Pointy devices

October 31, 2015

Almost a year ago, I got myself Logitech's K811 keyboard, a wireless wonder of thoughtful design. I first got it mainly for writing on my Ipad, but it soon took over keyboarding duties for my TV-connected Mac mini as well. Wires across livingroom floors are just a horrible sight, so of course my next target was that extended horror of a mouse cable. Surely Logitech would have some well designed, Mac-oriented solutions for that too? I had a look at Logitech's offerings, emailed a bit with their distributor in Sweden and suddenly got a package in the mail.

Logitech T631 and T651 in packaging, Totoro for reference. Logitech T631 and T651 in packaging, Totoro for reference.

Say hello to my little friends.

They are the T631 ultrathin touch mouse and the T651 rechargeable trackpad. Both are Mac-targeted products, and they share with the K811 bluetooth connectivity and built-in rechargeable batteries charged by standard USB. The T631 also has "easy switch" allowing it to be paired with two computers at once and toggled between them using a switch. I wonder why the trackpad did not deserve easy switching.

Device background

Going into this little trial, I have been using Apple trackpads, ones built into laptops as well as the Magic trackpad, almost exclusively for quite some time. Thus, the Magic trackpad will be a main point of reference.

Power and charging

Let us start with USB. Both devices share my favorite feature from the K811: built in, long-lasting and USB-chargeable batteries. Each comes with a perfectly normal USB to micro-USB cable, and when plugged in they charge quickly while happily blinking indicator lights. The trackpad, just like the keyboard, has the connector on the top/front side, making it natural and easy to keep working while charging.

The T631 is the odd one here. And I do mean odd.

I mean, LOOK!

The T631 charging using the included cable. The T631 charging using the included cable.

(Note from the future: So no, Apple was not innovating with the charging connection on the Magic mouse 2.)

You can, technically, use it while charging, if you are right on the edge of a surface, but I think it easily rounds down to "no". I choose to believe that there was simply no other technical way the connector could be anywhere else. (In reality, I think they placed the connector there as to not break their nice lines and edges, and is somewhat protected from dirt by the rear feet/pads of the mouse.) Still …

(And yes, the cable is as ridiculously short as it seems. "Perfectly normal" was perhaps a slight exaggeration.)

The manual says that one minute of charge gives about an hour of use. Combined with the real-life incredible battery life of my K811, I doubt this charging … thing will ever be a problem in real life. It is just such a strange thing to leave in an otherwise very nicely designed device.

I charged both the mouse and the trackpad when I first got them, then set about using them whenever I could both at home and at work. After a week and a half I got my first battery warning, informing me that the trackpad was down to 20% charge. I do not normally bring my pointing tools back and forth between home and work, so I would say this translates into at least a month of normal usage. The mouse has yet to hit a warning, another week later, and looks to be at perhaps 25% from the small indicator in system preferences. Both are well outside battery-worry territory and in the comfortable zone where you simply plug a thing in to charge every now and then when it occurs to you it might be time. Should a computer USB port be too out of the way, plugging the cable into an Iphone or Ipad charger also works just fine.

Setup and software

Software-wise, the mouse works right away after pairing, requiring no download to get started. For some reason, pairing it makes the "unrecognized keyboard" wizard pop up, but everything works right away. You get left and right click plus scrolling in all directions, and also two exposé actions - showing the desktop with a two-finger swipe to the right and showing windows of the current application by swiping to the left. The middle click has no default action as far as I can tell, and you also do not get swipes to go back and forward in browser and other history.

I wonder if this is the way most people will use this mouse - connecting it and never thinking more about it?

The trackpad, then, when paired up without software installed, gets left and right clicks (one and two finger taps) and scrolling. It acts as a wheeled mouse, plain and simple, and it responds to the settings in the system preference pane for mouse preferences. Once Logitech's software is in place, the trackpad becomes its own thing and stops responding to the mouse preferences.

Protip: both devices use the Logitech preference manager, but the download page for the mouse has a version two years more recent. The general download page, unfiltered for device, will give you the most recent version right away. Fortunately, the manager checks for and notifies you of updates, so you will end up current eventually no matter where you start.

Installing the preference manager feels decisively old school. An actual installer, complete with the requirement of a restart. I am deeply spoiled by using Apple hardware with Apple hardware and never eving needing to install something, so this feels strikingly like low-level mucking about.

One the software is in place and the computer restarted, you get all the same options and abilities Apple give their own devices. T631 even goes beyond Apple's Magic mouse by providing middle-click options. The control center in itself is very nice and like Apple's, with the same type of film clips showing how to perform the various swipes and getstures. You can see the battery level of connected devices as well, or if they are connected and charging. But you can not see the charge level of a charging device.

The mouse in use

I have been a trackpad-only person for quite a while now. Using a mouse with modern features at first felt decisively unusual. However I quickly, surprisingly so, and almost without noticing got back into the feel of mousing around. It is the dynamic duo of speed and precision, and with a mouse this small and light and with acceleration set to suit me I can cover the whole screen basically just pusing the mouse around beneath the palm of my hand. The T631 is small.

The T631 next to Apple's Magic mouse. The T631 next to Apple's Magic mouse.

Yes, small. If you thought the Magic mouse was small … well. This is smaller. A thin wedge of white and metal. I would call it incredibly small, but I find Logitech to be quite credible. This is not a mouse you can rest your palm on even if you want to. That may actually be a good thing for all the touch-based controls. The mouse will have less random input to ignore the more the hand is kept off the surface. I thought that I would be annoyed fiddling with something this small, but I stopped noticing and started enjoying it almost immediately.

Just like Apple's attempts at non-button mice, the has disadvantages here too. Most important: you simply can not do a right-click while a finger is resting on the left side of the mouse. Also, no clicking right and then left or vice versa. I had use for these multi-button clicks not just in games but also for some apps with gesture-like shortcuts. No matter how you twist it, this is still a buttonless touch mouse. It will always have some of the detection problems you never even have a chance of getting with actual physical buttons.

You have to press the actual button to click too, just tapping the touch surface is not enough. I am not sure I would have wanted that, but I found myself surprised when it did not work.

I think the best summary I can give of using the T631 is this: it is a device I enjoy using. Everyday mousing is that tiny but important bit more enjoyable. That bit which makes all the difference. I want to use it more just because it looks and feels nice. Is there any higher praise or bar to hit for a utility product? To get out of the way so that work gets full focus while at the same time adding an edge of joy to it.

The trackpad in use

In day to day use, I do not seem to notice a difference between the T651 and the Magic trackpad. This is a good thing. I like the flatness of the T651 better, and to some extent perhaps even the look - although the Magic trackpad has even cleaner lines. The Magic trackpad to me wins in feel. I do not have a clear winner when it comes to how the surface feels under the fingers - I may give the Magic a slight edge but they mainly just feel different - but the click is a lot more solid and satisfying on the Magic. The T651 click feels more … dull. Both trackpads perform their click in the same way: it is actually the bottom feet which do the clicking by sinking into the trackpad. In difference to the T631, the T651 does not have to be physically pressed to click, tapping the surface does the trick too.

Once real clicking and pointing begins, the T651 does not have quite the same smartness in software as the Magic trackpad. The T651 is much pickier about other fingers touching the surface as you try to move the cursor. I can have a finger resting on the trackpad while using it with another finger if the resting one is far enough out on the edge, but generally I keep my hand lifted from the trackpad when using it. Another minor detail is that if you enable click-and-drag functionality, the start of the drag has a noticeable delay where the Magic trackpad grabs hold right away. Everything works, and works well, but details like this add up to a feeling that the T651 is always almost but not quite as good as the Magic trackpad.

I have run into one bug regularly: when I wake the computer up in the morning, the trackpad seems to forget its speed (acceleration) setting and default to some mid-range value. This makes everything feel slow until I go in and drag the acceleration slider down and then up again. Not a killer problem but slightly annoying.

So, T651 or Magic trackpad? The way I see it, it boils down to whether you value the builtin battery and USB charging over those last bits of software polish which make the Magic trackpad feel just a little snappier and more reliable. For me, the answer is yes: the battery convenience outweighs the little sharp edges in software<. The T651's battery lasts so much longer, and when it does begin to run dry all I have to do is find a micro USB cable and keep going instead of wondering whether I have any AAAs lying around.

Mandatory gadget photo. Mandatory gadget photo.

Mouse versus trackpad

After using the T631 for just a few days, the advantages of a good mouse set up to suit me start to come back. Getting around my screen just feels faster and surer with the mouse than the trackpad. The mouse wins both on covering space quickly, and hitting targets accurately. Some of this could be software, it could be that the mouse software allows me to set a higher maximum speed than the trackpad. Perhaps a trackpad would be too shaky or something if it allowed such high speeds? No matter the reason, the fact that these are the settings offered by Logitech makes them part of the deal. When I have both side by side, as I do writing this, I prefer reaching for the mouse, and I enjoy handling it more. And of course, the portability just can not be beat.

Wrapping up

If Apple never made a mouse, keyboard or external trackpad again, it is now clear to me we would all get by just fine. Apple has never done a fantastic job with mice if you ask me, especially not with buttonless ones, which was a part of the reason I went all-trackpad. Thus, I was surprised when the T631 came by and brought back to me the joy of mouse usage. It is small, precise, looks good, needs no software, no battery replacements and seems to be happy with a charge a month or less. The silly USB connector placement is the one amusing detail I would even consider a downside.

The T651 is a slightly more mixed bag. Those little software details keep nagging at me, but they never become troublesome enough to cause real frustration. In daily use, I stop thinking about it completely, and the builtin battery and USB charging push it ahead of the Magic trackpad. I wish it easy switched to at least one more device, which is praise since it means I wish I could use it with more computers at once.

For pointing and clicking at my Mac mini, the future is the T631. Thumbs up for both devices, and an extra jump of joy for the mouse.

Many thanks to Logitech, through AWB, for lending me the T631 and T651!

Aside: Apple's software advantage

Logitech has done a lot of work to make a software experience on par with Apple's. I find it interesting to think about the challenges involved. Not only do Apple build support for their own devices right in, they clearly provide no hooks for anyone else to use the same interface. Logitech needs to get every single user to download and install some software to enable features the Apple devices get for free, and even then Logitech devices are clearly treated as second-class citizens, as evident by the shortcut in the bluetooth menu, which has a shortcut for settings which always leads to Apple's preference pane, and the fact that the trackpad does not even show up in the system trackpad preference pane. The mouse fares similarly but slightly better; without Logitech's software you can use the system mouse preference pane and the options apply, but the system will not know or care about the gestures the mouse can make (even though they work). Software installed, the mouse pane settings are ignored altogether. Logitech is really doing everything they can here, and they do a good job with it. I just can not help dream of a world where Apple was interested in leveling the playing field even more.

(There could of course be a million good reasons for this situation beside Apple not feeling like it, but that is a different discussion.)