With the rise of the smartphone over the last decade, beginning with Apple’s iPhone in 2007, touchscreens have become ubiquitous. We are all now familiar with working with touchscreens, but you still can’t beat the good old computer mouse for many day-to-day computing activities. Let’s take a look at the best trackball computer mice currently on the market.
Elecom M-XT3DRBK Wireless Trackball Mouse
Elecom isn’t exactly a giant in the world of computer peripherals, but they are a business that has been on the rise for some time. Based in Japan, Elecom brings to the design and manufacture of their computer mice the very best in trackball engineering. In the United States, and much of the world, in fact, trackball mice have been largely superseded by laser mice, but in Japan, trackballs remain popular. The Elecom M-XT3DRBK (from this point onwards referred to as the ‘Elecom M-XT3’ for brevity’s sake) exemplifies the Japanese approach to the computer mouse.
Part of the reason why the Japanese have clung on to the trackball mouse is its ergonomic appeal. The bulkier trackball mouse would seem a step back to many Western societies, where we place great value on the miniaturization of technology. However, in Japan, and other countries where longer work days are more common, the larger and more ergonomic design of the trackball mouse allows it to be used for longer periods of time without causing the same level of discomfort.
As one of the biggest, most popular, and fastest growing of all the trackball mouse manufacturers in Japan, Elecom have been the natural choice to represent the market overseas. Elecom mice are becoming increasingly popular outside of their own home country and, in the eyes of many people across the Earth, they are regarded as representing the gold standard to which all mouse manufacturers should be aiming for.
The first thing that you notice with the Elecom M-XT3 is the fantastic build quality. The mouse is heavy and bulky, although not at all unattractive, and clearly built to last.
The ergonomics of the Elecom M-XT3 are its major selling point. The mouse is rather large, with the trackball located on the left-hand side so it can be operated with the right thumb. Historically, thumb operated models have proven to be the most popular among consumers and have consistently come out on top in controlled tests of their features and functionality.
Because the trackball mouse is operated without moving it or the user’s hand, and instead uses the trackball on the side to control the cursor on screen, it means that, in spite of the mouse’s fairly large size, it can easily be used in areas where there isn’t a great deal of room to move it around. The position of the trackball also means that the user's fingers rest on the buttons they normally would when holding a laser mouse.
In addition to the usual left and right click buttons, there are two reprogrammable buttons. It takes only a small movement of the right clicking finger to reach these buttons, or a third finger can be rested over them. It is a wonderfully elegant way of adding functionality and making the product more versatile. A further two reprogrammable buttons on the other side can easily be reached with the other finger. In total, this gives six buttons, four of which are reprogrammable, and it is one of the most accurate trackball mice on the market. All in all, this makes for a fantastic package.
The only notable drawback is one that is an all but inevitable problem with any highly accurate trackball mouse: it is slow to move at higher resolutions. This is desirable in many contexts, for example, when working with high-resolution images, it makes it easier to work with fine details. To mitigate this problem, the mouse allows you to switch between 750 DPI and 1500 DPI quickly and easily.
Logitech M570 Wireless Trackball
Logitech is a very well-known, and well-respected brand when it comes to computer peripherals. They produce devices from a broad range of product categories, including keyboards, mice, webcams, etc., and they do so at various prices. The result is a company which knows, from their own first-hand experience, what it takes to make killer products and markets them to different demographics. The M570 Wireless Trackball has been around for a while, during which time it has proven itself to be a hit, even amongst those who normally don’t opt for the trackball-style mouse.
In fact, the M570 has proven to be so enduring and popular that it has enjoyed a lifecycle much longer than any of its siblings, also manufactured by Logitech. It is one of those mice that only needs to be glanced at to appreciate the amount of thought that has gone into the design. Logitech has been doing this for some time. As such, they have refined their methods and ideas so that the products they are putting out today reflect their experience and stature.
Like most trackballs, this is a fair bit wider than the laser mice that most of us are used to. With a thumb operated trackball on one side, your hand will be spread out a little more than you may be used to. However, the mouse’s large size demands a more natural kind of grip that makes using it for extended periods of time much more comfortable. At first glance, the design of the M570 appears much like that of other similar trackball mice, however, there have been a number of subtle alterations made to Logitech’s core design. The result is a mouse which, while it looks very similar to the competition, actually performs considerably better and is much more comfortable to use for extended periods of time.
Because a trackball mouse is not moved around in the way that a laser mouse is, they are a popular choice for smaller desks, where moving the mouse itself isn’t as easy. Some studies suggest that, because trackball mouse users don’t move their arms or upper bodies, in the same way, they are able to maintain a better posture without even having to make a conscious effort to do so.
The one slight disappointment in this mouse is that a company as experienced as Logitech has opted for some cheap feeling plastic as the primary material. However, while the plastic feels cheap, it is extremely durable, as evidenced by its very long lifespan. If you’re happy to take function over form, then the M570 delivers on its promises. In fact, the component most likely to fail is the trackball itself, but Logitech estimates that it should last a good three or four years.
By combining the trackball with RF (radio frequency) technology, Logitech has produced a very accurate trackball mouse at 750 DPl, making it perfect for most day-to-day computing tasks. Professionals who demand the highest resolution from their mice might need to look elsewhere.
Kensington Expert Trackball Mouse
Kensington was one of the first companies to mass-produce a trackball mouse, and since their first foray into this arena, they have remained one of the biggest, most recognizable, and most respected brands out there. As with many of their products, and as the name heavily implies, the Kensington Expert Trackball Mouse is aimed at power users. Many more casual buyers are still working out exactly what it is that they want from their computer mouse. On the other hand, the users that Kensington markets to, are purchasing with plenty of knowledge and experience under their belt.
Kensington’s mice put quality above all else and they certainly represent the higher end of the market. More than one industry observer has likened Kensington trackball mice to a Cadillac of the format.
The striking design of the Kensington Expert Trackball Mouse instantly sets it apart from the competition. It may take those who are used to the more common design to adapt to, but once you have familiarized yourself with it, it becomes an absolute joy to use. Rather than the side mounted, thumb operated trackballs which other manufacturers have made use of, Kensington instead opts for a trackball in the center of the mouse, which is squarer in shape than other mice on this list.
The reason for the layout that Kensington has chosen is that it requires the least amount of wrist movement to move the trackball, the ratio of wrist movement to cursor movement is very low. This, in turn, allows the user to work with the mouse for long periods of time without suffering the same discomfort. In fact, the whole thing can be controlled using fingers and requires no movement of the wrist or hand itself. An attachable cushioned pad for the user to rest their wrist on further adds to the comfort.
By choosing to place the trackball dead center on the top of the device, Kensington has been able to place the sensors inside directly beneath the device. This differs to other designs, where the trackball is set on the side of the mouse and is reliant on alternate rollers, which hold the ball against the sensor. Over the course of its lifetime, general wear and tear will gradually reduce the amount of contact between the two, the end result is a trackball which gradually loses its accuracy as time goes on. Kensington’s design can take advantage of gravity to ensure that contact between the ball and the sensors is maintained.
Analogue sensors allow for the highest possible resolution, and therefore the most accuracy. The trade-off here is that in exchange for the high resolution, the cursor will move extremely fast, or in some cases, extremely slow until it is configured properly. Fortunately, Kensington has incorporated a software solution which, through the device’s drivers, is able to set the cursor to move at normal speeds. Kensington’s Trackball Works software allows you to customize the settings of your mouse in order to make it behave the way you want it to. Those who work with CAD/CAM and have software that can take advantage of high-resolution input devices will appreciate how the Kensington performs.
Kensington SlimBlade Trackball Mouse
This mouse appears similar to the one above and both are manufactured by Kensington, however, the SlimBlade is a little bit more stylish. Like most Kensington trackball devices, the SlimBlade is targeted at a specific kind of user. The Expert Trackball mouse listed above is geared mainly towards engineering professionals. This mouse, on the other hand, is better suited to graphic design work.
In terms of the ergonomics, the SlimBlade has many of the same advantages as the Expert Trackball, the design is excellent for those who experience wrist strain, but this trackball mouse represents a further step forward in terms of its design. The mouse is slimmer and, therefore, the trackball site is nearer to the desk. This makes it just a little bit easier on the wrist, but the difference will be appreciated by those who use their mice the most.
The trackball in the center accounts for roughly a third of the 6 x 5-inch surface. There are also four large and easy to reach and press buttons, allowing you to work while only having to make relatively small movements. As with the model listed previously from Kensington, if you haven’t used one of these before, you might find it takes a short amount of time to adjust to and to formulate an effective gripping position. The two buttons at the top of the mouse are easily reprogrammable. They require a little more stretching than the bottom two buttons, in order to use them.
The high-quality metal frame that Kensington uses means that the SlimBlade feels like a sturdy piece of kit and will also last the user a number of years. Small rubber pads are used to elevate the top of the mouse slightly above the desk, while the rubber also offers a decent amount of grip and prevents the mouse from moving when you adjust your grip and finger positions.
In terms of accuracy, the SlimBlade doesn’t perform quite as well as it’s larger sibling, the Expert Trackball Mouse, but it still performs very well and will serve well in a variety of professional contexts. The bundled software allows you to customize the mouse’s performance by either customizing presets for individual programs or choosing from a number of pre-defined presets. For example, navigation mode is used for generally navigating around your computer and lowers the sensitivity accordingly. If you then need to do some graphic design, or even some video and audio editing, you can switch to media mode, or professional mode, both of which offer increased sensitivity.
Kensington Orbit Trackball Mouse
The third mouse from Kensington is close to other manufacturer’s devices in its appearance. Rather than opting for the square design that the other Kensington devices on this list use, the Orbit resembles a kite in shape. The trackball is still centrally located, but it has shifted towards the top of the device with the left and right mouse buttons located on either side. This mouse is comfortable to use and will feel more familiar to those who aren’t used to Kensington mice. However, it should be noted that the design is still rather unique and unlike most other manufacturer’s.
As with all Kensington’s mice, the orbit comes bundled with their renowned Trackball Works software. This software makes it easy to change the behavior, particularly the sensitivity, of the mouse depending on the application being used or the function being performed. What makes this mouse appealing to many users is that it combines optical tracking technology with the trackball in order to provide incredible accuracy for the price point. Not only this, but Kensington’s Orbit is one of the few trackball mice on the market that is symmetrical and can, therefore, be used by anyone. Many other manufacturers have, instead, opted to position their trackball on one side, restricting who can comfortably use it.
If you are someone who has experienced repetitive strain injuries from using other mice, then you may well appreciate the design of the Orbit, which allows for buttons to be accessed and pressed without having to bend your fingers or move your entire hand.
As you would expect from Kensington, the Orbit uses good quality materials and is nice and durable. It cannot quite match the SlimBlade’s metallic body in the same way, but again, for the price point, it offers some of the best durability you will find.
Trackball mice have fallen out of favor amongst many people, but there are still several good reasons for using one. They remain a firm favorite of professionals in a multitude of different fields who require finer control and a higher degree of accuracy than the average user. All the five mice on this list will make for an excellent addition to any computer set up, which is in need of an ergonomic and durable high-accuracy mouse.
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