Contour RollerMouse Free Review

The RollerMouse from Contour Design is more than a revolutionary mouse alternative. It’s an earthquake off the top of the ergonomic Richter Scale. It takes the normal idea of what a “mouse” should be and turns it on its head, yet manages to remain completely intuitive – even for users who have never seen it before.

RollerMouse Free2 - Top left view

Everything you know about mousing is wrong

Okay, maybe not wrong, but probably not complete either. The long-tailed critter next to your computer is not the end-all of pointing device technology. Nor is the trackball on your co-worker’s desk, nor even the Magic TrackPad plugged into the boss’s Mac. There’s a different way of controlling your computer, a whole new world of ergonomic possibilities opened up by the RollerMouse.

The action of a RollerMouse is difficult to describe, but easy to do. The core of the unit is the “rollerbar,” a coated plastic tube that slides up and down on a longer metal tube. This sliding motion defines left and right mouse movement on the screen. To move up and down, the tube is rolled in either direction. Combined, these movements give you as much control over your pointer as you enjoy with a regular mouse. The rollerbar can also be used to click by pushing down lightly. An array of buttons out front provides right-click, double-click, scroll, and more.

My personal experience with the RollerMouse

I have been intrigued by the RollerMouse for some time, but only recently contacted Contour Design for a review sample. Having read up on the device and watched Contour’s demo videos, I expected to be impressed. I was.

Contour RollerMouse Free2
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Right out of the box, the unit feels high quality (which is to be expected from a mouse that costs as much as some computers). There’s nothing flaky or squeaky on the thing. All the action is solid, and the parts feel well-made. In addition to the RollerMouse, the box contains an array of accessory feet for elevating thinner keyboards to match.

Using the RollerMouse was instantly intuitive for me. There was almost no adjustment period at all, a fact I found remarkable considering how radically different the RollerMouse is from anything I’ve ever used before. It’s not just me, either. I showed the RollerMouse to several other people, and they grasped it after a tutorial that took all of three seconds.

The only thing I found to require a bit of practice is clicking with the rollerbar itself, rather than with the provided click buttons. Pushing the bar down without turning it can be a bit challenging at first, but I soon picked up the habit of holding the bar steady while applying click pressure. Two-handing the rollerbar could make this easier as well.

I did my RollerMouse trial run with my normal Contour mouse still hooked up and ready to go on the right. Noteworthily, I found myself gravitating to the RollerMouse, actually wanting to need to move the mouse so I could use it.

RollerMouse Free2 - Top View

Bringing it all within reach

No matter how “ergonomic” a mouse may be, it’s still a mouse – and as such, it still requires room to work. This six- or eight-inch-square area, often defined by a mouse pad, is almost always found to the immediate right of the keyboard. Given the width of most keyboards, there really isn’t enough room for both, and one or the other usually gets pushed out beyond the limits of easy reach. (Unless, of course, you’re using a compact keyboard like the Typematrix 2030.)

The Contour RollerMouse is designed to occupy the already-empty space right in front of your keyboard. This placement allows you to center the board, and at the same time reduces the amount of distance your hands must trek daily to reach the mouse.

Loosen up that grip

The need to constantly grip a mouse, particularly for precise movements, is one ergonomic problem present to some degree in almost every mouse design. In its redefinition of the “mouse” paradigm, the RollerMouse eliminates the need to grip anything, because there is quite literally nothing on the device to grip! Everything about the RollerMouse invites your hands to open up, relax, and enjoy life – while still accomplishing the necessary chore of putting your mouse pointer where it needs to be.

Give your mouse hand a break…

Without moving, look down at your mousing hand right now. If you’re like most people, it’s very likely to be resting on your mouse, either spinning a wheel or clicking an arrow as you scroll down through this article. Which is a shame, because time spent passively reading on the computer is perfect for giving your mouse hand a rest. With the RollerMouse, your hand is almost automatically resting whenever it’s not actually moving or clicking, which adds up to lot more “breaks” and a lot less tension.

…and put the other hand to work

When we type, our right and left hands tend to share the work load more or less evenly. Activities involving mouse use, however, are a different story. For the most part the left hand sits on the desk or chair arm, doing nothing more useful than holding a coffee cup and waiting for something to type.

While it is very easy to use the RollerMouse with just one hand, it’s also nice to have the option of bringing your non-dominant hand into the mix. The RollerMouse lets your hands split the work of clicking, and, remarkably, the work of pointing as well if desired. Two-handing the rollerbar does more than boost the self-esteem of your other hand; it actually halves the effort of clicking, and also lets you steady the rollerbar with one hand while applying pressure with the other.

RollerMouse Free2 - Control closeup

I just love a good scroll wheel

Before I received my review sample RollerMouse, the top ergonomist at Contour Design told me, “You’re going to love the scroll wheel.” He was absolutely right. The RollerMouse scroll wheel, conveniently positioned in the middle where either hand can thumb it, is so smooth and so much fun to operate that I would buy just the wheel as a standalone unit if it were available that way. One potential drawback, though: Thumbing the scroll wheel isn’t necessarily good for that not-so-dexterous digit, the thumb. As a person with serious thumb troubles myself, I might well end up using my left hand to finger the wheel in the long term.

Contour RollerMouse Free2
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Take it to the limit

It is quite possible to run out of room while using the RollerMouse, leaving your pointer in the middle of the screen and the rollerbar at end-of-travel. While this doesn’t occur too often – particularly on a high DPI setting – there is a built-in feature to deal with it when it does. At each end of the rollerbar track, there is a lightly spring-loaded switch. When the bar hits the fence at one end or the other, the switch sends a signal to move the mouse pointer all the way to that side of the screen. This solves the space problem, but as a side effect makes it almost impossible to click on the very edge-most pixels of your monitor.

The highly adjustable RollerMouse

There are two things about the RollerMouse action that users are likely to adjust: The tension of the rollerbar – that is, the amount of force it takes to push the bar down and register a click, without doing it accidentally – and the speed of the pointer. Both of these settings are adjustable using controls on the mouse itself, without the need for any special software.

The rollerbar tension setting, which should only need to be adjusted once, is controlled by a slider switch on the bottom of the unit. Personally, I found the minimum tension setting just right. More heavy-handed users might want to make the action harder in order to minimize accidental clicks.

The pointer speed, or DPI setting, is also switchable through a hardware control, much like the Evoluent Vertical Mouse. A push button on top of the unit cycles through five levels of precision. A lower level makes the pointer easier to control, where a higher level gives you more mouse movement for each flick of the hand. Users with multiple monitors will probably need to turn this setting all the way up.

RollerMouse Free2 - Side view

RollerMouse Pro or Free?

The RollerMouse pictured and described in this article in the Free2, successor to the original Free, which replaced the 2001 Classic model. There is another, slightly-less-costly version of the RollerMouse called the Pro2. This is not so much a “lite” version of the mouse, but simply a variation to meet different needs. The principal differences between the two models are as follows:

  • rollerbar length – Where the Free rollerbar runs in a track that’s completely exposed, the Pro hides all but seven inches of its bar under a cover. This might help with keeping dust out of the raceway, but doesn’t allow as much flexibility as to where you put your hands.
  • Depth for keyboard trays – If your desk is equipped with a keyboard tray, the higher profile of the Pro model will likely be better for your situation. The nearly-flat Free model is perfect if your keyboard surface is already near elbow height.
  • Accessories – The Pro model can be fitted with a mega palm/wrist rest called the RollerWave, great for making a more gradual, comfortable slope across the front.

Choose your keyboard carefully

Ironically for an ergonomic device, the RollerMouse doesn’t play well together with the majority of “ergonomic” keyboards. The problem is that most such boards – notably the ubiquitous Microsoft 4000 Natural – feature an integrated palm rest along their front edge. There simply isn’t enough room left for the RollerMouse in front – not even the Free model with its palm rest removed.

Does this leave you stuck with a primitive “straight” keyboard? Hardly. (Though if you do decide to go with a standard board, do yourself a favor and buy something decent like a Das Keyboard.) The RollerMouse works really well with the more advanced ergonomic keyboards such as the Goldtouch and Kinesis Freestyle. If you are using a Freestyle, just remember that its palm rest accessories such as the VIP kit won’t work.

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Watch out for wrist back-bending

Ergonomists generally recommend that your keyboard surface be positioned at or below elbow height. While this is usually great for typing, a low keyboard tray can be a problem with the RollerMouse Free2 model. Its thin profile and upward-sloping palm rest can contribute to a bad wrist position known as extension.  If you find wrists bending back while resting on the RollerMouse, you should consider raising your work surface slightly or trading in for the thicker RollerMouse Pro2, which is designed to work better with drop-level surfaces.

A big review for a big device

This is the longest review I have done on an ergonomic mouse or keyboard, and there’s a good reason for that: The RollerMouse is simply the most amazing such device I have ever used. I am blown away by its quality and the way it makes a revolutionary idea so easy to understand and use. Is it worth spending $200 for everybody? Not necessarily. But it’s worth considering.

Disclosure: This review was made using a complimentary sample from Contour Design.

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16 Comments

  1. Andrew
    Posted June 27, 2013 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    I just received a Rollermouse Re:d. Like you I’ve wanted to try one of these out for the longest time. My initial thoughts are that this will not be an option for me. Doesn’t seem like a great match with the Typematrix keyboard. I keep bumping the roller while typing and there’s quite a bit of wrist pain from the angle of the board and the mouse. If I lower the keyboard to alleviate the wrist angle, then I bump the roller even more. Oh well, it satisfied my curiosity.

    Did you return your Rollermouse? If so, was it an easy process?

    • Andrew
      Posted June 27, 2013 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

      Guess I should have paid more attention, of course you didn’t have issues returning the RM!

      • Jason
        Posted June 27, 2013 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

        While you’re of course right that I actually got to keep the RM, I can say from other experiences that Contour customer service is absolutely the best there is. Just call the toll-free number on their website and they’ll take care of you.

        I can see how the RollerMouse Red might not work well with the TypeMatrix keyboard. You might possibly do better with the Free, since it’s a bit thinner. As it happens, I am in the middle of test-driving a Red unit as I type this, and so far I’m loving it. It really works well with my tented Freestyle setup, as it nests nicely right under the front.

        • Andrew
          Posted June 27, 2013 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

          It’s beautifully made piece of equipment. I find that with a mouse I need to move one hand from the keyboard and the RM is causing me to move both hands off the keyboard. Maybe it just isn’t for me.

          • Jason
            Posted June 27, 2013 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

            Yes it is beautifully made. I’m surprised to hear you say that it takes both your hands off the keyboard, though. I’ve found mine works best when I use it with just one hand.

  2. Litha
    Posted May 7, 2013 at 12:56 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the help, Jason! I’m leaning toward the Contour Rollermouse as my primary device, and using the tablet it off to the right where my mouse currently lives. It’s not a perfect set-up, but the Wacom Bamboo line is really too big for me to put between the halves of the Freestyle 2 anyway, and I wasn’t planning to go up to the pricier Intuos Small. I really like the concept of a trackball, but I picked up a Kensington Slimblade to try and it didn’t last 10 minutes for me. Too much friction, especially on the scroll feature, hard to press buttons with dead zones that require a lot of travel from the ball. There is the Logitech Trackman Marble but it doesn’t have a scroll mechanism, and there are a number of complaints online about this, and some reports of hard to press buttons. The only other alternative for me at this point is a Logitech mouse with hyperscroll as a primary pointing device.

  3. Litha
    Posted April 22, 2013 at 11:43 pm | Permalink

    Hi Jason, how does the rollermouse measure up for precision work and pixel-perfect drawing? How would you compare it to the contour mouse, the DXT, the evoluent, and a trackball for this kind of work? And how is the amount of force required to click the buttons? I find that clicking the mouse is one of the things that tends to irritate my wrists, especially in combination with precision work. I’m currently using a Logitech Anywhere MX with the speed turned all the way up, which isn’t too bad for a standard mouse, I love the hyperscroll wheel on it, it’s so smooth and fast, but I need something more ergonomic.

    • Jason
      Posted April 23, 2013 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

      Of the devices you mentioned, the DXT blows everything to smithereens on precision. It is the most precise mouse I’ve ever used, ergonomic or not. The others are varying degrees of mediocre in my experience, and any pixel precision you get out of them will probably be paid for by a pile of arm tension.

      If pixel perfection is your goal and click force is a problem, you might actually consider a graphics tablet. Since it’s just like using a pen or pencil, the precision is unparalleled by any conventional pointing device, and the clicking action – pressing the tip down – can be much easier as well. My brother has a “click” problem, and uses a graphics tablet instead of mouse for everything. I use a Contour for my main device, but keep a graphics tablet between the halves of my Freestyle for the really precise stuff.

      • Litha
        Posted May 5, 2013 at 4:52 am | Permalink

        I appreciate the feedback! It’s challenging to try to figure out what’s right for my particular set of issues when you can’t go try these things at Best Buy. If I get a drawing tablet for precision drawing and I want something else for general navigation, so I’m not doing the same motions all the time, how would you compare the Rollermouse vs a trackball (I’m considering the Logitech Trackman Marble and the Kensington trackballs). Since it sounds like the types of motion and muscles used are similar for both, my #1 concern is click force, and my #2 concern is easy, fast scrolling. I’m also somewhat concerned about whether the Rollermouse plays well with a Kinesis Freestyle 2 tented at 15 degrees with a V3 kit (I know the VIP3 kit is out if one uses a Rollermouse). Any suggestions you have would be appreciated.

        • Jason
          Posted May 6, 2013 at 9:22 am | Permalink

          I would usually pick the RollerMouse over a trackball, because it has more flexibility in the way of multiple buttons, click modes, etc. The click force is good both on the buttons and the bar, and the scrolling action is excellent.

          The RM plays very well with the Freestyle/V3/15-degree setup, provided you don’t mind having the keyboard just a smidge further away than you’re used to. My main concern is your graphics tablet, which would have to go where your mouse currently lives. I use a Contour mouse myself, so my tablet nests nicely between the two halves of the Freestyle. Obviously, that’s not possible when using a RollerMouse.

  4. John
    Posted January 3, 2013 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

    Jason how is it going; what input device are you using now? Thanks

    (Kensington SlimBlade?)

    • Jason
      Posted January 3, 2013 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

      I’m back to my Contour Mouse. My brother is always laughing about how I try all these different devices, but inevitably come back around to the same model I’ve been using since 2007. My sample DXT is coming today, so we’ll see if the Contour can survive yet another rival!

      I might review the Slimblade sometime, but I can’t see adopting it as my primary device. You never know, though…

      • Blue
        Posted May 27, 2013 at 9:52 pm | Permalink

        Hi Jason!

        First I want to thank you for updating this site. This has really helped me a lot.

        Now I’m reaching out about your reply to earlier question, which were about your own gear: You commented that you were back to “contour mouse”, which made me wonder what you actually mean by contour mouse? Do you mean the perfit mouse (http://ergo.contour-design.com/ergonomic-mouse/contour-mouse) or the rollermouse? And I would really appreciate if you could give the exact version of your mouse too, as there are more than one rollermouses and possibly (I don’t know if there is) more than one version of perfit mouse.

        Thanks once more for this site and please keep updating this. I already bought freestyle2 keyboard after reading your review and waiting eagerly to read more reviews about new gear.

        Best regards,

        Ez

        • Jason
          Posted May 27, 2013 at 10:27 pm | Permalink

          Glad you have found my site helpful!

          When I say “Contour mouse,” I mean what used to be called the “Perfit.” (They’ve pretty much dropped that term, so I usually don’t bother with it either.)

          There is only one current version of the Contour mouse, but the new model is different from the old. The main difference is that the new one has a space-age coating on the outside, where the old one just had plastic. Since I prefer the plain plastic, I actually use the shell of my old mouse, mated to the lower part of the new. Weird, but it works for me.

  5. al
    Posted September 14, 2012 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

    Is your recommendation for a negative tilt keyboard tray to use Rollermouse Pro? Given negative tilt keyboard trays are recommended over flat work surfaces, would this then mean Rollermouse Pro be used by most people (unless they hardly type)? Seems like a shame since Rollermouse Free seems like superior device otherwise.

    • Jason
      Posted September 14, 2012 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

      With a negative tilt keyboard tray – i.e. the front of the tray higher than the back – I would guess that the RollerMouse Free might work as well or even better. The Pro is recommended for flat keyboard trays, but I have not heard that it is specifically indicated for negative tilt ones. It would really depend, I think, on how the specific workstation is adjusted – and of course, the user position and working preferences.

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  • About The Blogger

    Jason, the All Things Ergo bloggerI'm Jason, a user of many ergonomic devices by necessity and choice. I'm also a partner in a business that operates a number of commercial enterprises, including All Things Ergo.

    I have no particular training or expertise in the area of ergonomics. My views are based on my own personal experience, and what works for me won't necessarily work for you.