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Articles

Saitek Touch Force Optical Mouse

Thursday, October 24, 2002 by TheDoc || [0 Comments]

Company: Saitek
Price: $39.95 - List / $32.55 Online
Warranty: One Year

Package Contents:
  • Touch Force Optical Mouse
  • Manual
  • Driver CD
  • MDK 2 Game CD
System Requirements:
  • PC Pentium 133 MHz or higher
  • USB port
  • Microsoft Windowsฎ 98, Me and 2000
  • DirectXฎ 7.0 or higher
Technical Features:
  • TouchSense™ Feedback
  • Optical Technology
  • 3 Buttons
  • Scroll Wheel
  • USB
Recently we took a look at the top of the line optical mouse from Saitek, which has a full range of mice for PC users, ranging from the basic to the rather exotic. Probably the most exotic mouse in the Saitek nest is the Touch Force Optical.

The Touch Force Optical is equipped with two buttons plus a scroll wheel/button, USB interface, and optical sensing technology for more precise pointer positioning. However, what makes the Touch Force so unique is the inclusion of Immersion TouchSense Technology, which gives the device force feedback on the desktop and games that support the Immersion standard.

The Touch Force Optical has a lot of potential, on paper. Force feedback, especially a system that doesn't require additional batteries or a power cable, is always a neat feature for gamers. But does this mouse have the kick needed to make it to your desktop?

The Saitek Touch Force Optical comes well packaged and protected. Inside the box you will find the Touch Force mouse, a driver CD, installation manual, and BioWare's MDK 2. All told this is a very complete package for the price.

The Touch Force Optical is virtually identical in design to Saitek's Optical Pro. A striking silver and blue color scheme and sturdy plastic combine to make this an interesting addition to your desktop. The Touch Force feels only a bit heavier than its lighter cousin (which should appeal to most gamers); and its long USB cord and large friction-free pads on the bottom ensure that this mouse can accommodate a wide range of desktop setups and configurations.

Unlike the Optical Pro, the Touch Force Optical lacks an internal blue LED to light up the case edge. I assume that the force feedback engine takes up most of the available five volts on the USB channel, but it would have been a nice feature to have included, if possible.

About the only issue I have up front with the Touch Force is the construction of this mouse. Compared to the Optical Pro, which has an identical case, the Touch Force body is much looser in feeling and creaks loudly if handled tightly. I actually found this quite surprising given that there is a small force feedback system and sensitive optical readers installed inside. I would have thought that, if anything, the Touch Force casing would have to be built more sturdy to protect its sensitive optical system from the vibration of the force feedback motor. Nonetheless, this loose construction does not bode well for the Touch Force, especially if you are the kind of person to dish out a lot of punishment to your mouse.

As with the Saitek Optical Pro Mouse, the Touch Force Optical is a true plug-and-play peripheral. Installing the device is as simple as plugging it into an available USB port on your computer, followed by the Immersion drivers and desktop manager provided on the included CD. From start to finish, you should have this mouse up and running in as little as five minutes, all without a reboot if you are switching from another USB mouse.

Upon inserting the autorun driver CD, you are prompted to install the Immersion TouchSense software suite, which includes general drivers for the force feedback engine and a desktop integration utility that enables various effects when not gaming.

As the installation proceeds you will be prompted repeatedly for various confirmations. The Saitek drivers are not MS certified for Windows XP, so expect to get a warning from the operating system telling you it disapproves of the drivers you are trying to load. Just click on through as these drivers will work.

Once the Touch Force drivers and Immersion Desktop were installed, I was ready to install MDK2. MDK2 is a solid title with a great sense of slightly off color humor. The inclusion of this game is a nice touch, especially since it shows off the full capabilities of the Immersion TouchSense force feedback engine built into the mouse.

The driver install adds an additional tab to the standard Microsoft Mouse control panel applet. The main change is the Touch Force Optical tab itself, which gives you a overall strength slider for adjusting the level of force feedback. The Immersion Desktop Settings button gives you access to an additional level of control over the TouchSense system, with various options that can be saved in profiles that you can select and enable at will.

Getting Immersed

The Touch Force's force feedback system is a mixed bag at best. On the one hand it works, and works well. It is not overpowering at 100% strength and it can be adjusted easily. On the other hand it does not prove to be much of a benefit on the desktop and it can even become quite annoying.

The Immersion TouchSense desktop integration brings your desktop alive, causing the mouse to shudder as it passes over icons and menu items. Web surfing also worked well, with links and linked images causing the mouse to shake and notify you that there was something to click.

On the other hand, I came to dislike the Immersion desktop effect after extended use. It made the Touch Force feel like an older ball mouse that needed cleaning more than anything else. Eventually I turned off the desktop force feedback entirely as it was more distracting than anything else.

When gaming, the Immersion force feedback effects are great, especially in the bundled MDK 2. The mouse taps your hand gently when you are walking, jars you when you hit a wall or fall down, and shakes menacingly when you are hit by enemy fire or rip into a target with your own weaponry. Overall the effects are solid and subtle, further immersing you into the game.

Ergonomics

The Touch Force is designed for ergonomic comfort. Unlike many other ergonomic mice from companies like Microsoft and Logitech, the design of the Touch Force is meant to be comfortable for both left and right handed people; Saitek keeps with its tradition of creating hand neutral peripherals. While not the most comfortable mouse I have ever used, its shape is easy on the wrist and its light weight means that even after several hours of gaming you will find your hand ready for more on screen mayhem.

Day to Day Use

In day to day use on the desktop, the Touch Force Optical is competent, but not very outstanding, equating more to a ball based mouse in terms of performance and precision.

My biggest gripe, one that becomes especially apparent when dealing with editing in graphics programs, is that the pointer tends to wander by a few pixels no matter what mousing surface it is operated on. In fact, when compared to similarly priced optical mice like the Microsoft Intellimouse Optical or the Logitech Wheel Mouse Optical the Touch Force is woefully inaccurate. The Touch Force Optical also exhibited noticeable lag when moving the mouse rapidly across large resolution screens, with the pointer becoming more imprecise and erratic as the resolution was bumped up.

The Touch Force is definitely not for those of us who require perfect pointer control and movement on the desktop at higher resolutions. Gaming Experience The Touch Force, even with its force feedback technology, is not a good mouse for demanding 3D FPS style games. In titles like SOF II, Quake III, and the recently released demo for Black Hawk Down, I found both the precision and control to be lacking. No matter how I adjusted the available in-game and mouse control panel options, I could never get the Touch Force Optical into the 'sniper's groove.'

For more generalized games that require a mouse, such as RTS titles, and at intermediate resolutions the Touch Force is adequate. Movement is smooth enough and the precision problems are not nearly as noticeable, if at all. At higher resolutions, however, the mouse lag becomes noticeable again, especially if your map scroll rate is set high in games like Red Alert 2.

When supported by a title, the Immersion TouchSense effects generated by the mouse are excellent. Thankfully MDK2 is included in the package, as I don't have any truly mouse oriented games on hand with Immersion support built in. The Touce Force Optical performs decently in MDK2 and the force feedback effects are absolutely amazing, although sniper mode could become a frustrating exercise given the mouse's seemingly inherent precision problems at higher resolutions.

Conclusion

Overall: With a solid USB interface, optical technology, a nice ergonomic design that incorporates force feedback technology and a neutral hand orientation, the Touch Force Optical is definitely a unique and tempting gaming mouse. Unfortunately the Touch Force has too many downsides keeping it from being a 'must have' product for gamers. I give it a 3.

The precision and accuracy of the Touch Force mouse, especially at higher resolutions, is poor at best, with noticeable on screen lag when moved rapidly. Additionally, the plastic body feels weakly constructed and unable to take much punishment over the long haul. Finally, the functionality of the Immersion TouchSense technology on the desktop is something that, for me at least, ended up being more of a distraction than a benefit.

Ultimately the shortcomings of the Saitek Touch Force Optical mouse by and far outweigh the interesting features and nice design. Gamers who want a little extra kick out of their mouse and who are not particularly worried about motion and pointer precision might be able to get along with the Touch Force. Everyone else, especially those who demand smooth movement and accuracy from their mouse, should really look elsewhere.

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