When I first saw the press release for the A4Tech “battery-free” wireless optical mouse, I figured there was some kind of marketing wizardry involved.

Maybe there weren’t “batteries,” per se, but it was rechargeable through some other means? Or did it contain some revolutionary new mouse technology, like harnessing the kinetic energy of mouse movements? Or something more esoteric, like powering the mouse with my own sense of self-satisfaction? Turns out it’s actually powered by RFID — and it ended up being a great mouse, especially considering the $20 pricetag.

Most optical mice get their power through USB or PS/2 connectors, or through AA batteries. As any wireless optical mouse user knows, batteries don’t last too long in mice — six months if you’re a lightweight, three months if you spend a lot of time on your computer. Some mice are more power-efficient than others, and some come with integrated rechargeable batteries and a charger to stick the mouse into when not in use. But sooner or later the battery situation becomes an annoyance. Corded mice can be equally annoying due to the encumbrance of the mouse cord.

The NB-50 mouse pad does have a cord, and it connects to the computer via USB. So in a sense, the NB-50 is not truly cordless and is constrained by the length of the mouse pad cord, but the mouse itself is cordless.

The mouse does not have to make direct contact with the mouse pad to receive power. You can raise the mouse about two inches off the pad before it loses signal, and can put various objects between the two without causing significant interference. I could successfully place conventional mouse pads and “gaming surfaces” such as the Ratpadz GS on top of the NB-50 pad and use the mouse on them without any trouble. Teflon mouse tape is also safe to use — in fact I’d recommend it, as the mouse pad will become worn after months of regular use.

The mouse pad contains internal circuitry that powers the mouse. If you experience interference with other radio signals, the mouse pad has a “tune” button; press it and the device reconfigures itself on a different frequency. On top of the circuitry is a flat, textured plastic pad that is optimally smooth for mouse use. There is practically no wrist strain in using the NB-50, and I found its textured surface to be comparable to the majority of expensive “gaming surface” mouse pads. The size of the pad is less than stellar — about 6″ wide and 8″ long — but is still suitable for everything I could think of during testing.

The mouse pad cannot be operated on any metal surface. Since the warnings about this are printed on the box, in the manual, and on the mouse pad itself, I figured it was in my best interest to avoid finding out why metal and power-over-RFID don’t mesh.

By Jem Matzan

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