If you spend much time following ergonomics on Twitter (what, you don’t?) it’s hard to miss the presence of Penclic. This European manufacturer makes, and heavily promotes, a mouse that looks like a pen stuck to its inkwell. As you may recall, I’ve reviewed that mouse before. There’s a new version now, which purports to address some of the issues I called out. There’s also a matching keyboard, and a touch device with a scroll wheel. Taken together, these Penclic peripherals form a chic setup that would make the trendiest Scandinavian proud.
There is no doubt that the Penclic keyboard looks amazing. In fact, aesthetic appeal is listed on the box as a primary selling point. I quote: “The subdued and relaxing colors make the keyboard as easy on your eyes as it is on your fingertips.” In my opinion, the ergonomic efficacy of “relaxing colors” is dubious – but two more tangible benefits are also mentioned: small size and easy typing action. We might add “thin profile” to that list as well. The keyboard’s minimal footprint allows your pointing device more room to roam, and its thickness (or lack thereof) may help you get a better wrist angle. As for the action, I’d say it feels much like any laptop I’ve typed on. And like most laptops, it includes a function key to activate its media controls and numeric keypad overlay.
The Penclic NiceTouch
The NiceTouch is three things together: a palm rest, a trackpad with four buttons, and a very unusual scroll wheel. In conjunction with the Penclic keyboard, it essentially turns your work area into a laptop, without the laptop.
As a trackpad, the NiceTouch has the features and performance you’d expect. It includes a “lock” button, which is helpful to avoid accidental swipes and clicks, but not so helpful when you want to switch quickly from typing to swiping.
The four buttons on the NiceTouch are, from left to right, primary click, secondary click, Back, and Lock (for the trackpad, as mentioned above). The trackpad itself is also tap-sensitive. The functions of the buttons cannot be changed, which is something that Penclic is working on for the next release. And I’m glad they’re working on it, because wasting a button on Back is a real shame. What about center click? What about double click? Surely both of those are more important than Back. This is 2015, not 2002. We have tabbed browsing now.
I mentioned that the scroll wheel is unusual. As you can see from the pictures, it is horizontal, like a miniature merry-go-round or lazy Susan. There is a little fingertip “knob” that you use to get a grip on the thing as you spin it in circles. Functionally it works just like a regular scroll wheel, but I find it somewhat less smooth and more effort to use. Not bad for scrolling through a webpage or two, but I’m not sure I’d want to use it in graphic design, or for reviewing big documents day in and day out.
Teaching an old mouse new tricks
What seems like a long, long time ago, I reviewed the Penclic mouse. At that time, I concluded that it was a nice concept, but needed improvement in the way the buttons were implemented. Lo and behold, I have my wish – or at least, Penclic’s idea of the way that wish should be fulfilled. They have indeed reworked the buttons and wheel on the new model, but with mixed results as far as I’m concerned.
First, the good. They’ve gotten rid of that confusing array of extra buttons, which were neither labeled nor shaped to give you any idea of what they did. Those have been replaced by just two large rubber buttons, one for primary click and one for secondary. In addition, the scroll wheel has gotten a better spot and a meaningful center click function. With normal-sized buttons and a standard scroll wheel, the Penclic mouse is now more mouse and less pen. Any mouse user can pick it up and start working without a fumble.
Now for the not-so-good. The first time I tried to click with the new Penclic mouse, I was surprised to find that I simply couldn’t do it. My right forefinger pressed hard, but the button I wanted didn’t move. What did move was the secondary click button, located under my thumb. Thinking I must have been holding the mouse wrong, I tried again – and again, and again.
Here’s what I discovered: The Penclic primary button, located on the right as you view the mouse during use, is actually quite easy to click, if – and this is a big if – you hold the mouse just so. Specifically, you need to have a fingertip (usually your forefinger) placed squarely on the center of the button. If you rest your clicking finger even a centimeter off the sweet spot, you’re out of luck.
The bottom line is that instead of being able to hold the Penclic loosely, in whatever way feels best to you, you have to think about where your clicking fingers are placed. This could be a big negative – unless you employ the Penclic for pointing only, and use a second device to click. And that brings us to….
The ambidexterity option
Lately I have been experimenting with two-handed mousing. This is not because I love experimentation so much, but because I have had a real flareup of discomfort in my right forefinger, of the kind usually brought on by tension and overexertion.
In a two-handed setup, one hand maneuvers the mouse pointer and the other does the clicking. Obviously, this requires two devices – in this case, a Penclic mouse and a Penclic NiceTouch, which work together remarkably well for the purpose. As shown below, my more skilled right hand puts the pointer where I want it, while my underworked left does the clicking and scrolling. The one downside here is that you have to leave the NiceTouch trackpad unlocked all the time, which can cause some slip-ups while typing.
Putting it all together
If your hands are hurting and you need relief, I cannot really recommend the whole Penclic desktop. While the keyboard is narrow and fairly easy to type on, its lack of shaping and adjustable features make it a poor competitor for Kinesis and Goldtouch. On the other hand, it does go wonderfully well with the NiceTouch, and the NiceTouch can be useful in the two-handed scheme we just covered. But you don’t absolutely need one for the other; each device in the Penclic desktop can be connected on its own, so you can choose just the pieces that make sense for you.
Unlike the Penclic keyboard, the Penclic mouse has some serious ergonomics going on. Few positions are more comfortable than holding a pen, and the ball joint design provides flexibility. The buttons remain a drawback, though a different kind of drawback than they were last time. I definitely recommend using a secondary device for clicking – either the NiceTouch, or something even better like a RollerMouse. Set it up that way, and you may find the Penclic to be just what you need.
Disclosure: This review was made with a complimentary sample from Penclic.