Physical and electrical design
The A4Tech NB-99 is an optical, wireless, battery-free mouse and mousepad combination. While the mouse itself is wireless, the mousepad is connected to the computer via a USB cord. Power is transferred to the mouse via inductive coupling, so it doesn't need a rechargeable or renewable power source, but it does need to stay within two inches of the mousepad. You also don't want to put the mousepad on any kind of metal surface because it could potentially conduct or otherwise interfere with the power transfer to the mouse.
Other than the fancy method of powering the mouse, electrically the NB-99 is much like any other optical mouse.
Because of the lack of onboard batteries, the NB-99 is unusually lightweight. There are four standard teflon glider feet on the bottom at each corner, and the mousepad has a textured plastic surface that makes moving the mouse a pleasure. The mousepad's surface is similar to what you'd find on a low-end gaming surface like the Ratpadz GS or X-Raypad Thunder 9; consequently, it will also wear out at roughly the same rate as plastic gaming surfaces. Expect to get a good 6 months of use out of the mousepad before the textured surface starts to get a shine to it, which makes the surface stickier and relatively annoying to use.
|The A4Tech NB-99: innovative and comfortable (click to enlarge)|
The mousepad itself is round, which more accurately reflects standard mouse usage patterns than traditional square or rectangular pads do. One of the unique and rather helpful features of the NB-99 mousepad is the ergonomic wrist pad. If you have a repetitive stress injury from improper mouse usage, this mousepad can help relieve some of the pain, though it is by no means a replacement for correct posture and and an ergonomically designed work environment.
Button-wise, the NB-99 is excellently equipped. The two main buttons are integrated into the top plastic bezel (much like some modern Logitech designs) and aren't too tough or too easy to click. The scroll wheel is twice as wide as those found on Microsoft and Logitech mice, and it fits most people's index fingers much more comfortably. It is clickable as an extra button, and moves in steps. The browser navigation buttons are above the main scroll wheel, but not so far away that they can't easily be clicked. Below the main scroll wheel is an "office switch" button, which is designed to be used to change among several mouse user profiles. That of course relies on Windows software to operate correctly. Lastly, there is a second scroll wheel just above where your thumb rests, in the space usually occupied by forward and back buttons for Web browser navigation. Though this is designed to zoom in and out, it can also be configured to act as the main scroll wheel.
In terms of size and shape, the NB-99 is comfortable to use for everyday office desktop work, and has only a slight amount of "pinky drag." It's shape is a good mix between standard Microsoft and Logitech designs, and designed for right-handed use.
Putting it to the test
Connecting the A4Tech NB-99 is as easy as plugging it into a USB port and pressing the Tune button on the mousepad's base -- there is no extra software required to use the mouse, though a CD with configuration software is provided. If you want to have all of the extra mouse buttons working to your preference, the extra software is necessary. Unfortunately it only runs on Windows.
Overall I enjoyed using this mouse, and didn't run into any mentionable problems.
Conclusions and manufacturer recommendations
I wish I'd had this mouse five years ago when I worked at a sales desk. My wrist became horribly sore from mouse usage, and I had to buy a cushioned wrist rest for my mousepad to get any relief. Today, though, my desk is better organized and I no longer need the wrist pad. That doesn't mean that the NB-99 is in any way "too little, too late" -- I find it a welcome invention in a world where boring, non-ergonomic mice are the rule rather than the exception. It's not going to replace my mouse for everyday desktop use and gaming, but it may well see service on a test machine in my office.
Aside from the relatively short lifespan of the mousepad's textured surface, the only real concern I found with the NB-99 is its scarce availability. I only found it at one store. I'm usually more comfortable buying from Newegg or Amazon, both of which have a variety of A4Tech products, but neither of which carry the NB-99 as of this writing.
|Device||Ergonomic desktop mouse|
|Market||Desktop computer users, especially those with wrist pain|
|Price (retail)||U.S. ~$45|
|Product Web site||Click here|