. Moving the cursor is precise and takes little effort. The Ergo comes with a heavy magnetic plate that's designed to lift he top and side of the trackball at a 20-degree angle. The metal plate adds heft to the Ergo, in addition to keeping the mouse stationary. The trackball has a rechargeable battery -- one minute of charging is enough to power the Ergo for a day's use. The Ergo has programmable buttons, including one that allows for scrolling sideways. If the $100 Ergo doesn't fit your budget, you might want to try the $50 MX 570. It lacks the tilting feature and uses an AA battery, but I found its hard-plastic trackball precise and easy to move. Oddly, or perhaps to be expected, my thumb started to hurt after long sessions with both trackpads. The Ergo can be set up wirelessly with either a tiny USB adapter or by Bluetooth.
These days, page designers use high-powered Macs and PCs to do their work. And they do that work with mice, keyboards and monitors that help protect them from injuries. After testing -- and using -- the mice mentioned here, I like my Microsoft sculpt mouse best. It doesn't require a learning curve, and it's been reliable for all these years. Trackballs and trackpads take some time get used to, but they are worthy contenders for ergonomic safety.
About The Writer
Harold Glicken is a retired newspaper editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and a collection of his columns can be found at www.helpware-online.com.
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