Hands-on: Microsoft's Wedge Mobile Keyboard & Touch Mouse
We offer our hands-on impressions of Microsoft's Windows 8-focused mobile peripherals.
As previously reported in several unboxing articles, Microsoft Hardware sent over three mice and a mobile keyboard for a little hands-on: the Wedge Mobile Keyboard, the Wedge Touch Mouse, the Sculpt Touch Mouse and the Microsoft Touch Mouse. The first three gadgets are designed to work with Windows 8 right out of the box – the latter Touch Mouse will supposedly get its own Windows 8-specific features next month when the blocky new OS ships.
First up is Microsoft's Bluetooth-based Wedge duo: the Mobile Keyboard and Touch Mouse. The name seemingly applies to the mouse directly: a small, triangular tool. It can't split wood, but it does a fine job performing on almost any surface thanks to Microsoft's BlueTrack technology. Honestly, I spent most of my hands-on with this mouse using it on the couch, the floor and even my leg when playing Diablo 3 in my beach chair without having to pull out a solid surface or mouse pad.
Both Wedge products are designed for mobility, and use a Bluetooth connection. That said, I suspect Microsoft wants customers to use these two gadgets when Windows 8-based tablets hit the scene next month. Personally I use both with my Nexus 7 tablet, turning the Asus-made gadget into a makeshift Android netbook. This was the first time I've ever tried to pair a Bluetooth mouse with my Android gadget, and I was surprised to see the typical mouse functionality in Ice Cream Sandwich.
The Wedge Touch Mouse is strangely small, but on purpose: again, it's meant to work alongside a tablet, thus it can be slipped right into your pocket without causing any snide remarks. It merely comprises of two buttons bordered by brushed aluminum on each side, with the smallest rounded edge facing your fingertips and the taller end towards your palm. You'll never actually rest your hand on the gadget – it's just that small – unless you have extremely small hands or you're four years old.
The actual touch portion resides on the surface of the two buttons. Scratch that – there really aren't two buttons, but rather the mouse features one continuous surface with a single line screened down the middle. It's the area of this line where the touch feature resides, offering four-way scrolling. In a browser, this means the user can swipe a finger up and down this line to scroll up and down – swiping left and right scrolls left and right. Too cool.
As another example, the mouse makes scrolling through images easy: just swipe a finger left and right to move forward and backward in Windows Photo Viewer. But there's a catch: swipe too fast, and all the pictures roll by as if they're trying to make a motion picture. That said, the mouse offers two swiping modes: slow and fast, depending on your viewing and browsing needs. This takes some getting used to, especially when you've used a mouse wheel for years.
The Wedge Touch Mouse performs like any other mouse out of the box, but it can be customized in Microsoft Mouse and Keyboard Center. Actually the customization options are rather insane, and even includes commands for gamers. But let's stop right there for a second: this is not a gaming mouse unless you're playing something like Diablo 3 or Guild Wars 2. PC gamers with a taste for first-person shooters will need to look elsewhere given its overall physical size and limited buttons.
Regardless, the included gaming commands consist of a Precision Booster for adjusting the pointer speed (like slowing it down for sniping off a few heads), a Gaming Toggle for recording and playing up to two favorite key sequences while in-game (which helps with repetitive tasks and sequences that are long or difficult to run), and Quick Turn for spinning your character to face in the opposite direction. These options are actually part of Microsoft's app, and not specifically a feature of this particular mouse.
In addition to the gaming features, customers can also assign browser commands, content commands (like Copy, Paste, Delete etc), key commands, open Flip 3D or Instant Viewer, use Digital Ink in PowerPoint, assign macros and more. These options can be applied to the left or right button, changing their default, run-of-the-mill mouse settings. Users can also disable one of the buttons too, creating one large clickable mouse button surface instead.
In addition to the basic settings, Microsoft’s app also allows the user to set app-specific settings, meaning you can assign mouse buttons to perform different commands in different programs. For PC gamers who love using specific macros, this should be ideal. I didn't explore this option, but Microsoft offers a few examples like opening the Magnifier when launching a specific app. Ultimately this means you can assign essentially the same things as you can in Basic Settings, but instead of a general assignment across the board, they're focused on a specific app. You could thus assign the left mouse button to act one way in Crisis 2 and another way in Google Chrome.
Naturally you won't get this kind of customization on an Android tablet, but I'm willing to bet you'll see the same features on a Windows 8 tablet. In a Windows 8 environment, the gadget's touch-based capabilities make it easier for users without a touch-based screen to navigate Microsoft’s Modern UI (formerly known as Metro). Simply swipe your finger left and right to browse across the new horizontal interface, then click on your desired app.
The Wedge Touch Mouse is surprisingly comfortable to use despite its small size. Its tallest point is a mere 0.75-inches and its thinnest is at 0.25-inches. It's roughly 2.25-inches wide, with each button measuring at 1-inch. I find myself holding it with my thumb, middle and ring fingers while placing my palm on the desktop or some other surface. The mouse actually clicks when pressed, staying old school so you'll still have that tactile reassurance.
Setup was extremely easy too. There's a button on the bottom that opens one of the sides, allowing users to insert the battery. There's also the power button underneath for turning off the device when not in use – it's also used to pair the device with your Bluetooth-enabled tablet, desktop or laptop. Merely hold the power switch down for a few seconds until the mouse emits a red line along the rounded backside (you can't see it until it's lit, under the Microsoft logo), indicating it's ready for pairing.
Again, I really like this mouse, but it's not ideal for every-day computing. Instead, it makes for a great mobile mouse for your laptop or tablet. It's designed for portability, for sticking it in your pocket or laptop bag without taking up too much space. It's definitely a solid product, but the $69.95 pricetag may be a bit steep for consumers. Then again, it's a mobile mouse with touch-based features and the ability to perform on almost any surface, so many may deem the price as worth the expense.
To accompany the Wedge Touch Mouse is Microsoft Wedge Mobile Keyboard. Like the mouse, it's designed for portability, for using with a tablet on-the-go. It measures about 4-inches deep and 10-inches wide, making it less-than-ideal for working in the office and playing first-person shooters, but great for typing documents and emails on a tablet while camped out at a coffee shop.
Wait, let me back up there – I have actually used this keyboard as a main source of input for a while just for kicks. Given the gadget's overall size, the keys are cramped but not uncomfortably so. Like the Wedge Touch Mouse, it's comprised mostly of brushed aluminum, making it both light and highly sturdy. The edges are rounded and smooth, eliminating any possible flesh wounds due to sharp edges.
As a PC gamer, the keyboard is ideal for games like Diablo 3 and Guild Wars 2. I spent my birthday/Labor Day weekend camped in a beach chair positioned in front of my living room HDTV, pumping in my two most-played games via my laptop's HDMI connection. Instead of having my laptop in my actual lap, I used both Wedge gadgets and set the laptop off to the side. It was laziness to the extreme, I know, but the mouse and keyboard made it happen, taking up very little space in my lap. Bluetooth eliminated any wiring, making it easy to set them aside when my legs went numb and I needed a break.
Still, I won't lie: typing on the keyboard can be a challenge, especially if you're used to large, spacious keyboards. Each key is still 0.50-inches square, but there's no space in-between – Microsoft has them packed in, edge-to-edge. That said, I've found myself misspelling more than usual, and caps lock officially became my #1 enemy. So as I said, the Wedge Mobile Keyboard is ideal for mobile uses, and not everyday computing. It even sports a Windows 8 key, replacing our favorite Windows 7 key, which brings up the Modern UI Start Screen all the same.
In addition to the Windows 8 button, the keyboard also provides a line of media and Hot Keys along the top for adjusting the volume, bringing up the Desktop screen, the Settings screen, searching, sharing and more. Their secondary nature is to perform as your typical function keys, but only when the user presses the Fn button. Naturally in a Windows 7 environment, the specific Windows 8 shortcuts don't work save for the volume controls.
Rounding out this Wedge duo of tablet friendly devices is the keyboard's durable cover. It comes with "clamps" which secures it to the keyboard on both sides. It will also turn off the keyboard when clamped on, saving battery power, and then turn the keyboard back on when the cover is removed. It's also made of a rubber material, allowing users to store the keyboard with their tablet in a bag while reducing possible scratches to the tablet's screen in the process.
The cover's rubbery surface makes it a magnet for catching dust, food particles and other undesirable cling-ons. But this rubbery design also makes it extremely flexible so that users can clamp it onto the keyboard, and to bend it in the middle for making a makeshift tablet prop. This latter feature is extremely handy, accommodating tablets from 7-inches to 10-inches. It feels like it may eventually snap in two at the perforation, but it doesn't – it simply bends accordingly, and will bend back into place just as easily when the user is ready to place it back on the keyboard.
In my case, I paired the keyboard – along with the Wedge Touch Mouse – with Google's Nexus 7 tablet. It works as expected, and the keyboard cover accommodates the smaller size without a problem – the rubbery surface probably helps keep it in place with its non-slip "grip." The keyboard itself features a prop underneath which plays host to the batteries and Bluetooth button, as sen above – simply hold this for several seconds until the device goes into discovery mode. Pretty simple.
On the whole, I really love both Wedge gadgets although the keyboard is a bit more expensive than the mouse, costing $79.95. That said, for this mobile couple, you're looking at shelling out $150 – that's not exactly cheap. Then again, we've seen a gaming keyboard costing around the same price, so customers will have to determine if the mobile-focused gadgets are worth the cost. I say yes because they're top notch, Bluetooth-based peripherals from Microsoft, ready for Windows 8, and as far as the mouse goes, packs plenty of customization.
The Wedge Mobile Keyboard and Wedge Touch Mouse are awesome peripherals for on-the-go computing. Their small, compact size makes them easy to stash away with a tablet or notebook, and the keyboard's rubber cover even serves as a tablet prop, turning any Bluetooth-capable tablet into a makeshift netbook.
However the price may scare off some consumers, as their combined cost hovers around $150. Still, these are high-quality Microsoft peripherals, and will work great with the upcoming Windows 8 platform no matter the form factor. The keyboard's Windows 8-specific keys should shorten the learning curve while the touch-based features on the mouse will make navigation a breeze.
I had planned to cover the other two Microsoft mice in this hands-on, but this installment got rather lengthy, so we'll do the Touch Mouse and Sculpt Touch Mouse in another installment.