The Smartfish Whirl laser mouse is a great gadget for those who have RSI-related complications that are aggravated by using a traditional mouse or trackpad.
Smartfish is a fairly new company that has created a new breed of ergonomic mice and keyboards designed to alleviate the terrors of RSI, repetitive stress injury. I’m always looking for devices like this, as I have RSI-related problems myself including, but not limited to, tendonitis in my right hand. Most ergonomic devices simply have a contoured shape, but the fifty-dollar Whirl mouse moves with the user using a technology Smartfish refers to as Ergo-Motion. They explain that RSI injuries are caused by repetitive motion, so if a device can move with the user, there should be less chance of being forced to repeat the same movements, which can eventually lead to injuries like tendonitis. I’ve been testing the Whirl for the past month, and to find out why this is my new favorite gadget, stick past the break for my full review.
Out of the box, the Whirl doesn’t come with much. The mouse itself, 2 AA batteries and a USB dongle that allows it to be used wirelessly over 2.4gHz without any software. I was a little disappointed that it doesn’t use Bluetooth, but the dongle is so tiny that it’s not a problem unless I need to use the port it’s placed in on my Macbook Pro. It didn’t require any software or drivers to work, so I could swap it between computers by moving the dongle. The mouse was designed in part with the Hospital for Special Surgery in NYC, which was hard to believe because, at first glance, it looks like a very plain mouse. The only thing odd about it is the pivoting platform it sits on that allows it to pivot from side to side or front to back. The top of the mouse is two click buttons and a scroll wheel that can also do side scrolling.
The color scheme is a speckled black with a glossy finish that feels smooth while retaining some grip. The bottom of the platform has an on/off switch, a storage section for the USB dongle, and an 800dpi laser sensor that I doubt is enough for gaming, and six gliding feet. By the way, if you use glass or a clear desktop, you can stop here and look elsewhere because this mouse ain’t gonna cut it. The bottom of the actual mouse is a sliding door to replace the batteries, although battery life is stated at 10 months and I’ve left the mouse on the whole time I’ve had it with no problems.
I normally don’t use mice, since I’ve been using a Mac or a Macbook Pro as my main computer since 2007. With all the multi-touch gestures, a mouse can be very restricting because it lacks things like inertial scrolling, or three-finger swipes, that can be done with trackpads. My gripes with trackpads, though, are that they stay in one spot and they cause my wrist to ache after only a few hours of use, especially when editing videos. I decided to leave the Whirl next to my laptop to see whether I would use it or the trackpad when given the option.
My initial impression was that it was weird to use and I really didn’t care for it. Because of its pivoting design, it sits about an inch off the desktop, which took some getting used to. After a few sessions of whirling around my desk with the mouse though, I became accustomed to the pivot and was loving it. Too bad that any small crumbs on the desk made the gliding less than smooth. The two buttons were very tactile, with a soft but firm snap to them on every click, and the scroll wheel got the job done, but it definitely gave me some finger cramps after a while; I’ll take inertial scrolling over a wheel any day. Still, I was amazed to find that I kept going for the mouse even though I was losing access to all the sweet touch controls on my trackpad.
The pivoting motion allowed me to position my hand however I wanted to, which made it feel more like a natural extension of my hand, rather than like a forced position, like I’m used to with my trackpad. I also began noticing that the trackpad caused my wrist to get sore very quickly; it’s something that I had thought was normal previously. Pivoting the mouse forward was a bit tricky at times, though, because the buttons are so sensitive that I ended up accidentally clicking when I was leaning the mouse forward.
Because there are no touch controls, I basically ended up using the mouse for everything that isn’t done using swipe gestures, and then moved over to the trackpad when it was time to get my touch gesture on. This is really the only major problem I have with the mouse, since I’m switching back and forth, so I would love to see a future revision with a touch sensor so I can keep my hands on this extremely comfortable mouse longer.
To sum this up, I really enjoyed using the simple mouse, which simply works. It’s the most comfortable and pain-free experience I’ve had with an input device in a very long time. Maybe it’s my geek side speaking, but I just wish it had some more buttons to mess with, and some sort of touch sensor on it, even if it cost a bit more. Still, at $50, it’s a great mouse for the average user, especially if you have RSI-related problems, or are interested in a more comfortable computing experience. Overall, I’m giving the Smartfish Whirl a four-out-of-five-stars rating.