Buttons and wheels
For a mouse, button feel and placement are pretty important. Microsoft does well with the Wireless IntelliMouse Explorer's right and left buttons, which are perfectly placed, large, and feel nice and solid. However, the placement and feel of the mouse's other buttons leaves something to be desired.
Since Microsoft first rolled out side-mounted forward and back buttons on the original IntelliMouse Explorer, the company has slowly made the buttons smaller and moved them farther away from my thumb's natural resting position. Smaller buttons I can deal with, as long as I can reach them, but my thumb would have to be at least half an inch longer to have a hope of easily reaching Wireless IntelliMouse Explorer's forward button. The mouse's back button is also harder to reach, at least for me, than on older IntelliMouse products.
At first, I thought I might have horribly misshapen hands, but I've also had a few friends who have played with the Wireless IntelliMouse Explorer comment that the forward and back buttons can be difficult to reach.
Despite their inconvenient placement, the forward and back buttons have the same solid feel as the mouse's left and right click buttons. However, that solid feel turns a little too stiff with the mouse's wheel button, which takes quite a bit of force to engage. Given that wheel buttons on previous IntelliMouse products have been much easier to engage, I suspect this new stiffness is a byproduct of the wheel's tilting capabilities.
Speaking of tilting capabilities, let's all take a moment to marvel in the glory that is the tilt wheel:
The tilt wheel is probably the Wireless IntelliMouse Explorer 2.0's most compelling feature, and it's what got me interested in the mouse in the first place. For horizontal scrolling, the wheel is used like a rocker. Pivot the wheel to the left, and you scroll left; pivot the wheel to the right, and you scroll right. Simple.
Rather than rolling through a series of muted clicks like the IntelliMouse Explorer v3.0, the Wireless IntelliMouse Explorer v2.0's vertical scrolling is perfectly smooth. It's almost as if the wheel were rolling on an axle of pure Teflon. For scrolling through web pages and documents, the smooth-scrolling wheel is a joy to use. However, gamers who use the mouse wheel for weapon switching may prefer the precision of wheel with more clearly-defined click points.
As you've no doubt guessed already, the Wireless IntelliMouse Explorer 2.0 is a wireless mouse. The mouse comes with an RF base station. Sorry, no Bluetooth. The Explorer's RF wireless works just fine, but Bluetooth support would have made the mouse much more geek chic. Microsoft does offer a Bluetooth Wireless IntelliMouse, but that product lacks the tilt wheel.
The Wireless IntelliMouse's base station is a snap to set up; just plug it into a USB port, and hit the unit's only button. The wireless connection's effective range (with no performance degradation) is about six and a half feet, and the base station has a handy connection light that lets users know when they're within range. The connection light also doubles as a battery life indicator.
Yes, batteries. Because the mouse can't leech power over the air waves, Microsoft relies on a pair of AA batteries to do the trick.
Rather than use an internal rechargeable battery, the Wireless IntelliMouse Explorer relies on standard AAs. Why? Microsoft's rationale has to do with avoiding downtime. If a rechargeable wireless mouse's internal battery dies, a user is stranded without a mouse until they can charge the unit or find an appropriate replacement. With the Wireless IntelliMouse Explorer 2.0, that user could pop in a couple of fresh AAs and be back in business with no time lost. The Wireless IntelliMouse will even run off a single AA.
Of course, Logitech's wireless MX700 has internal rechargeable batteries that can be swapped out for standard AAs; there's no downtime potential there.
Microsoft claims the Wireless IntelliMouse Explorer 2.0 can wring six months of normal operation from a pair of AAs. After a month and a half of heavy usage, my mouse's battery status indicator shows the Energizers at about 80% capacity. Microsoft's estimate of six months looks spot on.
If the Wireless IntelliMouse Explorer's battery life weren't so exceptional, I'd probably be less enthused about its use of AA batteries. However, having to replace relatively cheap batteries only a couple of times a year seems a lot more convenient than remembering to charge a mouse up on a weekly or monthly basis.