mouse upgrade

david | opinions | Saturday, January 3rd, 2009

A couple of months ago Ryan Brady posted a question on the CGTalk forum where he asked "What is your favourite mouse for maya?". This aroused my interest because I had been recently looking for something to replace my ancient 3 button logitech ball mouse.

I have used this well built piece of hardware ever since I migrated from my old SGI indigo2 to my first PC. After all those years in constant use it still works, but requires regular cleaning to keep it rolling smoothly and I have noticed it is starting to click. So now it is time to upgrade.

I was surprised that many of the respondants to the CGTalk post recommend using a wacom tablet instead of a mouse. I had never considered this seriously before so I decided to give it a try. I quickly realised that the shift from mouse to stylus would require major changes to the way I work and it would take me considerable time to adapt. With a mouse, when I need to use the keyboard to type, I can let it go and the cursor stays where its is, but with the stylus its not that simple. I have to place the stylus on the desk and unless I am really careful the cursor position may drift as I pull away from the tablet. Maybe I would get used to it, but I have made the decision to stick with a mouse.

Choosing a mouse turned out to be difficult. There are so many to choose from. Since 90% of my mouse usage is in maya, and since I use it for many hours at a time, I need something that will be comfortable and ergonomic. Practically all mice are described by their manufacturers as "comfortable" and "ergonomic" so the only way to find out what suits me was to try some.

Although it is convenient and useful in other applications, I found the mouse wheel to be clumsy and uncomfortable in maya. I use my middle mouse button extensively when modelling and having this button linked to a wheel made it very awkward. After half an hour I could feel a knot forming in the tendons running up my forearm. Everyone tells me I'll get used to it, but I decided I should look for a mouse with 3 buttons and no wheel.

A mouse with no wheel is a rare thing these days. In fact I had been searching without success until I read that CGTalk post, where Don Libby linked to the unotron m30 sterimax 3 button washable optical mouse.

"Just what the doctor ordered" I thought. Here was an optical 3 button mouse with no wheel, and physical dimensions roughly matching my old logitech ball mouse. And it is washable!

You can't get these locally in Australia so the only way to try one was to buy one.

The unotron sterimax is everything it claims to be but there was a problem that I did not anticipate. The buttons require too much pressure to click. After the first day my hand was burning. I persevered for a few weeks while I waited for my finger muscles to strengthen and the buttons to loosen. But I could tell it was going to take much longer than that. The old logitech would need barely more than the weight of my finger to silently activate the button, but the unotron required me to firmly push the button and made a loud click which I would feel through my finger tip.

Then one day I saw a picture of the logitech mx air.

I read about how you can use it like a wireless optical desktop mouse or you can pick it up and wave it around like a wii controller. Obviously it was designed to be used as a remote control for a pc based entertainment or media center.

On the mx air the wheel function is performed by a touch sensitive strip in the middle, and at either end of that strip is a programmable button. Could this be what I was looking for?

I was about to rush out and buy one - and then I saw the price - AU$250 - that's an expensive gamble. I asked at the shop, but they were not happy for me to take one to try since the packaging would be damaged on opening. So I started googling to determin if this mouse would fit my needs.

A search for "logitech mx air middle button" turns up many reviews that say things like "...probably the worst thing about it is the lack of a middle button...". Obviously this was a major disappointment. I also read about other gripes like the lag time when switching between desktop and air modes. If you lift the mouse it switches and the cursor changes and this may take a second or two. I almost made the decision to dismiss this one, but it looked so beautiful in the pictures - so I bought one.

When I unpacked the mx air, installed the drivers and plugged in the usb transceiver it worked instantly. The glow from the orange leds in the buttons makes it look very hitech.

It comes with some software called SetPoint which you use to configure the various options and features. With this I was able to easily configure the middle button to behave like, err... a middle button (which strangely is not the default, and probably why those reviewers complained). That done it was time to try it in maya.

I could rave on about it, but let me just say that I am very happy. The logitech mx air is everything I was looking for. The middle button works as it should and does not interfere with the scroll function, so I have the best of both worlds and no aching tendons. Button pressure is slightly higher than my old logitech, but still very comfortable. I use it exclusively as a desktop mouse. Occasionally I lift it from the desk and it switches to air mode, but there is none of the anoying lag that others complained about, and using SetPoint I turned off the alternate cursor display, so that I hardly notice the switch at all.

My only gripe (and it is minor) is that the shape of the back end of the mouse makes it difficult to rest one's hand on the mouse without causing the front to lift slighlty. Using the mouse as a support like this was something I became accustomed to with the old ball mouse, without even realizing I was doing it. I have now adjusted my hand position slightly and after a few weeks it is no longer an issue.

So after a long search I have a very modern mouse that suits my old fashioned way of working.


  1. Nice looking mouse. I would agree with many respondents tho... I use the wacom exclusively for Maya. Very fluid. I've learned to type with the wacom in my hand, tho if I need to do a lot of typing, I'll quickly stow it. I don't find it annoying really... especially when I consider the ergonomic advantages... and a flick gesture can be much faster than a mouse. Then again, I'm almost wacom exclusive for everything... The only time I use a mouse is with Darktree (odd wacom precision bug) and 3dsmax, since the scroll wheel defaults for zooming. Wacom is awesome for Fusion BTW.

    Comment by MrHooper — January 6, 2009 @ 3:38 am

  2. Thanks for the comment MrHooper. Yes the wacom does appear to be a popular choice. I work with a guy who uses one for everything too (his main app is combustion + photoshop).

    I'm happy for others to post their vote here too. It could end up being a mini survey.

    Comment by david — January 6, 2009 @ 10:23 am

  3. thats one sexy mouse, very old school with no wheel.

    I like wacoms too, dont use em much for maya though mainly mouse work in maya. maybe a little wacom action for paint geom tool and the presure sensitive stuff and mainly for photoshop.

    AS for mouse razer gaming mouse with wheel all the way for me, with 2000 dpi i barley need to move. :)

    Comment by matt999 — January 8, 2009 @ 3:31 am

  4. Anyone ever use the Contour Design Perfit Optical mouse? Nice 3 button with scroll wheels near the thumb. Good for people with larger hands-ie me.

    Comment by flourish — January 8, 2009 @ 8:45 am

  5. You know I had a similar problem in finding a proper replacement a couple of years ago. While I believe the MX Air was out then, the price sounds fairly similar and was way out of my budget. I ended up getting a Logitech G7. It has a wheel, but I reprogrammed the Increase Cursor Speed Button to be the Middle Button. Wasn't perfect but Logitech's SetPoint software really did the trick.

    Also on a side note, when people mention things like lag with wireless devices, I think the user has some major interference. Remember people are dumb for the most part, and as everything becomes wireless, there will be congestion in the airwaves. Hell I used to get Lag with my WiFi, and that was only because everyone in the apartment complex that I lived in had a WiFi router, and switching channels didn't help. Once I moved away, it worked perfectly again. I would take things with a grain of salt when wireless performance is concerned.

    Comment by AlexPummer — January 18, 2009 @ 2:18 pm

  6. I bought a few 3 button HP mice a few years ago because they were well made and had the 3 buttons on them like the one you have from Logitech. I had to special order them because I couldn't find them in stores. The part number is: A4983-65121

    I found a place that has them online - just do a search for the part number above:

    I've had the same 3 button mouse for the last 4 years at home and it still works great. Used one professionally for a couple of years but then I decided to use a Wacom tablet. Much easier on the wrist tendons.

    Comment by mdfisher272 — February 18, 2009 @ 8:47 pm

  7. BTW. The mouse has a very light touch but after a few 12+ hour days in a row, it was starting to wear on the tendons in my fingers and wrist.

    Comment by mdfisher272 — February 18, 2009 @ 8:52 pm

  8. we also use HP 3button mouse for Maya. This was the only model around with optical sensor and real 3 buttons.

    As I came from SGI also I have never get used to mouse wheel for use with Maya :) . . .

    Comment by _murphy_ — October 1, 2010 @ 10:59 pm

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