Neither mice nor keyboards are good for you. Orthopedic surgeons will tell you that ever since typewriters, and subsequently computer keyboards, became ubiquitous, repetitive strain injuries of the hands and arms have become common later in life. Many computer users choose to ignore this problem, because in part they assume nothing can be done about it, and because they believe it won’t happen to them. To their credit, many manufacturers have come up with partial solutions that mitigate some issues surrounding tendon strain and nerve damage. Drilling down to mice in particular, we’ve seen the rise of physical designs with vertical and horizontal arches that follow the flow of the hand at rest. Thumb rests have become more common, as well, and even pinky rests have appeared on a few mice, such as the Swiftpoint ZPenclic Mouse B2, which looks like a ballpoint pen in a holder; the angled Handshoe Mouse, which resembles an ocean wave; and the vertical DXT Ergonomic Precision Mouse 2. Just recently, the Contour Design Unimouse joined that group. What sets it apart from the rest that we’ve seen to date is its configurability, a point we’ll get into as we examine its physical features. Other mice have offered varying degrees of configurability before, but nothing quite like this.
Here’s a first look at the Unimouse…
For a change, we ignored our usual introductory overhead image in favor of one that better conveyed a striking ergonomic feature of the Unimouse: its angled top. As we noted above, the idea is to mimic the natural position of the hand at rest—not horizontal to the traveling area, but somewhere between that and completely vertical. The Unimouse’s answer to this is an angled top on a hinge which looks rather like a black clam when in use…
It’s a handsomely understated clam, too, lightly burnished black with a few silver touches. At 4.7 inches by 3.0 inches by 2.2 inches, it’s a bit shorter than the average mouse, and perfect for a medium-sized hand.
Now, as all clams know, there’s this point about a hinge: it’s movable. You can use it to open and close things. The Unimouse doesn’t close all the way; then, it would be another horizontal mouse, defeating the whole purpose of its purchase. Instead, the top section of the mouse can be tilted anywhere within a range of 35 to 70 degrees from the base, as comfort dictates. It retains the vertical arch that is fairly common in mouse design, but with one important point of difference: where most arches crest under the index finger’s joint closest to the palm, then drop off sharply both to the wrist and fingertips, the Unimouse flattens out to an almost level plane for the fingers.
Sometimes, one change to a design cascades into others out of necessity. That’s clearly the case with the Unimouse’s thumb rest. A fixed physical platform or concave space wouldn’t work with a movable, flexibly angled top, so Contour supplies a movable, flexibly angled thumb rest between the upper and lower shelves of our clam…
And here it is again. You can just make out the ball joint which lets it pivot freely…
It’s a clever, elegant solution to securing the thumb in this ergonomic mouse. We could have wished for a rougher texture, however, like something akin to the rubberized side grips on standard mice.
Let’s next turn to that overhead view…
The scroll wheel is wide enough, but too free in its movement, with little pushback in the tread.
Above the wheel lie three mouse buttons. Each has a slightly concave surface. The third one provides a resting place for the right ring finger. It’s set to be the right mouse button by default, which may take some getting used to. (The middle button is set to autoscroll, which traditionally engages when you click the scroll wheel. Not on the Unimouse, however. There’s no scroll wheel click.)
There’s literally no right-hand side to this mouse, just the hinge. But the left has a pair of additional buttons…
They’re easy to reach and have raised edges that make distinguishing between them with the thumb ball relatively easy.
The underside has little to offer, save three pads, an on/off switch, and the optical sensor. The front of the mouse, however, has a small, difficult-to-access button which you can use to move through the Unimouse’s 10 DPI settings of 800 to 2800…
Five LEDs in front of it light up in green, one at a time, with each subsequent press of the button. Then, starting once more from left to right, they move from green to red. You’ll also notice an indentation in the front. That’s where the 76.5-inch rubber-coated cord is inserted to charge up the Unimouse. Given its length, it can also be used to turn the mouse from a cordless to corded model, assuming you want to conserve power. Personally, we prefer braided cords, because they’re much tougher to damage.
The Unimouse’s configuration software is available from the Drivers section of the Contour support page. It’s currently in beta, though stable. This is its first screen…
The second slider down isn’t correctly labeled, but the ability to add acceleration via software is welcome. We hope deceleration is added in the future as well. It could be helpful in applications with heavily nested menus, such as paint programs and audio and video editors.
The button reassignment screen isn’t the most artistic we’ve seen…
The fields for the side buttons (referred to as “fourth click” and “fifth click”) appear displaced from the drawing. It all works, although the selection of actions is currently very small. It comprises mostly other mouse functions, such as double-click and shift click, though mute, pan, and copy are also in the list.
The third and final screen, Application Specific, looks very similar to the second…
The difference is that you can search file directories and attach executables to button profiles. This is regularly seen in gaming peripherals, but it could be useful in productivity mice, too, assuming Contour adds significantly to the actions list of its buttons.
We’ve no idea how far the company means to go in the development of its configuration utility. But we’d also like to see the ability to customize the DPI settings, which are currently preset. A lift distance wizard would be another useful tool. An optimal reading distance is important for any sensor. A lift distance wizard would also facilitate moving the mouse between surfaces without suffering any signal loss due to variances in texture and depth.
We should mention that the mouse comes in two flavors, wired and wireless. While the wired version is just that, the wireless one comes with both a 2.4GHz dongle to plug into a free USB port and the charging cord that turns it into a wired mouse—and at 76.5 inches, the cord will never feel short.
While we find the placement of the DPI button awkward, a nice touch is that if you click it once, it shows you first your current DPI setting, followed by your battery level. Contour’s lithium-ion polymer battery is stated to last up to three months, which probably means three months with little use. In any case, the company claims that it will recharge in just two hours. We weren’t able to wear the battery down sufficiently to test this out during our review period, despite plenty of activity. Still, we can’t believe Contour would issue an assertion like that unless it was solid, given the volume of angry pushback they’d receive online in multiple forums if it wasn’t.
Finally, the Unimouse has a PixArt 3330 optical sensor. It’s a good, solid choice, perfect for productivity software. And to those who wonder why a top-of-the-line 3360 wasn’t chosen, consider: why would you need a Mercedes-Benz S-Class to do nothing more than drive to the mall? Having 1-to-1 mouse tracking could give you the edge you need in eSports tournaments, but the only noticeable difference in a mouse dedicated to Microsoft Office and Adobe Acrobat would be a higher price tag.
In a very real sense, every creator of a mouse that emphasizes ergonomics must reinvent its design. This is because, as we discussed in our introduction, the market as a whole doesn’t address ergonomics as a primary concern, and has settled upon a basic structure that’s flawed—not from the standpoint of short-term use, but it’s a fair bet that something will break down badly within a couple of dozen years of mouse use, or more. And we’re not referring here to the mice themselves, but to the hands and arms that deploy them.
So it’s not surprising that on the structural level Contour does several things differently with its Unimouse. One is simply its design. Some ergonomists state that it mimics the way the arm falls, at an angle to the surface beneath the hand, rather than horizontally. (Others claim the hand falls vertically, which has led to the development of vertical mice.) The Unimouse’s hinge allows the user to vary that angle anywhere between 35 and 70 degrees. We thought that tilt would feel peculiar under the hand for a time, but in fact adjusted to it within less than 30 minutes. We like it, and we like the thumb rest on a 360 degree pivot for similar reasons. Contour gets these exactly right.
Points, too, for the freedom to employ the mouse without adding any more wires to your desk space. We did notice roughly a second’s delay when the cordless mouse was left idle for half an hour, but it resumed activity immediately after that.
Perhaps because of the emphasis on physical design, configuration utilities aren’t a standard feature among ergonomic mice. So Contour is to be commended for making one available which includes both remapping and acceleration. The remapping options currently are very limited, but the utility is in stable beta. Hopefully, the company will expand this feature.
We’d also like to see an ability to adjust the Unimouse’s 10 DPI settings in that utility. Admittedly, this isn’t as important a feature on a productivity mouse as it would be on a gaming one, but it still can be very useful in some instances—such as moving between the creation and manipulation of graphics and writing text. For the same reason, a sniper mode (press a button and the DPI shifts to a second, user-defined DPI setting, and back again when released) would be welcome.
While on the subject of DPI settings, we do take issue with the location of the DPI button itself. While the Unimouse has 10 DPI settings, the button to control these is literally within the mouse: between the resting area for the hand and the traveling floor hinged beneath it, and in front of the large, movable thumb rest. There are only two ways to get at it: turn the mouse around so that it’s facing completely to the side, or reach over the thumb rest. As a result, switching DPI settings on-the-fly simply isn’t possible. A better location would have been on the rim, in front of the pair of side buttons.
Another controversial choice was made in the design of the Unimouse’s vertical arch, mentioned briefly in our opening section. On many mice this arch crests under the index finger’s first knuckle, the metacarpophalangeal joint, then falls off sharply both to the fingertips and wrist. Not so, here: the arch forward is almost level to the fingertips. In some mice, such as the Corsair Glaive, additional pressure from extra depth to the frontward arch helps activate the heavier button switches. We find that the lighter touch necessary to fire off the Unimouse’s switches doesn’t require that arch, but some people will find its absence unfamiliar, and possibly uncomfortable.
Taking everything into account, we consider the Unimouse a success. It fulfills its goal of providing a better, more ergonomic alternative to a standard mouse design, and it does so flexibly, in a couple of ways that conform to a user’s physical preferences. It also offers at least some software-based configurability, which isn’t often found in mice where ergonomics supply the driving force. If you’re in the market for a mouse that emphasizes ergonomics, Unimouse is one you should consider.
The Contour Unimouse’s intriguing design isn’t without its minor hiccups, but its hinged top and pivotable thumb rest are both solidly ergonomic and highly configurable.
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