Unconventional mouse-like input device put to the test (April 21st, 2014)
Product Manufacturer: Penclic
- Less wrist stress/Ergonomics
Long battery life
Mimics stylus functionality
- Learning curve/break in time
Right handed only
Awkward mouse wheel
Windows 8 aside, computer users have been trained that a mouse is the proper way to navigate through the desktop for many years now. Trackballs, trackpads, and touch screens have entered the fray, but the staple has continued to be the mouse -- even as it evolved from using mouse balls to lasers, from one button to as many as you want. So what might the next evolution be? How about combining a Bluetooth mouse with an everyday writing utensil, like a pencil? Penclic has released a mouse that combines the familiarity of holding a writing instrument with the maneuverability of a Bluetooth mouse in the PenClic Mouse B2>.
At first sight, the PenClic Mouse B2 looks somewhat odd. It is a cross between a pen/stylus with more buttons, and about a third of a mouse that retains its wheel. The pen portion is stuck into the base in a fashion similar to a ball and socket joint. The socket allows the pen part to rotate 360 degrees from the point. Angle of the tip of the pen also sets a barrier for how horizontal it can go during operation.
The B2 is of plastic construction, in a gloss white color with silver accents. The finger grip portion is off-white, and feels much like a the side of a mouse with a rubberized coating. It features five buttons for use at the fingertip and thumb. Of note, the B2 is only setup to be used with the right hand.
Connectivity to the PenClic we reviewed is through Bluetooth. The company offers versions other than the B2 for corded and wireless needs. No additional software is needed, nor is there any calibration necessary. Simply flick the on switch on the bottom of the B2, pair it with a machine, and start using it.
The unit is powered by a 1.2 volt AAA nickel-metal hydride rechargeable battery that is said to last around a month on a single charge. A full charge of the battery takes over two hours when charging over USB. It features an LED at the front of the mouse base which indicates the charging status, or tells the user when the device needs to be charged. Standard AAA alkaline batteries can be used as well, but they obviously can't be recharged.
The theory behind the PenClic B2 is to give users a mouse replacement that is more natural and has an ergonomic grip. Mimicking the styling of a pen or pencil, it is a more familiar and natural tool that appeals the brain's potential for fine motor control. The idea is that the mouse will help reduce Repetitive Strain Injuries (RSI) based on prolonged use of a computer mouse (or Mouse Arm Syndrome). Thus, the most common buttons found on a modern mouse are accessed with a finger and thumb.
The pen portion of the PenClic B2 appears to be similar to a stylus for a graphics tablet in many ways. When comparing it to a stylus from a Wacom Cintiq, both have the same sort of ergonomic grip in mind. While the Wacom stylus is focusing more on its attempt to be a drawing tool, the PenClic Mouse has to think of more functionality for normal use. Both have rocker switches at the index finger for ease of use. The B2 feels more comfortable because of the rubberized grip compared to the Cintiq stylus. It is also easier to press the rocker switch at its base on the B2, since there is a groove the index finger sits in below it.
The differences between the PenClic and a Cintiq stylus from there just amplify. The buttons at the thumb are meant to be used in the same manner as the thumb buttons for navigation on a modern mouse. Where the thumb sits at the front of the rocker switch would be for the backward command when pressed, while the rear would be forward. Use of these buttons feels somewhat different, as the thumb wants to press them in more of a perpendicular way than it would on a mouse. It is just in a different manner than one would be used to.
Using the B2 is something that will take a fairly significant amount of time to get acclimated to, especially if you aren't using it exclusively. After using it in various durations spanning one to four hours in a single shot, it becomes pretty apparent that hours will need to be invested to use the B2 properly.
The use of a single finger for right and mouse clicks will be a slight adjustment for users that aren't familiar with a graphics stylus. Getting over that operational difference is the smaller of the adjustment periods for the PenClic Mouse B2. A larger disconnect exists for a common action used everyday while browsing -- the scroll wheel. With the B2, users have to stretch the index finger down to the compact, mouse like base to use the scroll wheel. It is much smaller that a normal wheel, probably closer to what is used on a travel mouse.
Scrolling the wheel feels as good as any other mouse with its solid feedback and fluid motion. However, it just feels odd to have to let go of the pen portion to use the scroll. Using the ring finger or middle finger doesn't seem quite right, but it is possible in some situations, depending on where the pen part is currently sitting. Letting go and using the index finger feels the most natural, with the grip being held and using the middle finger to operate the scroll coming in second.
Getting the proper alignment for the use of the PenClic Mouse B2 is important as well. Out of its packaging, our tester noticed that the mouse base moved in a slightly crooked fashion, causing the mouse to move diagonally. As the pen doesn't control the mouse optics, but rather gives the hand something to grip to move the base with the laser around, this becomes important. Fortunately, the ball socket can be twisted around about 90 degrees to ensure that the hand and mouse base line up properly.
The functionality the P B2 is quite good. When the hand gets into a comfortable position -- and breakaway from mouse habits has been reached -- it actually feels better to use. Moving the base around doesn't feel that much different from maneuvering a mouse around. At first, users will notice that there is a lack of pinpoint accuracy of the device, but it is something that comes with time. As with all things, the unit requires adjustment and time to get as functional as the mouse consumers are used to. It isn't recommended that anyone uses it for playing first-person shooters, but it works well for common desktop tasks.
We were looking forward to finding that the PenClic B2 would be a better solution than a traditional mouse for graphics applications. Sadly, it doesn't offer much of an advance in this area. Even though you have something to grip like a pencil, it simply cannot compete with the use of a graphics tablet stylus. It isn't that it is operating over Bluetooth or any lag issue. Instead, the problem falls back on the fine controls of the device. The action doesn't translate in the same manner as drawing, and therefore it doesn't come to light on the canvas. Putting the time into the device to acclimate to it doesn't help either, as it is still trying to be a mouse.
The PenClic Mouse B2 is a forward-thinking idea for improving the way that computers are used on an everyday basis. It has a learning curve to it, a rather large one at that, if it isn't used exclusively. However, that doesn't mean it isn't enjoyable to use. At around $124, that might not be a gamble that people content with mice are willing to take. While the B2 is a step in the right direction for using fine controls, if it is the innovation computer users need is something to be decided on a case by case basis. For the average user, the PenClic probably won't be of much benefit. For those that have suffered RSIs, the B2 provides the hand with a natural grip that is worth exploring.