20140320_072854_HDRAlso, the sky is blue, water is wet, and the sun is warm. That’s probably what some of you are thinking upon reading that headline. But I’m pretty sure there must be plenty of people out there who aren’t aware of this yet, just because it’s not what you would assume a (non-Windows) tablet is made for. So this is a reminder to people who like to use their Android tablets for productivity purposes: there’s an easier way than tapping on the screen when you need to highlight things or move the cursor.

I had known about this ability for a while, but hadn’t been able to find a decent cheap Bluetooth mouse to try it out. (The one down side to using Logitech Unifying equipment for everything else is that it’s not cross-compatible with Bluetooth built into mobile devices.) But I was at a Fry’s for the first time ever yesterday (wow, what a place!) and came across a HP Bluetooth mouse on sale for $15 and snatched it up. And today I set it up and got it working.

It was actually pretty easy. All I had to do was turn it on, hit the connect button, and tell my tablet to look for new Bluetooth devices. It found the mouse, I tapped on it, and they paired right up. And I got a mouse pointer! (You can see it in the photo as the little black dot to the left of the text column. You might have to click on it for a closer view.)

Effectively, the mouse imitates tapping with a finger or stylus. If you move the pointer over an icon and left-click, it acts as if you just tapped that icon. (In some applications, right-clicking opens a context menu; however, usually it just acts the same as if you left-clicked.) When editing text, as in Google Drive, you can use this to reposition the cursor exactly where you need it, or click and drag the right-hand scroll bar with a lot less trouble than tapping can be—useful if you’re fat-fingered, especially if you’re using the mouse with your phone rather than a tablet. Also, the scroll wheel works for scrolling up and down. And you can do all this by moving your hand to the right (or left) to a mouse, not having to reach up to the screen. I can’t tell you how much easier this is going to make writing in Google Drive for me. It might be handy for some tablet games, as well.

Of course, it is not without its drawbacks. Since the mouse works the same as tapping on the screen, it doesn’t always work the way you’d expect a mouse to from Windows. You can’t just click-drag to select text, for example; you have to double-click on a word to pop up the selector handles, then click on and drag the handles where you want them. (Of course, you can position them a lot more precisely with the mouse than you can with a finger, but still.)

In the end, an Android tablet’s user interface even with Bluetooth keyboard and mouse still isn’t quite as good as a desktop computer, but adding a Bluetooth mouse can go some way toward bridging the distance. If you haven’t tried it, give it a shot—especially if you already use a Bluetooth keyboard. You might just be surprised.