From squeaky ball mice to the impeccable silence of the optical mice and finally the darling of the moment - laser mice, this ubiquitous pointing device has undergone quite a few changes over the years. The form has remained more or less the same due to the ergonomics of our hands but the underlying technology has only gotten better, with the new laser technology able to work flawlessly on translucent or even transparent surfaces, one of the shortcomings of the optical mice. However, regardless of optical or laser, there is still a mechanical element due to the presence of the scroll wheel (besides the buttons on the mice of course). This is what Genius has changed with the new OptoWheel technology found on its Traveler 355 Laser.
This is definitely one of those times when we wished we had thought of something first. Because the idea behind the OptoWheel technology is so simple and obvious that it doesn't take a genius (pun intended) to invent it so we found it hard to believe no one had done it before, including ourselves. We are all used to having an optical sensor at the bottom of the mouse to track our movements so why not have it at the top, replacing the usual scroll wheel to track the scrolling movement? This is precisely what Genius did and not surprisingly, they are already touting this technology as one of a kind.
One of the advantages of having such an optical scroll wheel is the removal of any moving parts on the mouse, making it even quieter than before. Also, the whole hassle of enabling scrolling on two axes is solved instantly with an optical sensor. Horizontal or vertical scroll does not matter as both can be tracked. In case you're wondering about the sensitivity of the scroll, we found it extremely easy to use, with the added advantage of being very smooth since one is unlikely to hit any mechanical snag while scrolling and of course it is easier to clean too. And for those who can't get enough of blue LEDs, the optical scroll glows blue too.
There's also a Turbo Scroll feature where a quick flick of the finger upwards or downwards will scroll through the entire page almost instantly and it does so at a decently fast pace that you can still track what's scrolling by. This is useful for going through long documents or webpages. While competitors may have similar functions, they are not so easily nor as elegantly implemented as with the OptoWheel.
According to the Genius manual and website, the Traveler 355 Laser comes with two hardware resolution modes of 800 and 1600 DPI, with the higher resolution usually more desired by gamers for the greater precision. To switch from one mode to another, one is required to hold down the middle, left and right keys together for at least three seconds. The problem with that is the lack of an indicator for the current resolution mode so we couldn't really tell if the switch is working properly. Genius should really have implemented some form of user feedback, either in software or hardware for this.
In any case, the 1600 DPI mode does seem a bit redundant on this Traveler mouse, as like its name suggests, this is a portable mouse aimed at notebook users. It's rather small and flat with few contours and hence may get uncomfortable after long usage, especially for those with larger hands but the design is quite typical of Genius' other Traveler mice.
Though we were initially worried that the OptoWheel innovation may be another minor novelty with little real utility, our experience with the US$39.90 Genius Traveler 355 Laser convinced us otherwise. The optical scroll works as advertised and it is as good as or better than the usual scroll wheel. The DPI mode switching's lack of feedback remains a rather big flaw that we hope would be corrected in a future revision. As it is now, this is one of the more interesting and useful innovations in mice technology we have seen recently. Kudos to Genius on this!