Contour RollerMouse Free2 roller bar review

Sections: Macintosh/Apple Hardware, Mice, Reviews

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Provides: Ergonomic mouse input
Developer: Contour Design
Minimum Requirements: OS X or Mac OS 8.1 or newer, USB
Price: $239.95
Availability: Out now

I’ve battled typing and mousing pain for nearly two decades now, and have determined that the most effective countermeasures, at least for me, are to be very selective about what input devices I use (the priorities being light button action, smooth and low-effort tracking with mice, and, with keyboards, a short travel with a soft landing and a minimum of “over–center” feedback—the general emphasis being smooth action and light effort) and to use a variety of  input devices in tandem—including a foot mouse-clicker—to spread the stress around.

Actually, my favorite mouse isn’t a mouse at all in the conventional sense, but a Contour RollerMouse Free2 roller bar. I can’t say enough good about roller bars. They’re fast, smooth, and easy on the hands, wrist, and arms, and seamlessly ambidextrous. The Contour Free2 even comes with an excellent wrist rest that  nicely compliments any slim-profile keyboard with a straight front edge.

For general use, I find the roller bar superior to a conventional mouse or trackball. I still use a mouse for work like precision image editing and as a stress-diversifying alternate to the rollerbar.

The RollerMouse Free 2 is a more slick and svelte version of the original Contour RollerMouse that introduced me to rollerbars, and OS still available in an updated version  as the RollerMouse Pro 2. The comparison shot below says volumes.

Getting used to using a rollerbar does involve scaling a bit of a learning curve climb in the early going, but once the muscle memory has been developed and becomes intuitive, you begin to appreciate how quick and effortless these input devices can be. If you suffer from mousing typing pain and haven’t tried a roller bar, you really owe it to yourself to check one out. Even if you have no pain or repetitive stress issues with mousing, roller bars still offer some compelling  advantages in terms of input efficiency.

Roller bars are not very widely known compared with other “alternative” pointing devices such as trackballs and touchpads, but essentially, they consist of a round bar situated between the computer keyboard and the user, who manipulates the screen cursor through a combination of rolling the bar on its axis and sliding it laterally back and forth in its housing. The rollerbar moves the cursor by sliding left to right, up and down, and diagonally (simultaneous slide and roll). Pressing the roller down vertically performs a single click (there is also a central array of click buttons), and the bar click function can be modified if you install the RollerMouse software driver. Otherwise, no driver installation is necessary for Mac OS X 10.1 or later.

Rollerbar operation is actually a lot more intuitive than it sounds, and the theory is that rollerbars reduce physical stress, especially on the elbows and shoulders, by eliminating the reaching necessary when using any mouse—whether conventional or ergonomic.

Contour Design’s RollerMouse roller bar station was developed in Sweden, and is designed to be used with standard computer keyboards that have a rectangular form factor and a straight edge on the user side. I find that Logitech’s K-750 for Mac Rechargeable Keyboard, my current fave, works well with RollerMouse, but a wide selection of keyboards are compatible.

The Contour RollerMouse also can be used with a laptop.

The rollerbar can be manipulated using either hand or whatever combination of thumb, fingers, or palm control is comfortable for the user. This facility for spreading mousing stress between both hands and various digits is a key element in reducing overall stress on the user’s body.

One aspect of roller mousing is inevitably running out of lateral rollerbar travel before you reach the edge of the screen when mousing slowly, in which case you just apply gentle pressure to toggle a switch at the end of the bar’s travel to continue cursor travel in the direction you desire. This is similar to picking up a mouse and placing it in the center of your workable area.

Resolution is 800 DPI.

The RollerMouse Free2 features the following improvements over previous versions:

  • Keyboard lifters allow the user to adjust height and tilt of keyboard to a desired setting. I prefer my keyboard to be either flat or slightly tilted away from me, and thin enough to be lower than the wrist rest.
  • Leatherette wrist supports (instead of the previously used foam texture) make the PRO2 more comfortable and easier to clean.
  • Increased productivity with one touch copy, paste, and double-click supported.
  • The rollerbar is now 67% longer and open to manipulation over its entire length, rather than just through a central access aperture as was the case with my old RollerMouse Classic. Contour says this was done in response to customer feedback that some larger-framed users felt they had to “scrunch” their hands together in order to manipulate the shorter bar.  Extension of the bar to the right and away from the function buttons was done at the request of customers involved in Assistive Technology so as to give users with motor impairment freer access to the bar with minimal risk of inadvertently hitting a function button.

A minor criticism is that the RollerMouse has no USB repeater port, so it eats up a USB port in your system. Unfortunately, this is a pretty general trend with USB peripherals these days, but especially on a device as expensive as the RollerMouse, it would be convenient to have a USB repeater. I would also prefer a non or switchably-detented, weighted scroll wheel a la Logitech mice, and a slightly lighter effort for clicking with the roller bar.

Speaking of “expensive,” the biggest downside of the RollerMouse is its price; it lists at $239.95 for the Free2 model and $199.95 for the Pro2 model, quite a bit more than you have to pop for a good conventional ergonomic mouse such as Contour’s Perfit or many others. However, the RollerMouse is a solidly-engineered and high-quality piece of kit, and proves to be key to greater comfort and productivity at your computer, it could pay for itself pretty quickly. You can save forty bucks by opting for the Pro2 model, but the Free2 really is much slicker and more comfortable to use.

I’m giving the Contour RollerMouse Free2 a full five out of five rating based on its function, engineering and high quality, but acknowledge that some will find the price daunting.

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Buy the RollerMouse Free2

Contour invites computer users from any US major industry, education, or government institution—as well as qualified home users (some 30 day trials will require a valid credit card)—to obtain a 30 day free trial of their choice of Contour products.

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