You’ve probably been using computer mice for over 30 years (or for as much of 30 years as you’ve been alive). So it might come as something of a shock to learn that, as Steve Jobs might have said, you’re holding it wrong.
That, at least, is the opinion of many ergonomic experts and people who treat repetitive-stress injuries. When you use a regular mouse for many hours a day, you’re doing two terrible things to yourself:
- You’re twisting your arm inward to make your hand flat. This pronation tightens the joint space of your two forearm bones, which is unnatural and, eventually, can be painful.
- The weight of your arm is on the underside of your wrist, pressed against the desk (especially if you move the mouse using your wrist as a pivot). You’re squishing the carpal tunnel, the tiny tube that lets your median nerve run from your elbow to your hand. Enough of that, and you get the pain and tingling of carpal tunnel syndrome.
There’s a fairly brilliant solution to all of this: Use a vertical mouse. To understand the concept, imagine rotating your standard mouse like this:
Imagine if you could rotate your mouse hand: that’s the idea.
Now your hand is in a more natural position all day, like you’re shaking hands or holding an ice-cream cone — and it’s virtually impossible to rest your wrist on the desk. You’re encouraged to move the mouse from the elbow, which takes all the performance anxiety away from your wrist.
In some companies, vertical mice are standard-issue equipment, just to avoid employee problems and workman’s-comp claims.
A vertical mouse puts your hand in a comfortable, non-twisted position.
I don’t currently have pain. But I went through an awful period, years ago, when I suffered tenosynovitis (inflammation of the tendon sheaths) in my mouse wrist. It got so bad, I had to stop using the computer for months (and, worse, playing the piano). What I learned from the journey is the importance of comfort, adjustability, and variation in the tools we use for hours a day.
And this I can tell you: Even if you have no pain, you will say “Oh, WOW” the first time you slip your hand onto a vertical mouse. (I’ve watched a lot of people try them out this week.) This kind of mouse is immediately more comfortable and more natural to hold.
Adjusting to it takes between five minutes and an hour, and I’ve heard that these mice aren’t great for gamers. But the point is that you might well fall in love with one of these things even if you don’t have any pain.
Maybe you’d just rather not get pain.
Here’s what your hand looks like when you use a vertical mouse: not flat.
I rounded up nine vertical mice in an effort to find a winner. Here’s what they have in common:
- Right and left mouse buttons and a clickable scroll wheel.
- On the thumb side, back/forward buttons for web pages. (Unfortunately, the back/forward buttons work only on Windows, not Macs.
- Adjustable DPI settings, meaning a choice of tracking speeds. There’s a physical button for switching speeds, so you can switch between fast tracking on a web page, or slow tracking in Photoshop.
- All of them require a tiny USB nubbin to sit in one of your USB jacks all day long, a special receiver. On one hand, the companies say that their proprietary wireless technology is more reliable than Bluetooth, and point out that this arrangement requires no driver, no setup, no pairing — just plug and play. On the other hand, you have to sacrifice a USB jack forever.
Most vertical mice come with a USB receiver.
- All of these are wireless, but all are also available in wired versions, usually for a few bucks less. Except as noted, they’re not available in left-handed versions.
In the end, I found three winners.
Evoluent Vertical Mouse ($90)
A pretty chunky piece of kit, available in three sizes. This mouse definitely fills your entire hand, like you’re gripping a pencil sharpener. But it’s by far the most programmable vertical mouse. You get three buttons, not two, plus buttons above and below your thumb’s spot. And here’s the killer feature: All of it is programmable using the free Mac or Windows software. (Each button can trigger a click, right-click, double-click, open link in new tab, page up/down, etc.)
You get dedicated +/–tracking-speed buttons, with LED indicators that show you which setting you’re at. Available in a Bluetooth model. Takes one AA battery.
The popular Evoluent mouse has three buttons.
Contour Unimouse ($80)
Incredibly, this is the only adjustable vertical mouse I could find. Imagine a clamshell, with the hinge against your palm: you can swing the top open between 30 and 90 degrees, and it stays where you put it. You can find the angle you like best, or, better, vary the angle throughout the day. (As the company says: “Posture variation is the cornerstone of ergonomics.”)
The thumb rest on the inside, too, is adjustable: Push it forward/back, up/down, in/out, or rotate it. Three-button mouse; the middle button can be either “double-click” or “middle-click” (for closing a web page, for example). Ten DPI settings. Has a rechargeable battery, three months on a charge; you can use it as a wired mouse while it’s charging (over a USB cable).
The Contour Unimous adjusts its angles to fit your hand, or to change through the day.
The downside: Not as instantly soothing when you grip it, because your fingers remain straight; it doesn’t curve, as the other mice do. Not great-looking, with the exposed inner hinge stuff.
The Contour Unimouse adjusts in lots of different ways.
Perixx Perimice 713 ($15)
There isn’t a ton of difference between all the sub-$20 vertical mice. They’re all deliciously sculpted, like a curved shark’s fin, with fantastic comfort as they nestle into the crook of your palm.
If I had to choose one basic vertical mouse, though, this would be it (and, in fact, I did buy it for myself). It’s sleek, curved, futuristic, German-made, with a light rubbery coating that feels really amazing. Three DPI settings. Takes two AAA batteries. And cost $15.
The Perixx Perimice 713 is gloriously comfortable, shown here from the side (left) and top.
Here are my notes on the rest of the field.
- Anker AK-98ANWVM-UBA ($20). Super comfortable, smooth, curved shape. Three DPI settings (the switching button is on the inner top ridge). Available in a wired version for $5 less. The USB dongle fits into a compartment underneath for travel. Takes two AAA batteries.
Here’s the Sharkk Wireless Mouse–so named because of is fin-like shape—AKA the Anker.
- Sharkk Wireless Mouse ($18). How super freaky weird is this? This mouse is identical to the Anker. I mean, it’s the exact same mouse — same paint job, design, buttons, size, shape, performance. One of those companies is just rebranding the same mouse from the other (or both from a third party); both companies refused to say which it is.
- Ergoguys Comfi II ($40). Shiny, rounded surface. Choice of colors. Three DPI settings. Takes one AA battery. Errors in instructions. Really nice, but nearly three times the price of the Perixx. Compartment underneath for the USB dongle.
The Ergoguys Comfi II is a curved plastic swirl.
- Ergoguys WowPen Joy II ($21). Rechargeable battery (over a USB cable). Great shape — not so much shark-fin, more like, I don’t know, you’re gripping a chunk of modeling clay. Errors in the instruction sheet. Good for smaller hands. Three DPI settings. Scroll wheel is kind of low. Compartment underneath for the USB dongle.
The Ergoguys WowPen Joy II fattens toward the bottom.
- Posturite Penguin ($90). I get it — looks like a penguin. Ha. Available in three sizes. You grip this one like it’s a joystick; buttons are facing away from you, with a horizontal scroll wheel as the “mouth” in between them. Kind of mushy buttons. Antimicrobial coating against “bacteria and mold.” Four DPI settings. Battery-charge warning light. Ambidextrous design — use with right or left hand. The bowtie is the switch from right- to left-handed scrolling; why on earth would they dedicate such a rarely changed setting to such a prominent, easily hit button? Ergonomics should never be second to cuteness.
The Posturite Penguin has a radical, maybe even adorable design.
- Kinesis DXT Mouse 2 ($81). The only vertical mouse that you’re not intended to wrap your hand around. It’s super tiny; you’re supposed to manipulate it with your fingertips. The company maintains that this design is even better for ergonomic purposes, but it drove me crazy. Ambidextrous, no extra buttons. Four DPI settings. Rechargeable battery (by USB).
The Kinesis DXT Mouse 2 is super tiny and ambidextrous.
I’m not buying the argument that Bluetooth wouldn’t work; plenty of wireless mice use Bluetooth just fine, and I’d rather not sacrifice a USB jack to a wireless mouse when it’s not necessary.
Otherwise, though, I’m completely sold. I have a feeling that once you try a vertical mouse, you will be, too.
Then you’ll be ready to confront the ergonomic horror shows that are your flat keyboard, fixed desk, and awkward chair.
David Pogue, tech columnist for Yahoo Finance, welcomes non-toxic comments in the Comments below. On the Web, he’s davidpogue.com. On Twitter, he’s @pogue. On email, he’s email@example.com. You can sign up to get his stuff by email, here.
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