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Logitech's latest top-of-the-line mouse boasts breathtaking design -- a sleek, low-slung, black-and-chrome wedge that looks like a flying car from Blade Runner or a half-sized, sexed-up TV remote. It also features breathtaking versatility: In addition to gliding gracefully about your desk, the cordless MX Air works when held in midair and pointed at a PC across the room, whether for multimedia playback or couch-based Web surfing.
Oh, and it has a breathtaking price: $150. Yes, that's for just the mouse instead of a mouse-and-keyboard bundle, though the MX would be a great partner for Logitech's hyper-styled diNovo Edge at a combined $350.
Still, once you see the MX Air it's hard to resist it. The symmetrical, low-profile shape keeps your hand -- whether left or right -- flatter or closer to your desk than most mice, with seamless left and right buttons falling naturally beneath your index and middle fingers.
Fast finger flicks, as with the wheel of Logitech's MX Revolution, activate what the SetPoint software driver calls inertia scrolling: a change from ratchet to flywheel motion that turns scrolling into a speedy blur, reaching the top or bottom of most documents or Web pages within a second. As a compromise between precise and warp-nine navigation, the top and bottom ends of the strip act as up and down buttons for smooth, medium-fast scrolling.
We have mixed feelings about the scrolling surface. We've liked touch-sensitive strips that serve as, say, volume controls on some notebook and desktop keyboards, but we're not sure the technology entirely works as a scroll-wheel replacement. Properly configured, it does provide an elegant gliding motion, but in our case it took a lot of twiddling with the driver's scrolling speed and acceleration settings.
We also fluctuated between using and disabling inertia scrolling, which was often too fast for our reflexes when it came to clicking the strip to stop at a desired point (and several times, we swear, scrolled south when we slid a finger toward the north).
See the Light
By contrast, we have no hesitation in applauding the four flush-fitting buttons atop the mouse's middle, just behind the scroll strip. (Well, if we have to criticize something, the buttons and the rest of the MX Air's glossy black shell get smudged with fingerprints something fierce; Logitech provides a polishing cloth.)
The buttons -- labeled by tiny orange LED backlights that glow when the mouse is moved -- default to a Back function for your Web browser and Windows Explorer; Select, a redundant left click; Play/Pause for multimedia applications; and Mute for audio volume.
The SetPoint driver lets you reassign them -- except for the left and right mouse buttons, which can't be changed apart from being reversed for left-handed users -- to familiar optional functions such as Document Flip (a pop-up menu of active applications); auto-scroll for navigating documents by moving the mouse forward or back; and cut, copy, or paste.
Whichever button settings you prefer -- and once you adjust to the scrolling surface -- the MX Air is an excellent mouse on your desk: comfortable to hold, effortlessly smooth to move, precise to maneuver (thanks to laser tracking), and quick to respond.
And ready for takeoff.
Lift the MX Air off your desk, and the cursor changes (unless you uncheck a driver dialog box) from the usual arrow to a larger, darker arrowhead. Now, thanks to the mouse's 2.4GHz, pinky-sized USB transceiver, you can roam as far as 30 feet from your PC, pressing the same buttons and waving the mouse to make the same moves as before, as the Logitech performs without a hitch.
(Back at your desk, you'll likely discover something you hadn't noticed before: that you occasionally lift your mouse a few millimeters off the surface while moving it. The air cursor flickers into life for that fraction of a second.)
What the vendor calls Freespace motion control technology uses microelectromechanical sensors and digital signal processors to track motion and acceleration in three dimensions, with higher accuracy and lower latency than previous midair mice (such as Gyration's) that use minature mechanical gyroscopes.
According to Logitech, the scheme works even if the mouse is held sideways or upside down, and automatically subtracts the slight hand motion or tremor that everyone exhibits when holding a device at arm's length.
We can testify that it truly works -- once you find a comfortable grip on the MX. We alternately held the mouse between thumb and ring finger, leaving the index and middle fingers resting on the main buttons, and in a half-open palm, using the thumb to push buttons as with a TV remote control.
Believe It Or Not, I'm Walking on Air
Even after a week's practice, swooping and steering the pointer to click an application icon or Web link was a somewhat slower, less confident maneuver than driving the mouse on our desktop. Indeed, while we lounged halfway across the room enjoying Windows Media Player playlists, we sometimes found ourselves unconsciously putting the MX down on makeshift surfaces such as the arm of an easy chair. (The Logitech is simply terrific on that frequently mentioned optical-mouse testing ground, a pants leg.)
Despite its speed, we don't see avid gamers using the MX Air in the final rounds of a fast-action network party. While it's definitely faster and more precise than the Gyration we sampled years ago, it doesn't become part of your hand or one with your body the way a desktop mouse can when a player's in the zone. Or maybe it's just hard to accustom yourself to waving at your monitor after decades of using an earthbound mouse.
But when used more sparingly, especially for multimedia applications, the MX Air is spectacular. For one thing, it's far more convenient to keep your everyday mouse in your hand instead of dropping it and picking up a bulky Windows Media Center remote when it's time for PC entertainment.
For another, when in flight the Logitech can perform tantalizing -- albeit tantalizingly few -- special maneuvers or gesture commands. Pressing the Volume button while steering the mouse left or right decreases or increases audio volume, as seen on a pop-up horizontal bar on screen. Clicking the Volume button switches audio on and off. Pressing the Play/Pause button gives those commands to your media player.
Holding the Play/Pause button down while sketching a clockwise or counterclockwise circle in the air jumps to the next or previous track in a playlist, respectively. (This didn't quite work on the first try every time as the volume control did, but it was sure fun.)
While you're probably dreaming of dozens of gestures right now, there's only one more that the MX Air recognizes -- giving the mouse a shake. It's disabled by default, but SetPoint lets you specify it as either freezing or recentering the cursor on screen in case you get a little lost -- or, more interesting, link it to a so-called MenuCast command that pops up a customizable menu of favorite applications and suitable commands for certain programs such as media players. Another driver option lets you reassign a gesture to Air Zoom, which enlarges or reduces Web-page text or image-editing windows as you waggle the mouse to and fro.
Logitech says the MX Air's rechargeable battery should last for five days on duty before you must return the mouse to its charging stand. We managed only four days, perhaps because we didn't turn the mouse off overnight (there's a sliding switch on the bottom). It pays to get in the habit of recharging, because while the process isn't too slow -- two and a half hours to top off -- it's a pain to plug in your old mouse for half an hour while the Logitech revives sufficiently for a day's use.
Overall, we think the MX's aerial antics are a delight -- considerably more impressive, in our opinion, than the slippery scrolling strip. We're already dreaming of a SetPoint upgrade that supports more programmable gestures.
Whether you'll be dreaming of an Air of your own depends partly on your budget and partly on your computing habits -- i.e., whether you surf the Web and use a media player frequently enough to enjoy relaxing across the room while doing so. But it's no small feat to make a first-class desktop mouse that performs almost as well when handled like Harry Potter's magic wand. It's not really for everyone, but everyone who sees the MX Air will be smitten.
Logitech MX Air
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This article was first published on HardwareCentral.com.