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Microsoft puts a Windows 8 key on its latest mice, hopes to improve navigation (hands-on)

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Windows 8, as we all know very well at this point, was designed for touchscreens. Multitasking, the Charms bar, and Snap View (read: split screen) are all quite easy to use with touch gestures — and aren't that bad with a laptop's touchpad — but those who use a traditional mouse have been somewhat left behind. Microsoft is trying to change that today with two mice that are designed to make Windows 8 navigation a bit easier. Microsoft's solution? Place the Windows key directly on the mouse.

It's somehow slightly disturbing when you first see it — we're so used to the Windows key being resigned to sitting quietly between the control and alt keys. Nevertheless, it has a prominent spot on both of Microsoft's new mice, the Sculpt Comfort Mouse and the Sculpt Mobile Mouse, which are being announced today. In some ways it isn't so surprising, as the button has been given renewed importance in Windows 8: it opens up the completely revamped start screen, and it's key to many new keyboard shortcuts.

With the Sculpt Comfort Mouse, a $39.95 Bluetooth mouse available next month, Microsoft hasn't just added a Windows key. The button itself, located on the side so you can easily use your thumb to operate it, is touch sensitive. Swiping up switches between open apps just like swiping in from the left of the screen, and swiping down opens up the multitasking menu on the side to let you choose from all recent apps. It works well and definitely adds to the traditional desktop experience, and we appreciate the (optional) haptic feedback built-in that lets you know that your command was successfully registered. However, the two swipe options perform too similar of a task — we wish there was more customization available so that we could set one gesture to open the Charms bar, which is particularly tricky to activate with a mouse. Additionally, the Windows key is a bit neutered here: it doesn't work properly to activate keyboard shortcuts, like Windows key + C to open the Charms bar. The hardware itself is a bit disappointing, too: other than the Windows tab, it's a standard, inexpensive, and plasticy mouse.

Does a Windows key belong on a mouse?

The Sculpt Mobile Mouse is very similar to previous small mice from Microsoft, but it adds a Windows key directly below the scroll wheel. Like the Sculpt Comfort Mouse, the scroll wheel allows you to scroll both up and down the page as well as side to side. As a package, the Mobile Mouse is not as convenient or elegant as the Comfort Mouse — it uses a USB dongle instead of Bluetooth and, as it's designed to be portable, it isn't hugely comfortable — but it'll be available next month for $29.95.

Despite some shortcomings, the Windows key certainly has a home on the mouse, and these two mice provide a suitable alternative to more expensive, full-touch mice like Microsoft's own Touch Mouse and Logitech's Touch Mouse T620 and external trackpads. If you're hoping for something with a Windows key that's a bit more substantial than the Sculpt Comfort and the Sculpt Mobile and more customizable, a Microsoft representative did hint that something is in the works.