Perhaps you’ve heard of Penclic, the pen-mouse “hybrid” out of Scandinavia. I recently obtained a sample of this smart and stylish device. It’s a cute idea. I don’t consider it terribly beneficial compared to any other ergonomic mouse alternative, but it at least beats a laptop touchpad for portable use.
Does it really work like a pen?
Superficially, the Penclic resembles what its name suggests, which might lead one to conclude that it works like a digital stylus. This “pen,” however, is permanently attached to its “inkwell” – which is essentially the body of a tiny optical mouse. The pen barrel, hooked to the body with a ball joint, is just another way of gripping and moving an otherwise ordinary mouse.
In theory at least, this approach has obvious ergonomic benefits. A pen-shaped grip feels more natural to hold than most mice, and also allows for a greater degree of precision with less effort. Since the pen can move and change angles relative to the work surface, a variety of hand positions become available. And in a field where “repetitive” is the first name of a dreaded disease, this ability to rotate positions is a big ergonomic plus.
Interestingly, I found that I do not tend to grip the Penclic in exactly the way the promo photos would suggest – that is, the way your first-grade teacher made you hold your fat yellow pencil. Instead, my hand drifts toward a hybrid grip, with three fingers resting on the desk and holding the business end of the mouse directly. My forefinger stays on the pen barrel to handle the main click button, and my thumb rests along the side.
Penclic problem areas: click and scroll
If pointing the mouse were the whole cheese of mousing (bad pun intended) I would give the Penclic highest marks. Nothing could feel more natural than its pen-like and flexible grip. However, the mouse must also be able to do something when the pointer reaches its target – namely click, and sometimes scroll. In these crucial areas, Penclic’s innovation sadly seems to taper off.
Technically, the Penclic mouse has five buttons. That sounds like an impressive number until you realize that these are not big buttons like the ones on your mouse. The best of them is no larger than a fingertip, and the others are half that size. While small buttons aren’t necessarily a deal-killer for a device like this, they’re not exactly a selling point either.
The real problem with these buttons is that they’re a bit difficult to click. I’m more sensitive than most, but my fingers actually get a little sore after a while of using the Penclic for intensive mouse tasks like graphic design.
This brings us to scrolling, which at first glance appears to be handled quite elegantly by the Penclic mouse. A small wheel rests on the front, just where your fingers can get to it. Complementing the overall appearance like a tiny hood ornament, it’s no bigger in diameter than a dime.
Unfortunately, it’s also not much more pleasant to scroll with. The action is hard, the wheel is bitingly narrow, and middle-click is assigned elsewhere so there’s no downward give at all. The best I can say is that the wheel is usable, but probably not for sensitive fingers over extended periods of time.
A two-handed solution
If you want the grip benefits of the Penclic without the clicking and scrolling challenges, there’s only one approach I can think of: use it in conjunction with some other device such as a trackball, moving the pointer with the Penclic and registering clicks with the left hand. You may think I’m reaching here, but I have a brother who mixes devices like this all the time, and will likely do the same with the Penclic mouse if he gets his hands on it. If you think about it, the left hand is usually pretty idle when the right is working the mouse anyway, and splitting the load makes a certain amount of sense from a fatigue perspective as well.
Good precision for detail work
Being very similar to a stylus, the Penclic mouse is wholly suited to the finest detail work such as Photoshop and other graphic design tasks. There is no issue here except the one mentioned above: this kind of work also requires frequent clicking, and hence could result in some serious discomfort with the Penclic mouse – unless, of course, you use the aforementioned two-handed setup.
Penclic on the go
At this point in history, “laptop ergonomics” is not so much an industry practice as the punchline of a joke. Just take a look around in the coffee shop sometime. The majority of road warriors and kitchen-table exiles are hunched over their laptops, flicking abused fingertips around that most disagreeable of all mobile inventions, the touchpad. (Worse, they might be using their iPads – but that’s another rant.)
For laptops, the obvious solution is a separate mouse. Almost any wireless mouse is a big improvement over a touchpad, but a portable ergonomic design is ideal. With its natural grip and compact size, the Penclic mouse presents a viable choice for this application. The buttons aren’t so much of a concern, as mobile work tends to be less intense. (Photoshopping, for example, is more likely to be done back at the office, where screens are large and accessories ready to hand.)
There’s a swanky cloth carry bag included with the Penclic, and of course the mouse itself looks so chic that you will find yourself socially elevated overnight. How many ergonomic mice can deliver benefits like that?
Wake up, little Penclic…
One minor Penclic annoyance is its penchant for going comatose during periods of inactivity. This narcolepsy is not unique to the Penclic; most computers sleep to save power, and count on their peripherals to wake them when it’s time to work. What’s unusual is the fact that the Penclic itself goes to sleep, and that it must be clicked – not just moved – to come awake again. Perhaps this is a brilliant strategy to save battery power, but I find it a rather irritating deviation from the norm for wireless devices.
The lovely, puzzling Penclic package
I just can’t finish this review without a word about the Penclic packaging, which is built like the prettiest little clear plastic bank vault you ever saw. Seriously, if you like those logic games and puzzles with rolling balls and things to twist, you’ll love taking this thing out of the wrapper. I won’t ruin the fun by trying to explain how it works; just be sure to allow five or ten minutes, be careful not to snap the Penclic unit in two,and don’t expect to ever get it back in the same way it came out. Swedish retailers have all the fun.
Penclic, a story of good grips and not-so-good buttons
Here’s the bottom line: for ordinary computer users, the Penclic is probably not the best straight-up mouse replacement. (I would suggest looking instead at the DXT mouse, which actually provides many stylus-like benefits, without the button issues.) For moderate portable use, however, the Penclic could be a very decent ergonomic choice. Beyond that, be cautious – unless you’re really finger-strong, or willing to employ two devices and both hands when mousing.
And that, friends, is my two cents on the Penclic mouse – or two one-hundredths of a krone, or whatever.
Disclosure: This review was made with a complimentary sample from Prestige International.