img_4509-lr-lrsmNot long ago I had the chance to take a close look at Microsoft's Sidewinder X8. One of the X8's main features was the BlueTrack Technology used with its optical sensor that boasts the ability to work on virtually any surface. In my testing I found this to be true, but not really needed in a gaming mouse. BlueTrack Technology would be perfect for portable use in a laptop mouse where you never know what surface you will be using as a mouse pad. Today I have the chance to test out this theory because Microsoft's new Explorer Mini mouse using BlueTrack and I will be putting it to the test.

Product Name: Explorer Mini Laptop Mouse

Review Sample Provided by: Microsoft

Review by: Wes

Pictures by: Wes

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Features

New! BlueTrack Technology is the world's most advanced tracking technology, working on more surfaces than optical and laser, including granite, marble, carpet and wood.1

Sophisticated design features real chrome accents and glowing blue-light effects.

2.4GHz wireless technology gives consumers a confident wireless connection and a range of up to 30 feet, even in crowded wireless environments.

Snap-in transceiver offers users the portability of a notebook mouse with the comfort of a full-size mouse, for use on the desk and on the go. When stowed, the transceiver turns off the mouse to conserve battery life.

Battery life indicator shows two colors: green when the batteries have sufficient power and red when the batteries are running low.

One-touch access to Windows Flip 3D allows users to flip through open windows in a stack and quickly switch among applications for added productivity.2

Tilt Wheel and Magnifier tool let users activate key computer commands and movements with a single touch.

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Packaging

The Explorer Mini Mouse was packaged neatly into an all plastic shell giving you a full view of the mouse along with the wireless adapter sitting next to it. The rest of the front is the standard red that I have grown accustom to seeing on Microsoft hardware packaging. The only other notable feature on the front of the packaging is a rather large BlueTrack Technology logo, apparently they are very proud of this fact ;). On the back Microsoft has dedicated half of the back of the packaging to explaining how BlueTrack Technology works. On the other half of the back you will find a few short descriptions of other important features of the Explorer Mini Mouse.  Down at the bottom they have included a list of Required System Specifications, basically if your computer was made with XP or higher and you have a disc drive you won't have any issues at all.

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In order for you to get into the plastic packaging you have to pull a tab off to break the seal. Once everything is opened up I quickly realized that Microsoft packed everything into the packaging very tightly. The included mouse pouch and all of the software and papers were all stored in a recycled cardboard box hidden under the mouse. Even though everything was packed in tightly, I was very impressed with the creative packaging used on the Explorer Mini Mouse; I suspect it is the first of many things that will impress me.

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Installation

Installing the Explorer Mini Mouse was as simple as running the install disc and then plugging in the USB wireless adapter. In my case this is the same software that was included in the Sidewinder mice. With the mouse working, you shouldn't need to make any adjustments in the software before you continue.

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Comfort

The Explore Mini was designed to be compact but has almost the same height of the X8 that I tested previously. This means that for people like me who prefer a large palm style mouse this should be very comfortable. If you prefer a claw or finger style mouse you may be disappointed. With that being said, as a fan of large palm mice I was extremely happy with the shape of the Explorer Mini. On the left side of the mouse the thumb grove fits my thumb perfectly giving me quick access to the two buttons above the grove. I did find that if I used a wrist rest my thumb bumped the buttons too easily.

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Software

As I said during the installation, the included software was the same as what was used with all of the Sidewinder mice. Because of that each of the five mouse buttons can be reprogrammed to do a long list of functions along with full macro capability if needed. There is also an option to use different button assignments depending on the program or game that you are using. As a laptop mouse these abilities are most likely not needed, but it does stand well above the software of any other laptop mouse that I have reviewed in the past.

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Performance

Having experienced great performance on any surface I could find with the x8 with BlueTrack Technology I wasn't expecting anything but the best with the Explorer Mini and I wasn't disappointed. The mouse tracked perfectly on every surface I could find including (comically to my wife) the hair on my head. This is a testament to the BlueTrack Technology that Microsoft is so proud of. The gliders on the bottom of the mouse help the Explorer Mini slide smoothly on both smooth and rough surfaces. The scroll wheel is drastically different than on the x8 and x5 lacking any resistance when spinning it. The included left and right scroll ability was very helpful when used with my low resolution EeePC. In order to turn the mouse on or off you must remove or reattach the wireless adapter into its dock on the bottom of the mouse, this way the mouse is always off when you are not using it. Another noticeable feature when you turn the Explorer Mini on is the lighting effects. Around the bottom and behind the BlueTrack logo a blue glow appears and fades after you turn the mouse on, it is small details like this that help make the mouse stand out in a crowd.

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Overall

After having a very positive experience with the Sidewinder mice, I was excited to take a closer look at the Explorer Mini. If you couldn't tell up until now, I found the Explorer Mini to be a great mouse. My only complaints were limited to the shape of the mouse, I found the mouse might be uncomfortable for people who enjoy a "claw" or "finger" style of grip. I found the height of the Explorer Mini might make it more difficult to pack in small laptop bags.  I also question the use of Explorer as the products name, considering it is products by Microsoft you would think they would want to prevent you from getting confused with a little known software called Microsoft Explorer. But frankly those issues are very small when compared to the good sides of the mouse. Microsoft designed the Explorer Mini with style, amazing performance, great software, and for me at least it is very comfortable.

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