- Mat-TrixPrice - £5 to £10
A Better Mouse Mat
In the beginning was the mouse. A small lump of grey plastic with a ball in the bottom and one or two buttons on the top, it lived on your desk and moved a pointer around your screen. Soon people discovered that the grime from your desk surface accumulated on the ball though, and so was born the mouse mat.
And for around twenty years nothing much else happened. Most mouse mats were boring plastic affairs, sometimes emblazoned with an advert for the company that you got the mat from. But just as the humble mouse has recently mutated into a gaming device with a wide range of different shapes, sizes, buttons and wheels, so the mat you put underneath it has started to evolve again. Strangely deformed mouse mats with unusual surfaces began to appear on the market a few years ago, and a whole new industry was born. Make a better mouse mat, and the world will beat a path to your door.
But while companies like Everglide concentrated on hard grainy-surfaced mats specifically designed to give gamers the maximum possible accuracy from their rodent, a small British company called Mat-Trix was making bizarre customised mats for the likes of Coca Cola, The Beastie Boys and Smirnoff. Earlier this year they opened Liquidelica, a web store which for the first time sells these unusual mouse mats to a mass audience. We decided to take a closer look, and when a few days later a box of samples appeared on my doorstep, all work suddenly ceased.
Oil On The Water
What Mat-Trix have done is essentially to put a lava lamp inside your mouse mat. A low tech combination of vegetable oils, glycerin and food colouring dyes is used, and because the various oils don't mix they produce random pyschedelic patterns.
Instead of heat though, the liquidelic mouse mats depend on pressure to cause movement in the oil. A flexible transparent plastic top layer keeps the thin layer of liquid inside the mat, and the weight of your hand pressing down on the mouse causes the surface to bend slightly and the liquids inside to move around. The effect is at first highly distracting, and you will find that your productivity falls sharply as you stare at the mat's slowly shifting patterns, and move your mouse around the mat just to see what happens, paying no attention to the mayhem your cursor is causing on screen.
Once the initial novelty factor wears off you may be able to get back to whatever you were doing, but the mats are certainly very eye-catching, and make a refreshing change from both your run-of-the-mill plastic mats and the usually jet black mousing surfaces from the likes of Everglide and Ratpadz. The top surface is also very smooth, and the mouse glides almost effortlessly across the mat, although for some reason the rectangular ones seemed to offer more friction than the circular ones.
The range of Mat-Trix surfaces on offer varies from the sublime to the rather ridiculous, with a whole host of different shapes and colours available for the mouse mat connoiseur, and all at a surprisingly low price.
Let's get the Foot (£7.25) out of the way first. As the name suggests, this is a mouse mat shaped like a human foot. It looks great, and the blood red and sunburst yellow oils inside made it one of the most visually appealing of the mats, but sadly it's almost useless because there just wasn't enough surface there to move your mouse over. I use a Razer Boomslang 2000 mouse with a very high sensitivity setting, and yet I could still barely reach all four corners of my desktop without the mouse falling off the edge of the mat. Maybe a Big Foot (eugh) mat would be more effective, but this man-sized mat just isn't large enough to be practical for most users.
Next up is the Heart (£5.25), which features a metallic pink substance mixed into a silvery liquid inside the heart-shaped mat. While it might be a nice present for your significant other, they are likely to be too embarrassed to use it in public, and again the mat is really too small to be useful for many users. The liquids also don't mix as well as the ones used in the other mats, and the overall effect was (for me at least) less appealing.
Dog New Tricks
Luckily the rest of the range was somewhat more practical, made up of regular circular and rectangular mats. The circle (with a 20cm diameter) is perfect for those of us who use high mouse sensitivity settings, while rectangular designs (20cm x 24cm) are well-suited for people who prefer to move their mice around more vigorously.
Most of these samples were straight "aquamats", which cost £6 and feature two non-mixing coloured liquids, with a choice of eight different combinations to pick from. My circular mat came in "dark blue and cyan", and was probably my favourite of the aquamats, with a nice contrast that produced some impressive patterns without hurting the eye. The two rectangles were (I think) "blue and red" and "turquoise and red". These also looked good, although the liquid was somewhat thinner than in the other mats, which meant that you could often see the white plastic beneath it showing through across much of the mat.
The real star of the show though was the rectangular "aquavelvet" mat (£8), which features a ghostly mixture of metallic red, black and orange-ish brown dyes. The effect is simply stunning, and makes it without doubt the most desireable mouse mat I have ever laid eyes on. The liquids don't move around quite as much as in the regular aquamats, but they do shimmer in the light, and look incredibly funky. Man.
While the Heart and Foot mats are more novelty items than practical mats, the more regularly shaped ones are actually very useful. They might not offer the precision of a dedicated gaming surface, but they are at least as accurate as any regular mouse mat, and infinitely more interesting to look at. Quality is generally high, although the rectangular aquamats could maybe have used a thicker layer of liquid. There were also some air bubbles inside all of the mats, but if anything these only add to the effect, squidging around the sides of your mouse as you move it, and slowly shrinking and expanding as the temperature changes.
If you don't take yourself or your gaming too seriously, and want something out of the ordinary at a budget price, these mats are exactly what you are looking for. They look great, are every bit as effective as a normal mat, and are guaranteed to make you the star of any LAN party. Of course, there is one last point to note - if you have an optical mouse you should not buy one of these mats, as the constantly swirling patterns will confuse the hell out of your poor rodent! Release Date - available now