The RollerMouse from Contour Design is more than a revolutionary mouse alternative. It’s an earthquake off the top of the ergonomic Richter Scale. It takes the normal idea of what a “mouse” should be and turns it on its head, yet manages to remain completely intuitive – even for users who have never seen it before.
Everything you know about mousing is wrong
Okay, maybe not wrong, but probably not complete either. The long-tailed critter next to your computer is not the end-all of pointing device technology. Nor is the trackball on your co-worker’s desk, nor even the Magic TrackPad plugged into the boss’s Mac. There’s a different way of controlling your computer, a whole new world of ergonomic possibilities opened up by the RollerMouse.
The action of a RollerMouse is difficult to describe, but easy to do. The core of the unit is the “roller bar,” a coated plastic tube that slides up and down on a longer metal tube. This sliding motion defines left and right mouse movement on the screen. To move up and down, the tube is rolled in either direction. Combined, these movements give you as much control over your pointer as you enjoy with a regular mouse. The roller bar can also be used to click by pushing down lightly. An array of buttons out front provides right-click, double-click, scroll, and more.
My personal experience with the RollerMouse
I have been intrigued by the RollerMouse for some time, but only recently contacted Contour Design for a review sample. Having read up on the device and watched Contour’s demo videos, I expected to be impressed. I was.
Right out of the box, the unit feels high quality (which is to be expected from a mouse that costs as much as some computers). There’s nothing flaky or squeaky on the thing. All the action is solid, and the parts feel well-made. In addition to the RollerMouse, the box contains an array of accessory feet for elevating thinner keyboards to match.
Using the RollerMouse was instantly intuitive for me. There was almost no adjustment period at all, a fact I found remarkable considering how radically different the RollerMouse is from anything I’ve ever used before. It’s not just me, either. I showed the RollerMouse to several other people, and they grasped it after a tutorial that took all of three seconds.
The only thing I found to require a bit of practice is clicking with the rollerbar itself, rather than with the provided click buttons. Pushing the bar down without turning it can be a bit challenging at first, but I soon picked up the habit of holding the bar steady while applying click pressure. Two-handing the roller bar could make this easier as well.
I did my RollerMouse trial run with my normal Contour mouse still hooked up and ready to go on the right. Noteworthily, I found myself gravitating to the RollerMouse, actually wanting to move the mouse so I could use it.
Bringing it all within reach
No matter how “ergonomic” a mouse may be, it’s still a mouse – and as such, it still requires room to work. This six- or eight-inch-square area, often defined by a mouse pad, is almost always found to the immediate right of the keyboard. Given the width of most keyboards, there really isn’t enough room for both, and one or the other usually gets pushed out beyond the limits of easy reach. (Unless, of course, you’re using a compact keyboard like the Typematrix 2030.)
The Contour RollerMouse is designed to occupy the already-empty space right in front of your keyboard. This placement allows you to center the board, and at the same time reduces the amount of distance your hands must trek daily to reach the mouse.
Loosen up that grip
The need to constantly grip a mouse, particularly for precise movements, is one ergonomic problem present to some degree in almost every mouse design. In its redefinition of the “mouse” paradigm, the RollerMouse eliminates the need to grip anything, because there is quite literally nothing on the device to grip! Everything about the RollerMouse invites your hands to open up, relax, and enjoy life – while still accomplishing the necessary chore of putting your mouse pointer where it needs to be.
Give your mouse hand a break…
Without moving, look down at your mousing hand right now. If you’re like most people, it’s very likely to be resting on your mouse, either spinning a wheel or clicking an arrow as you scroll down through this article. This is a shame because time spent passively reading on the computer is perfect for giving your mouse hand a rest. With the RollerMouse, your hand is almost automatically resting whenever it’s not actually moving or clicking, which adds up to a lot more “breaks” and a lot less tension.
…and put the other hand to work
When we type, our right and left hands tend to share the workload more or less evenly. Activities involving mouse use, however, are a different story. For the most part, the left hand sits on the desk or chair arm, doing nothing more useful than holding a coffee cup and waiting for something to type.
While it is very easy to use the RollerMouse with just one hand, it’s also nice to have the option of bringing your non-dominant hand into the mix. The RollerMouse lets your hands split the work of clicking, and, remarkably, the work of pointing as well if desired. Two-handing the roller bar does more than boost the self-esteem of your other hand; it actually halves the effort of clicking and also lets you steady the roller bar with one hand while applying pressure with the other.
I just love a good scroll wheel
Before I received my review sample RollerMouse, the top ergonomist at Contour Design told me, “You’re going to love the scroll wheel.” He was absolutely right. The RollerMouse scroll wheel, conveniently positioned in the middle where either hand can thumb it, is so smooth and so much fun to operate that I would buy just the wheel as a standalone unit if it were available that way. One potential drawback, though: Thumbing the scroll wheel isn’t necessarily good for that not-so-dexterous digit, the thumb. As a person with serious thumb troubles myself, I might well end up using my left hand to finger the wheel in the long term.
Take it to the limit
It is quite possible to run out of room while using the RollerMouse, leaving your pointer in the middle of the screen and the roller bar at end-of-travel. While this doesn’t occur too often – particularly in a high DPI setting – there is a built-in feature to deal with it when it does. At each end of the roller bar track, there is a lightly spring-loaded switch. When the bar hits the fence at one end or the other, the switch sends a signal to move the mouse pointer all the way to that side of the screen. This solves the space problem, but as a side effect makes it almost impossible to click on the very edge-most pixels of your monitor.
The highly adjustable RollerMouse
There are two things about the RollerMouse action that users are likely to adjust: The tension of the roller bar – that is, the amount of force it takes to push the bar down and register a click, without doing it accidentally – and the speed of the pointer. Both of these settings are adjustable using controls on the mouse itself, without the need for any special software.
The roller bar tension setting, which should only need to be adjusted once, is controlled by a slider switch on the bottom of the unit. Personally, I found the minimum tension setting just right. More heavy-handed users might want to make the action harder in order to minimize accidental clicks.
The pointer speed, or DPI setting, is also switchable through a hardware control, much like the Evoluent Vertical Mouse. A push button on top of the unit cycles through five levels of precision. A lower level makes the pointer easier to control, whereas a higher level gives you more mouse movement for each flick of the hand. Users with multiple monitors will probably need to turn this setting all the way up.
RollerMouse Pro or Free?
The RollerMouse pictured and described in this article in the Free 2 is the successor to the original Free, which replaced the 2001 Classic model. There is another, slightly less costly version of the RollerMouse called the Pro2. This is not so much a “lite” version of the mouse, but simply a variation to meet different needs. The principal differences between the two models are as follows:
- roller bar length – Where the Free roller bar runs in a track that’s completely exposed, the Pro hides all but seven inches of its bar under a cover. This might help with keeping dust out of the raceway, but doesn’t allow as much flexibility as to where you put your hands.
- Depth for keyboard trays – If your desk is equipped with a keyboard tray, the higher profile of the Pro model will likely be better for your situation. The nearly-flat Free model is perfect if your keyboard surface is already near elbow height.
- Accessories – The Pro model can be fitted with a mega palm/wrist rest called the RollerWave, great for making a more gradual, comfortable slope across the front.
Choose your keyboard carefully
Ironically for an ergonomic device, the RollerMouse doesn’t play well together with the majority of “ergonomic” keyboards. The problem is that most such boards – notably the ubiquitous Microsoft 4000 Natural – feature an integrated palm rest along their front edge. There simply isn’t enough room left for the RollerMouse in front – not even the Free model with its palm rest removed.
Does this leave you stuck with a primitive “straight” keyboard? Hardly. (Though if you do decide to go with a standard board, do yourself a favor and buy something decent like a Das Keyboard.) The RollerMouse works really well with the more advanced ergonomic keyboards such as the Goldtouch and Kinesis Freestyle. If you are using a Freestyle, just remember that its palm rest accessories such as the VIP kit won’t work.
Watch out for wrist back-bending
Ergonomists generally recommend that your keyboard surface be positioned at or below elbow height. While this is usually great for typing, a low keyboard tray can be a problem with the RollerMouse Free 2 model. Its thin profile and upward-sloping palm rest can contribute to a bad wrist position known as extension. If you find your wrists bending back while resting on the RollerMouse, you should consider raising your work surface slightly or trading in for the thicker RollerMouse Pro2, which is designed to work better with drop-level surfaces.
A big review for a big device
This is the longest review I have done on an ergonomic mouse or keyboard, and there’s a good reason for that: The RollerMouse is simply the most amazing device I have ever used. I am blown away by its quality and the way it makes a revolutionary idea so easy to understand and use. Is it worth spending $200 for everybody? Not necessarily. But it’s worth considering.
Disclosure: This review was made using a complimentary sample from Contour Design.