Kensington Slimblade

Mobile workers tend to require mobile accessories. And since we all hate trackpads, mobile mice are the latest hot accessory for the mobile worker with cabled and wireless models available.

The Kensington Slimblade is a laser mouse with Bluetooth built in for complete freedom and for ultimate ease of use. That’s not the complete story though. Rather than build in a scroll wheel, Kensington have designed in a trackball for 360-degree scrolling. This very same trackball can also be used to control the mouse cursor. It’s been over ten years since I’ve actually come across this in a consumer end product with trackball mice now typically used in specialist markets. It’s revival in a notebook mouse is actually quite relevant considering the scenarios that a portable mouse is expected to operate in.

If you’re in a situation where you really haven’t got any space or the right surface to be moving a mouse, then switching to the trackball mode could save the day. For those who haven’t come across a trackball mouse before, it’s a method of controlling your cursor using a static method of moving a ball rotating on all axis. The idea follows the same principles as the original mice that used a ball underneath which tracked movement on your desk, which has since been replaced by optical and laser technology. Rather than the ball being moved about on the bottom of the mouse, it’s now positioned at the top of the mouse and your finger moves the ball to control the cursor.

When you’re not using the Slimblade in trackball mode, the trackball allows you to scroll around documents and web pages. The mouse continues to work in the more traditional sense with a sensor at the bottom tracking movement. Since the Slimblade uses a laser sensor, you can operate it on nearly any surface including glass.

To switch between trackball and laser sensor mode, there’s a discretely hidden button hat has been designed in to a reflective surface right below the trackball. Tapping it twice will switch between the different modes indicated by the flashing Mode icon. Holding the button switches the mouse on or off.

The Slimblade mouse connects to any machine using the Bluetooth standard, and although Kensington claim you can get as far as nine metres away from your Bluetooth receiver, I was only able to get as far as three metres with it being useable. At four metres, the cursor skipped about, and anything beyond four metres it no longer picked up the signal. This of course depends on surrounding interference such as mobile phone and wireless routers that share the same radio frequencies as Bluetooth.

Connectivity was quick and simple with my MacBook Pro. Just hit the Bluetooth button at the bottom of the mouse to start pairing mode with the laptop and within a minute or two, you’re up and running.

At three metres this is still nothing to shirk at. Why would you want to be using the mouse at that kind of distance? One example would be if you’re doing a presentation and you want to have a bit more freedom of movement from where your laptop is plugged in.

Power for the device comes in the form of two AA batteries that slot in to the bottom of the mouse. A gauge at the back lights up when you switch on the mouse to show you the status of the batteries. When you put your computer to sleep or shutdown, the mouse automatically goes in to standby mode for smart power management.

In terms of comfort, the Slimblade isn’t going to win any awards for ergonomic form but that’s not to say it’s uncomfortable. The unit is modern looking and practical. It also has good build quality which is evident when you’re using it. Great for the work environment or business meetings. The 360-degree trackball works the same way as the one on the Apple Mouse, only its larger and more comfortable to use. When moving the trackball, a feint clicking noise can be heard to indicate movement and gives it a kind of tactile feedback.

Switching to trackball mode works great too. But it’s probably a feature that you’ll only use when you absolutely have to. Maybe it’s because I’m not used to it, but I found it to be slower to operate the cursor.

Overall, Kensington have hit a winning formula with the Slimblade. There are different versions and models available in the same form factor, including a model which has built-in presenter keys as well as wireless fobs that can be carried with the mouse. Definitely worth a look if you’re looking to invest in one of, if not the most important peripheral you’ll ever buy.

2008-08-20 Onwah Tsang

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