When you’re building the ultimate desktop computer, it’s easy to fixate on components like your CPU, memory, and storage. These components all have a direct, measurable impact on your computers performance. But it’s important to also consider the tools we use to interface with our computers. Monitors, keyboards, and mice are the most overlooked parts of our computers, but the only ones that we interact with on a daily basis.
There is no doubt that optical mice are better than the ball mice they replaced. And laser mice are even more accurate than them. But there are some people who feel that an entirely different type of mouse wears the crown. Trackball mice have been around for many years, but they’ve got a loyal following of fans. Many people find that trackball mice are more accurate and precise than even laser models. We’ll be taking a look at the four best trackball mice on the market. We’ll break it down and show you which ones are the best for each purpose, so you can find one that’s right for you.
Elecom M-XT3DRBK Wireless Trackball Mouse
Although you may not have used an Elecom product before, the company is one of the largest Japanese manufacturers of trackball mice. Although this type of mouse isn’t in widespread use in North America, they are very popular in Japan. Since Elecom is one of the most respected trackball manufacturers in Japan, they’ve recently started offering their mice overseas. Since many consider them the gold standard of trackballs, we had to use their main products as a reference point. The Elecom M-XT3DRBK is downright impressive.
Although there are many different styles of trackball mice on the market, the thumb operated models tend to be the best selling. For many, this is because the mice are very similar in ergonomics to the standard mice you’re used to using. Your fingers rest on the primary and secondary mouse button, just as they would with a standard mouse.
To the right of the main buttons you’ve got two alternate buttons that can be programmed to your liking. Another unique feature of this trackball mouse is located on the other side. It contains not one, but two extra buttons on the ring and pinky finger. These buttons are laid out exactly the same as your primary mouse buttons, so they’re extremely ergonomic to use. After a few moments of getting used to it, you’ll find yourself using these buttons all the time.
One of the first things we noticed about this trackball mouse is that it’s heavy. It’s constructed out of very solid materials, so we’re confident that it should be able to withstand a lot of use. For some, the weight might initially seem a bit off-putting. But remember, you’re simply manipulating a large ball. The mouse isn’t going to be sliding around on the table. In fact, that would be a disadvantage. So, in this situation, it’s heft is a huge asset.
When it comes to sensors, this is one of the most accurate mice on the market. Unfortunately, there is one small upgrade that’s needed. If you want to use it straight out of the box, the included ball is more than enough. But if you want one of the most accurate trackball mice on the market, you’ll want to swap out the trackball with a higher quality Logitech model. But regardless of whether you choose to use the standard trackball or an upgraded model, you’ll still have one of the most accurate side-mounted trackball mice on the market.
The one downside with highly accurate trackball is speed. When you’re running at ultra-high resolutions, one small movement of the trackball can quickly flick your cursor to the other end of the screen if your computer isn’t set up correctly. Fortunately, Elecom has a solution. They allow you to quickly switch between 750 DPI and 1500 DPI. This gives you the best of both worlds at the touch of a button.
Logitech M570 Wireless Trackball
If you’ve spent any time shopping for computer peripherals, you’ve certainly come across at least a few Logitech products before. Although they produce almost every computer peripheral under the sun, they’re best known for their mice, keyboards, and speakers. The M570 Wireless Trackball has been on the market for quite some time, but it’s popularity among trackball enthusiasts has kept it on the market well beyond Logitech’s typical product lifecycle.
The first thing you’ll notice about this mouse is that it’s much wider than the typical laser mice you’re used to. Your hand is spread a little more, which you’ll soon realize is a much more natural position. This allows you to use the mouse for many hours without even a hint of wrist strain. If you’re suffering from carpal tunnel, or worried about getting it, keeping your hands in the position required to use this mouse is one of the best ways to reduce both pain and prevent the progression of symptoms. It might seem like a very subtle change, but it makes a remarkable difference.
Many people prefer to keep trackball mice off to the side of their desk, allowing them to stretch out a little more and maintain better posture. Because it’s completely wireless, you’re able to place it wherever feels the most comfortable to you. This is one of the few upgrades that have been needed over the past few years, and has kept this older model competitive with all the other options on the market.
A few years ago, every peripheral that Logitech put out was built from the same blue molded plastic. Although it’s not the most stylish material on the market, it is extremely durable. Many consumers have owned the same exact mouse for years, with very few reports of issues. The only part of the product that you may need to replace overtime is the trackball itself. They tend to lose a small amount of accuracy after 3 to 4 years of use, but Logitech’s trackballs are the most highly rated and replacements are readily available.
Using RF technology to communicate with the main computer, this mouse is capable of translating movement into data with a resolution of 750 DPI. Although this isn’t the most detailed trackball on the market, it’s still more than enough detail for typical operations such as office use, and editing multimedia.
Kensington Expert Trackball Mouse
As one of the first companies with a mass-produced trackball on the market, Kensington has continued to dominate the industry for many years. Instead focusing on entry level models for users who aren’t sure about the platform, they’ve created something that’s focused on quality. Many users consider Kensington’s top-mounted trackballs to be the Cadillac of the format, as they offer increase accuracy and reduce hand movement.
The Kensington Expert Trackball Mouse is by far one of the easiest ones to use in terms of ergonomics, although it does require a little adjustment. Instead of the side mounted trackballs that attempt to replicate the laser mice that we’re all used to, it doesn’t pretend to be something that it’s not. With the ball mounted front and center, it’s placed prominently and is easy to interact with. There is good reason for it, too, as this position requires the least amount of wrist movement to produce the greatest amount of trackball movement. In this position, it’s manipulated almost exclusively by your fingers. This is extremely comfortable, and considered by many to be the most ergonomic position available.
One of the nice things about the top mounted trackball is that the sensors are directly below the ball. When you’ve got the sensors mounted off to the side, the mouse relies on alternate rollers to hold the ball against the sensor. General wear and tear eventually reduces the amount of contact that takes place, causing the trackball to lose accuracy over time. But when it’s mounted from the top, it’s easier for the manufacturer to use high pressure rollers and rely exclusively on gravity to hold the ball down. This makes the mechanism one of the longest lasting on the market.
Using an analog sensor means that this trackball has the highest resolution of any of them. As we’ve mentioned, the disadvantage of high resolution sensors is the fact that it makes your cursor move at extreme speeds unless configured correctly. Fortunately, Kensington’s Trackball Works software solves this problem. Trackball Works is a mouse driver, but on steroids. It completely changes the way that your computer interprets mouse input. As soon as the software is installed, your trackball will work just like any other mouse, only a little more accurate. If you’re ever using a program that provides support for high resolution input devices, you can set program specific tweaks to make it more useful. This is the best solution for anyone that uses CAD or 3D Modelling software, since you won’t have to change settings every time you open up a new application.
Kensington SlimBlade Trackball Mouse
Although the Kensington SlimBlade Trackball Mouse looks similar in design to the last model we looked at, there are several key differences. Because Kensington focuses on high end trackballs, their products are often targeted towards specific niches. While the previous model was great for engineering, this one is a little more stylish and has a few features that are ideal for graphics work.
We’ve already explained how top mounted trackballs are great for people with wrist strains, but the slim design of this model takes this a step further. Because it’s lower to the desk, it’s a little easier on your wrist. To compensate for the lack of depth, the trackball is a little larger. At 6 x 5 inches, it’s roughly the same dimensions as a typical mousepad. The center trackball only occupies about a third of the surface area, with the rest of the space occupied by four large, easy to push buttons. With your pointer, middle, and ring finger placed on the ball, your thumb and pinky finger control the two lower buttons. It seems a bit odd at first to use lower buttons, but this positioning feels very natural and you’ll get used to it in a matter of minutes. The upper two buttons do need a little stretching to use, but they can be programmed as any custom button that you like, making this one powerful and easy to use mouse.
The large metal frame of the SlimBlade Trackball Mouse is supported by four rubber pads that keep it ever so slightly elevated above the desk. This means that even though the mouse is made from metal, movement is still very smooth. Considering that this mouse rarely leaves your desk, it’s highly durable construction might be a little overkill for some use, but you can rest assured that this is a purchase that will last you for many years.
Although this isn’t the most detailed trackball mouse on the market, it’s still much more accurate than competing styles. Kensington helps you manage this with their bundled software. Instead of setting different parameters for each program, you choose a mode from their list. Typically, you’ll be in navigation mode. This drops the sensitivity making the mouse perfect for standard computer use. You can then switch to media mode, perfect for editing video and audio files. In professional mode, the sensitivity is increased making it ideal for engineering use.
3Dconnexion SpaceNavigator 3D Mouse
Although the trackball mouse is, historically speaking, the best input style for many purposes, it hasn’t changed a lot over the years. 3Dconnexion is a company that changed all that. Navigating through virtual 3D space is a relatively new technology, and it’s about time that the trackball was updated better support this type of use.
Although the 3Dconnexion SpaceNavigator 3D Mouse looks like nothing more than a simple knob, there is a lot you can do with this impressive input device. The knob can be manipulated along almost any axis you like. It can be pushed down or pulled up. You can twist it, rotate it, and even tilt it. We have to admit, it did take us a little while to get used to all of these new axes. But if you’re working with 3D modelling, animation, or CAD, you’ll be glad you learned it. The commands you can perform with this mouse usually require an entirely separate set of commands. You might have to move your mouse to a toolbar, or hit a certain key combination on your keyboard. With the SpaceNavigator, everything can be controlled (literally) with a simple hand movement.
Internally, the SpaceNavigator uses an all metal bearing that facilitates movement. It’s not reliant on physical rollers or analog sensors, as it uses an internal optical sensor to track movement. By reducing moving parts, this means that the internal mechanisms can last a very long time.
The one thing that you’ll need to get used to is just how sensitive this mouse is. At first, the smallest movement seems to have a very large impact on your workspace. Just like driving a car, you’ll soon get used to the way it works. Because it’s designed for taking subtle movements and turning them into large gestures, this unit is best used in conjunction with other trackball mice. This can be used in your right hand, while the standard trackball goes in your left. Between the two input devices, you might not have to use a keyboard for 3D modelling again!
Which Trackball Mouse is Right for Me?
Although it may seem that there are only subtle differences between each of these mice, each of them are suited for a different purpose. Which one you choose depends on what you are hoping to get out of your new trackball mouse.
If you’re looking for ergonomics and ease of use, we recommend selecting a model that has a side mounted trackball. The Elecom M-XT3DRBK Wireless Trackball is one of the best side mounted models on the market, and is so easy to use that you can simply drop it in place of your standard mouse and have it all figured out in a matter of minutes. It’s ideal for those who require highly precise motion, although it may be overkill for some users. If you want something a little simpler, The Logitech M570 Wireless Trackball is a tried and true mouse that has been trusted by trackball fanatics for many years.
But side mounted trackballs aren’t right for everyone. If precision is your objective, there is nothing more accurate than a top mounted trackball. The Kensington Expert Trackball Mouse is one of the most accurate on the market, making it ideal for any engineering purposes. If you’re more into the graphics side of design, Kensington’s SlimBlade Trackball Mouse has a slightly more compact form factor that graphic designers will appreciate.
Doing 3D work? Although not technically a trackball mouse, 3Dconnexion’s SpaceNavigator 3D Mouse takes the same principles that make trackball mice great and adds on a ton of great features. If you’re working exclusively in a 3D environment, you might be able to get away with just using this one on it’s own. But for the ultimate 3D workstation, it should be used in conjunction with one of the trackballs we’ve explored today.