Boy oh boy, are there some wacky input devices on the market today, and it seems they get even kookier when they're ergonomic.

Input devices like the RollerMousePRO, the vertical keyboard and the vertical mouse may seem esoteric, but they prove that their users prefer functionality over beautiful form.

A main driver for this is the desire to reduce the risk or pain associated with carpal tunnel syndrome and other repetitive-stress injury disorders.

Unfortunately, Evoluent's VerticalMouse 2 doesn't win any crazy and kooky awards. In fact, it's best described as a regular-looking mouse that's been turned 90 degrees clockwise (counterclockwise for the lefties).

The idea is to allow your arm to control the mouse in a more natural position, with the thumb up, in a hand-shaking position.

Doctors who specialize in ergonomics consider this position preferable. And because it resembles a regular mouse, there's no real learning curve when you start using it.

With four buttons (five if you include the scroll wheel) and a 1200dpi resolution, the VerticalMouse 2 is no slouch in its specs, which suggest enough horsepower for gaming.

This said, we decided to rotate our right forearm for a few weeks with the VerticalMouse to see whether it deserves to be your next input device.

Its width and length are about the same size as your normal mouse, but its height stands above the rest, at around 3 inches. If you flip the mouse 90 degrees to the left, you'll see something resembling a regular old mouse.

When you position your hand to control the mouse, your thumb naturally falls into a groove to help you grip the mouse better. Many regular mice have grooves for the thumb, but it's even more important with the VerticalMouse, because without it your thumb would fall out of position.

Your thumb can control one of the mouse's four buttons at the top of this groove. Your remaining four fingers control the mouse buttons on the other side. You'll likely rest your hand on your pinky and on the side of your wrist.

The mouse connects to your computer via USB, and also ships with a USB-to-PS/2 converter for those who don't want to sacrifice a precious USB port.

After installation, the big green "E" of the Evoluent company logo appears in your system tray. It can be removed if you consider it an eyesore, but otherwise can be useful to have around if you want to reassign the buttons to perform tasks such as zoom, copy, paste or dozens more.

Experiencing the VerticalMouse

Using the VerticalMouse 2 required no practice, and the comfortable handshake grip felt natural and easy.

Everything felt high-end, from gliding the mouse to clicking the buttons. The scroll wheel's seamless operation without the feel of the "click" or bumpy texture of the wheel moving was nice, although some people may prefer this click sound to accurately measure how far they'd like to go on a page.

We didn't find any problem with it, though. Its wide base and heavier-than-normal weight ensured that we wouldn't move the mouse to the side by accident when clicking.

When it comes to reviewing an ergonomic device, a few weeks doesn't represent a fair assessment of its efficacy, and none of us is suffering from any form of RSI.

Our research indicates that many people who curse the pain they've incurred from years of using a horizontal mouse swear by the VerticalMouse.

As far as we've gone with it, we'd prefer vertical over horizontal, mainly because of the benefits of using the mouse in this position and the ease-of-use. Our ergonomics evaluation for this review is more about prevention than prescription.

Gaming Around

Gamers' interaction with their mice is by far the most animated of any type of computer users'. First-person-shooter gamers have to quickly jerk their wrist to turn on an enemy and push forwards and backwards to pinpoint a target.

Since many 3D games offer virtually no hard stops when turning in any direction, they can really give the wrist a strenuous workout.

Because of this infinite space in 3D games, using the VerticalMouse was sometimes a bit challenging.

Under normal circumstances, gamers are required to quickly pick up the mouse and position it in the middle of the mouse pad to continue turning in a certain direction. With a normal mouse, this is pretty easy, since your hand is already grabbing the mouse.

For the VerticalMouse, this was a completely different story. For starters, the smooth, aerodynamic design and weight made it a bit challenging to pick up quickly. Not only that, but since you have to pick up the mouse from its side, there's a tendency to click the buttons by accident.

We're not saying that you absolutely cannot play 3D games with the mouse. It was just a bit challenging during a long gaming session. We were able to do what we wanted from time to time without hitting any snags, but there is more of a challenge with the VerticalMouse 2 than a regular mouse.

The horizontal mice that we're all accustomed to require us to operate them in what is called a pronated position, in which we unnaturally twist our forearms with our palms facing down.

Doctors say this is unnatural and unhealthy, adding extra pressure on the carpal tunnel, a "passageway in the wrist through which nerves and the flexor muscles of the hands and fingers pass," according to the American Heritage Dictionary.

Placing the hands in a "thumbs up" position neutralizes the forearm and is considered more natural than the pronated position, thus alleviating the tension upon the carpal tunnel.

The vertical position also allows greater range of movement for the wrist.

Rather than moving side to side as you do when the palm is face down, your hand can move up and down, or from left to right when your hand is in the thumbs-up position. (An example of this is when you're knocking on somebody's door.)

Just practicing the differences between the two forms of movement will give you some insight on how different these ranges of motions are and how much healthier one is more than the other.

Is This Truly Vertical?

It's worth noting that when your hand rests comfortably on the VerticalMouse 2, you are using the mouse in a slightly diagonal position, not totally vertical. Because you need to actually grip the mouse, there's a tendency to lazily slump your hand in a somewhat diagonal position to operate and click the buttons more easily.

We experimented by consciously placing our hand in a solid vertical position and found that the mouse is still functional, but after time, our hand would naturally, or lazily, want to rest on the mouse again.

Some vertical mice makers claim that the idea is to eliminate the need to twist the wrist as you would with a normal mouse, but your wrist is really sharing the responsibility this way rather than completely avoiding side-to-side motion. But you still are predominantly moving the mouse in a more vertical position, thus alleviating the ailments of most side-to-side movement.

Whereas kooky vertical mice such as the Anir Vertical Mouse and the AirO2bic would probably be awarded points for innovation, the Evoluent VerticalMouse scores points for keeping it simple without compromising usefulness. Unlike the other vertical mice, there's virtually no training necessary.

We really only used the mouse for a few weeks, and that is a short amount of time to make the final pronouncement on the ergonomics of a mouse.

But for those of us who trust doctors and agree that a more vertical position for our wrist is healthier, consider this mouse a sound investment. We agree that this position is more comfortable and a healthy break from a horizontal mouse, too.

We're not too crazy about the list price — $75 for the standard righty model and $105 for lefty — but you can find the right-handed version for $60 on the Web.

Ergonomics doesn't come cheap, and taking preventative measures or even prescriptive measures for RSI and other ailments could end up saving you a heck of a lot more down the road.

For the money, you probably wouldn't be kicking yourself in the long run, but you might when you buy it, especially if you're a southpaw.

Product: Evoluent VerticalMouse 2

Company: Evoluent

Price: $75 (righty); $105 (lefty) — check online prices

Pros: Hand position considered healthier than other mice; easy to use; five buttons.

Cons: The price, especially for lefties; not well suited to 3D gaming.

Operating systems: Windows XP Professional, XP Home, 2000 (full functionality); older Windows versions (limited functionality); Mac OS X, OS 9 (limited functionality; full functionality with $20 third-party driver); Unix (limited functionality); Linux (full functionality with XFree 4.0.1)

Summary: You are definitely paying top-dollar for that fancy ergonomic design. A good investment for those who consider the long-term ergonomic benefits over the price, but let the gamer beware.

Rating: 7 out of 10

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