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Evoluent Vertical Mouse 4 for Mac review

Sections: Macintosh/Apple Hardware, Mice, Peripherals

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Provides: Ergonomic mousing with six programmable buttons and scroll wheel
Developer: Evoluent
Minimum Requirements: Bluetooth-enabled Mac
Price: $99.95
Availability: Now

Evoluent’s sales pitch for the Vertical Mouse rests on the idea of a handshake. Extend your hand like you’re going to shake hands with someone, then let it fall to your side. In that motion, your hand is in what Evoluent terms an “arm neutral” position, where all the bones are aligned in a resting state rather than twisted (your palm basically stays parallel to the side of your body, rather than being parallel to the floor—unless you’re some dignitary who extends their hand for a ring to be kissed, in which case you can probably hire someone to mouse for you).

For users with repetitive stress injuries (RSI) or who simply experience discomfort using a mouse all day, the Vertical Mouse may provide you with relief from physical pains, though it’s likely to replace them with some software pain in the process.

Evoluent Vertical Mouse 4

On Your Side

At first glance, Evoluent’s design looks pretty radical, but if you really consider the physics they’ve simply taken the old mouse and turned it 90º. Obviously the tracking hardware is still on the bottom, but the buttons are now on the left and right sides rather than on top, so you grasp the mouse the same way you would grasp someone’s hand to give it a shake. The Vertical Mouse 4 for Mac only comes in a right-handed version, so the three primary buttons and the scroll wheel are located on the right, while a silver ovoid thumb rest is over on the left flanked by two more buttons. The scroll wheel is clickable, for a total of six user-assignable buttons (more on that later); there is also a rocker that can increase/decrease pointer speed without a tedious trip into System Preferences.

Evoluent Vertical Mouse 4

I’m lucky in that I do not suffer from RSI, but I definitely felt a difference using the Vertical Mouse. Although I normally use Apple’s Magic Trackpad, I have used a variety of mice over the years, from a standard-issue Dell two button to the infamous Apple puck mouse to a fancy Kensington model with more buttons than I knew how to use. The simple twist of the forearm introduced by the Vertical Mouse made a huge difference in ergonomics and comfort, even for me without any RSI problems. Though I’m not an ergonomic specialist, I would definitely recommend the Vertical Mouse be on a list for those who do suffer, provided they’re able to deal with some minor software issues.

Software Discomfort

Although Evoluent’s website no longer shows it for the Mac driver, a trip using the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine shows a very telling disclaimer that was displayed under both the Mac and Windows download links (the Windows disclaimer only applies to pre-XP versions):

If the Evoluent driver does not work in your system, try these shareware drivers:

When I first received the Vertical Mouse, the first thing I did was pair it and see what I could do without any special driver software (and Evoluent’s install instructions even tell you to do this). Basic left/right click and scroll functionality worked, and basic options like pointer speed, scroll speed, and scroll direction can be controlled via Apple’s generic Mouse preference pane. But Evoluent included six buttons that were, ostensibly, user-configurable, so I downloaded the latest driver, ran the install, and happily set to work assigning functions like back/forward, Show Mission Control, Copy, Paste, etc. I closed System Preferences and started testing functions, only to find most of my newly-defined button actions didn’t work. Neither did the Pointer Speed rocker. A quick reread of the downloads page and the full meaning of the disclaimer hit me: there was basically an acknowledgement that the software for the $100 gadget you just bought may not work.

Evoluent Vertical Mouse 4

Ever an endeavoring tester, I set about reproducing the issue on other systems, so I tested the driver on three Macs running 10.5, 10.6, and 10.7 (yes, I have that many old computers), and I was never able to get full functionality. On the Windows side of things, I was unable to get all button functions working as I’d specified in the Control Panel even in totally brand new Windows XP and 7 machines (I keep virtual machines with basic installs of each OS with no software other than current patches). Programmable buttons aren’t anything new—I had a Kensington Orbit trackball with all kinds of wacky button functions almost 20 years ago—so this is a serious drawback for an otherwise great piece of hardware.

Making Progress

In Evoluent’s defense, they did post a new version of the Mac driver on 4/11/13, which I have installed on my base machine running 10.8. The new software has given me most of the functions, including the Pointer Speed, though I’m still unable to get Show/Hide Desktop (a Mission Control function) to work. Rather than zooming my windows out of the way, the driver interprets this as a down arrow, so my webpages scroll and the I-bar jumps down a line in documents just as if I’d pressed the down arrow key. It’s a positive sign to see active development, so hopefully these software issues will be completely resolved in the future. Until they work 100%, though, it’s tough to justify the Vertical Mouse’s price tag.

If you need an ergonomic mouse to alleviate/prevent RSI issues when mousing at your computer, Evoluent’s uniquely upright approach may be a useful option for you. The grip is certainly more comfortable than a standard mouse, and the layout is truly phenomenal; there’s even a thoughtfully flared lower edge for your pinky finger to rest on so it doesn’t drag across the desk when you move the mouse.

However, the Vertical Mouse is seriously hobbled by its current software, so the $100 price tag is tough to swallow given the variety of cheaper, more functional alternatives including trackballs from Logitech and Kensington with similar programmable buttons and driver software that actually works.

Since it’s sold through the Apple Online Store, you can always order it, test it out for up to two weeks, then return it if the software is a dealbreaker for you.

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