Update: The original Rockstick mouse has been superseded by a new model; see my review here.
Just when I think I’ve seen everything in the world of ergonomic peripherals, something new pops up. For the following discovery, I am personally indebted to Tim Brogden, whose casual Twitter mention sent me off on the trail of the Rockstick ergonomic mouse. Read on to see what I found.
I’ve seen this design somewhere before… or have I?
At first glance, the Rockstick looks suspiciously similar to the 3M ergonomic mouse (now called the Renaissance Mouse for greater coolness and spelling difficulty). Rest assured, however, that the Rockstick is no knockoff. Like the 3M, it resembles nothing so much as a joystick. But unlike the 3M, it has no left and right click buttons. Instead, it works the way I originally thought the 3M design would work – you rock the stick in order to register a click – hence the name, Rockstick. This unique feature makes the Rockstick particularly appealing to those who suffer from click-related disorders.
The Rockstick was developed by the most qualified designer possible – a carpal tunnel sufferer. Jianbo Deng, an economics major who graduated from San Diego State University, was also an avid online chess player. Unhappily, this pastime led to severe CTS in both of his hands, and ultimately cost him his job. Deng made good use of this experience by designing an improved ergonomic mouse that addresses his own personal wrist issues.
How the Rockstick rolls
To understand how the Rockstick works, you must first lose the idea that it’s a joystick. Moving that stick does not move your mouse pointer on the screen, so if you’ve got the impression that it does, shake your mental Etch-A-Sketch until that picture disappears. The Rockstick moves your pointer exactly like an ordinary vertical mouse does. Resting the side of your hand on the pleasantly-tacky surface provided, you simply slide the whole mouse around on your desk and watch the pointer follow.
Since the Rockstick registers a click whenever the stick is pushed to the left or right, you might think that it would be difficult to move the mouse without making a bunch of accidental clicks along the way. I thought so too, when I first picked up the unit and immediately began to splatter clicks across the screen. Within just a few moments, however, I got my balance and was able to move and click normally. I have to congratulate Deng here on finding the perfect balance in the stick tension. It is light enough that clicking – and even double-clicking – feels effortless, but stiff enough to resist small accidental nudges.
The left-leaning Rockstick
No, I haven’t slipped into politics here – it’s just that left-clicking is way easier than right-clicking on the Rockstick. The control stick is already slanted toward the left, so it requires only the slightest force to actuate a primary click. While this action is technically a tiny rotation of the wrist, it doesn’t feel like one. Rather, I sense only a shift in the weight of my hand, perhaps helped by a bit of downward pressure from my thumb on top of the control stick.
Right-clicking is a different story. Pulling the stick toward the outside, away from its natural bias, seems to require considerably more force than pushing it inward. Due to this higher force and the differently shifting weight of the hand, the mouse has a strong tendency to “jump” while right-clicking. This jump can be suppressed, but a noticeable degree of hand tension is required to hold it steady.
It appears to me that the designer has simply sacrificed right-click in favor of left click. And if it has to be one way or the other, biasing toward the primary click direction is the only choice that makes any sense.
Finding your size
Like many ergonomic mice, the Rockstick comes in two sizes – Large and Small/Medium. Don’t start measuring your finger length, though, because only one dimension matters – the distance across the knuckles of your hand, not including your thumb. Mine falls right around three inches, which is the line between the two sizes. Deng obligingly sent me two samples, but I only used the larger one for a minute before deciding the Small/Medium would be a better fit. The bigger version seemed to be harder to click and handle accurately, I suggest erring toward the small size if you’re not sure.
In virtually every mouse review I write, there’s a paragraph on precision – or more often with ergonomic mice, the lack thereof. The Rockstick, unfortunately, is very much in the latter category. Oh, it’s easy enough to hit ordinary targets like menu items and the arrows on the scroll bar. But when it comes to even moderately precise tasks such as selecting text, the work becomes a struggle, filled with hand tension and eventually, arm soreness.
If most of what you do is web browsing and basic productivity, the Rockstick should be fine. But if you’re a graphic designer, you may want to either consider a more precision-oriented ergonomic mouse (such as the DXT) or else keep a graphics tablet on hand for the really exact tasks.
A pinch of discomfort…
Okay, it’s not possible to exactly pinch yourself with the Rockstick. (Or at least, it would take someone more talented than I.) But there is space in between the stick and the plate, and it is possible to get skin into that space. When the stick comes down the wrong way… well, it doesn’t exactly hurt, but it is rather uncomfortable. You can work around this issue by holding the stick more loosely, to keep the base of your hand clear of the problem area. Once this loose grip becomes your natural position, any unpleasant “pinches” should be few and far between.
Yes, Virginia, there is a scroll wheel
If you read my 3M ergonomic mouse review, you’ll know that I took time to whine at length about its lack of a scroll wheel. No such issue with the Rockstick – its scroll wheel/middle click occupies a prominent spot on top of the unit.
Now, while I’m delighted that the Rockstick has a scroll wheel at all, its location does give me some concern. As a person with thumb issues myself, I’m a bit uneasy about the idea of assigning the scroll function to this least dexterous of digits. Contour actually warns that the thumb-operated scroll wheel on their signature mouse should be used in moderation, and ignoring that advice can get my right thumb throbbing in a hurry. That said, the Rockstick places the scroll wheel at a completely different – and in my opinion, more comfortable – angle from the Contour. Just something to keep in mind.
Um, what’s that wrist pad for?
Puzzlingly, the Rockstick comes with a little gel wrist rest, much like the kind that misguided users often park in front of their mice. While I’ve seen such a wrist pad promoted by Evoluent for use with their vertical mouse, I cannot grasp how it would help the Rockstick user. I left mine in the plastic bag, and suggest you do the same.
You’ll need a smooth, possibly elevated surface
Please don’t try to use the Rockstick on a rough surface. The aforementioned stick tension balance requires a smooth operating area under the feet, and you’ll do yourself a favor by providing it.
Also, because of the slope of the Rockstick’s hand rest, I found that I needed the mouse to be elevated a bit above elbow height. When I used it on a surface that was too low, my forearm started aching withing ten minutes.
The mouse that out-3M’s 3M
It’s not every day that a lone-wolf inventor outdoes a multi-million-dollar research department, but in the case of the Rockstick vs. the 3M mouse, that may be just what’s happened. By removing the necessity to click buttons in order to work, the Rockstick has staked out a unique place for itself in the market.
It worked for Jianbo Deng. If you have issues with CTS – especially click-related pain – it just might work for you.
Disclosure: This review was made a complimentary sample.