by Jerry Jackson
The Logitech MX Air Mouse is a unique cordless mouse that works on your desk like a regular mouse as well as "in the air" like a Wii controller. Now you can lean back in your chair or on your couch while controlling your Windows desktop or navigating your media content in much the same way you use a television remote. Is this innovative mouse really as good as it sounds? We spent a week putting the MX Air though its paces. Take a look at what we found.
The official name for the MX Air Mouse ($149.99) is the "Logitech MX Air Rechargeable Cordless Air Mouse" … now try to say that 10 times fast. For the rest of this review I’ll be referring to it simply as the "MX Air." You can thank me later.
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Logitech was smart enough to realize that personal computers aren’t just for surfing the Internet and sending e-mail anymore. Increasingly, people are using PCs as digital media centers to view photos, listen to music, and watch video clips, films and TV shows both at a desk and from the comfort of our couches. Our notebooks and desktops are rapidly replacing the home entertainment centers in our homes … which is why a remote control-like device makes perfect sense. Unfortunately, traditional remote controls can’t provide precise cursor control, and a typical mouse needs a desk or other hard surface to function. Until now.
The Logitech MX Air mouse offers people who use their PCs as media centers a handheld, off-the-desk navigation device … essentially the best (and worst) of both worlds.
Build and Design
Upon first glance the MX Air has a striking design with a polished black top case, a silver base, and contoured shape. The lines are simple and attractive, but the shape isn’t nearly as ergonomic as most of the Logitech mice we’ve seen over the years. In fact, when used as a mouse the MX Air is too thin at the front … and when used as a remote there is an unusual amount of dead space where extra buttons could (or should) have been placed.
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The MX Air is well balanced in the hand while using it as a remote. However, one rather obvious design flaw involves the laser sensor located at the bottom of the mouse. When you hold the MX Air like a remote it’s easy for one of your fingers to rub across the laser sensor which causes the MX Air to go into "mouse mode" … sometimes causing the mouse cursor to move in a different direction when you are using the mouse in air mode.
The system requirements for the MX Air are pretty simple:
- Windows XP or Windows Vista
- USB port
- CD-ROM drive
You’ll notice that Logitech doesn’t officially support Linux or Mac machines with the MX Air. We tested the MX Air on both XP and Vista machines but didn’t have a chance to try it with a Mac or Linux machine since our loan agreement with Logitech required us to send the mouse back in a short period of time.
Installing the MX Air mouse takes just a few minutes. Logitech includes an illustrated, multilingual user guide (brochure) that provides step-by-step instructions. That said, here is a condensed version of the installation procedure: Charge the MX Air in the battery charger, connect the included USB receiver into a USB port, set the power switch located on the bottom of the MX Air to the "On" position. Now start using the MX Air. That’s it. Plug and play.
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Please notice that I did not recommend installing the SetPoint software included on a CD-ROM with the MX Air. Although SetPoint allows you to program the various buttons on the MX Air to serve multiple functions, we discovered that SetPoint actually created a worse user experience rather than improving the use of the MX Air. If you install SetPoint and then lift the MX Air off the desk the mouse pointer will change from a standard mouse pointer to a large mouse pointer … to help you see the cursor from a greater distance. However, every time the cursor transforms from the standard cursor to the enlarged cursor there is a lag of a second or more where the mouse is unresponsive. This is a problem if you use the MX Air as a regular mouse because every time you slightly lift the mouse off your desk SetPoint thinks you want to use the Air Mouse function and changes the cursor … which freezes the cursor for a second or more.
If you don’t install SetPoint then the cursor remains the same and you don’t have to deal with the annoying lag issue. Bottom line, skip SetPoint unless you want to customize the mouse buttons.
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Key Features and Use
The rechargeable MX Air mouse uses 2.4 GHz digital cordless technology, which offers a range of up to 30 feet (10 meters) for use with a notebook or desktop PC.
The main feature that allows the MX Air to work in mid air is Logitech’s "Freespace motion control technology." Rather than use mechanical gyroscopes such as those in a Wii remote, the MX Air uses a combination of MEMS (microelectromechanical systems) sensors, DSP (digital signal processing) technology and RF (radio frequency) wireless technology. Together these technologies allow a user to hold the mouse in any orientation and point in any direction to control the cursor and other functions.
Here’s what happens when someone picks up the MX Air mouse and uses it as an in-air navigation device:
- When the device is moved, the MEMS inertial sensors provide raw motion estimates.
- These data elements are calibrated, converted and interpreted into estimates of the actual motion of the device.
- Physiological hand tremor is subtracted from the actual motion to determine the intended motion.
- The system maps the intended motion to the on-screen cursor.
Perhaps one of the most unique features of the MX Air is the ability to use gesture-based command control. To change the volume, press and hold the volume button and simply gesture – up or to the right to increase volume, down or to the left to decrease it. For music applications, a small circular motion to the right activates the skip track command, while a circle to the left repeats the song.
Below is a video demonstration of how the MX Air works in real life. Notice how simple gestures can be used to control volume.
Rather than using a traditional scroll wheel, the MX Air uses a touch-sensitive scroll panel. A swipe of the finger across the surface activates the inertial scrolling mechanism, which adjusts its speed according to the speed of the finger swipe. If you slowly move your finger over the scroll panel the scrolling function moves slow. If you quickly swipe your finger over the surface the scroll will quickly run through multiple pages. The only annoying thing about this "virtual scroll wheel" is that the MX Air makes a fake scroll sound when you use the scroll wheel. There is a tiny built-in speaker that produces click sounds as you scroll through pages. Unfortunately, the scroll noise cannot be turned off.
Media functions such as Play/Pause, Volume/Mute, Back and Select can be easily accessed in the air by pressing the large, black buttons with orange back lights.
When used on the desktop, the MX Air mouse’s laser-based tracking provides excellent responsiveness and precise movement. The MX Air performed flawlessly on the various surfaces we tested. Unlike LED-powered optical mice, the MX Air mouse’s laser illumination works on most high-gloss surfaces such as glossy plastic or glass desktops.
The built-in lithium-ion battery should last for the lifetime of the mouse. Because there are no batteries to replace, there’s no removable battery-compartment door. To recharge the MX Air mouse, just place it into its docking cradle. It takes only 30 minutes of charging to provide enough power for one full day of use. It takes approximately 2.5 hours to fully charge and a full charge lasts up to five days for most users.
The Logitech MX Air Mouse is an innovative and much needed evolution of the standard mouse. The ability to use a mouse as both a standard desk mouse and a remote is something essential to a great media center experience. Unfortunately, the MX Air is clearly a "first generation" device. By that I mean to say the MX Air has a few minor design flaws that make it less useful than it could be. The fact that you can accidentally trigger the laser sensor on the bottom of the mouse while using it in mid air is very frustrating. Likewise, the overall shape of the MX Air is a compromise … it’s neither the ideal shape for a mouse nor the ideal shape for a remote.
Overall, if you are in the market for a single controller to replace both your mouse and your media center remote then the MX Air is a great choice. However, given the $150 price tag, most consumers are better off waiting until Logitech makes a superior next generation version of the MX Air mouse.
- Innovative design and functionality
- Good battery life
- It’s an "in air" mouse!
- Awkward shape
- SetPoint software actually makes things worse
- Laser sensor can be triggered when you hold it like a remote