Strapped onto a user’s right hand, the Ion Wireless Air Mouse looks like something that should be worn with a spandex space suit and a visored helmet. There is nothing futuristic about the product, though; you can order one today for around $50. The Ion is not advertised as an ergonomic device – which is just as well because any such benefits are dubious – but it is nonetheless a fascinating little invention with many potential uses.
Hand in glove: how to put it on
The Ion comes in three pieces: A stretchy half-glove, a tiny wireless receiver, and a mini USB cable for charging the built-in battery. A Velcro wrist strap secures the glove on your hand. Your index finger slips through two other straps which form a sort of tube or sleeve on the end of a curly cable. These straps only need to be adjusted once – presuming you don’t share the device with someone who has differently-sized fingers.
How to move the pointer, without falling in the floor
And now the question everyone is asking: How in the world do you move a mouse pointer in any meaningful way using hand signals? As crazy as it sounds, using the Ion is as simple as waving your hand in the air and watching the mouse pointer follow your movements. Physical up is up and down is down, no matter what way you cock the unit, so you can operate from any position that you find comfortable.
As you might expect with a device like this, precise movement is an issue. To get satisfactory accuracy, it’s necessary to turn down the mouse pointer speed in your control panel. Even then, learning to maneuver accurately takes patience and practice.
There is also a tendency for your arm to “drift” while using the Ion. This is similar to “running out of mouse pad,” with a regular mouse and having to reset your position. As you use the Air mouse, you may find your hand climbing or sinking steadily to the point where it gets quite uncomfortable, and finally you have to reset by pushing the pointer against the edge of the screen.
While there is no real fix for the problem of drift, there is an easier way to deal with it than doing the upper-body twist. The red-rimmed button on the Ion pauses all operations – an indispensable feature, as we will see later. This is one situation where it comes in handy. Instead of cornering the pointer while you haul your arm back to earth, you can simply put the Ion on pause and then move your hand to wherever you want it.
How to c-c-c-lick
Clicking with the Air mouse is easy; it’s clicking on what you’re aiming at that presents a challenge! The Ion’s click buttons – tiny plastic things not resembling any standard mouse button – are positioned on the outside of the index finger sleeve. You click, right-click, and pause by squeezing the appropriate button between your pointer and thumb.
Clicking the buttons requires some force – not enough to be difficult, but just enough to jar your hand at a very inopportune moment. It’s like someone tapping your shoulder while you’re shooting skeet, throwing you off just enough to let the clay pigeon get away. To make matters worse, you’re likely as not to end up shooting the wrong pigeon – such as clicking the X to close a window when you only meant to minimize it.
Once again, the solution to this problem is mostly practice – and turning down that mouse pointer speed in the control panel. I’ve also found that it helps to rest your thumb on the desired button while moving the mouse. This reduces the shake factor by eliminating the need to close your whole hand while hovering.
As a last resort, you can try pausing the mouse before coming down with the click button. Since the pause itself is just like a click, this won’t help much with accuracy, but it will at least help prevent clicking on the wrong thing.
Since the Ion Wireless Air Mouse is a nice soft glove, I would like to say that it is lavishly comfortable to wear. Unfortunately, it just isn’t – at least for me. After five minutes with the thing on my hand, I have only one thought: When can I take this off? The problem for me is mainly in the seam between the first and middle fingers, which is quite large and irritates the skin in that area. This also makes typing uncomfortable. I should note, however, that my hands are more sensitive than most – so as always, your mileage may vary.
Bellco Ventures, exclusive distributors of the Ion Wireless Air mouse, make no claim (as far as I can tell) that the device is ergonomically beneficial. Most reviewers, however, seem to automatically refer to it as an “ergonomic” device. There may indeed be some benefit in simply getting your hand away from a traditional mouse and manipulating your computer with unusual motions. Personally, however, I don’t find that the Ion makes my arm more comfortable. If anything, I tense up while using it due to the accuracy issue.
If the Ion is unhelpful for ergonomics in most standard situations, what is it good for? Quite a bit, actually.
Presentations with full control
With an effective range of up to 35 feet, the Ion is ideal for remotely controlling a computer while giving a presentation, either on screen or through a projector. Unlike a standard presentation remote, the Ion acts as a full-featured mouse, which gives you greater control over the program than the previous-slide and next-slide provided by most presentation remotes.
While I myself am not a computer gamer, those who are may appreciate the Ion Wireless Air mouse. By unchaining the user from the mouse and therefore the desk, the Ion makes it easy to play simple games (golf and cards in the example videos) from the comfort of your favorite chair, without a dedicated game controller.
Who says you can’t be productive while slouching on the couch? Okay, realistically, you probably can’t be all that productive for long-term work. But, armed with an Ion Wireless Air mouse, you can at least back away from your big-screen computer or TV for short, simple tasks like Internet browsing.
If you’re a computer tech, or work in any context where you provide on-site help to users, you know how difficult it can be when you need to point something out and have to reach around the client to grab the mouse. Equipped with an Ion, you can easily step in and take control without having to crawl across a desk or practice your arm hyper-extension skills.
Don’t throw away your mouse just yet
The Ion Wireless Air mouse is suitable for what it says on the tin: Presentations and other big-screen, short-term applications – situations where mobility is a must and precise accuracy is not so important. For an ergonomic mouse replacement, I would stick with something more conventional such as the Evoluent or the Handshoe. Leave the Ion in the conference center and the game room, where its mobility and flexibility are hard to beat.
Disclosure: This review was made with a complimentary sample from Bellco Ventures.