Depending on where you work and how you use your computer, you may not have seen a trackball mouse for several years. That’s a shame, because they have a lot to offer. But many people overlook this type of mouse, instead opting for a more standard optical design. Today, we’re going to be looking at some of the top trackball mice on the market.
The difference between a trackball mouse and a traditional mouse is straightforward. A trackball mouse is operated by a large ball on the top, which you roll with your thumb or forefinger to move the mouse pointer. They oftentimes have several additional buttons, which can be programmed for common computer functions. Let’s take a closer look!
Why Use a Trackball Mouse?
So, why would you use a trackball mouse instead of a traditional mouse? To begin with, it can save you a significant amount of desk space. This is because a traditional mouse needs space to move around. If you’ve ever tried to use an optical mouse on a desk with very little room, you know how much of a headache it is to have to constantly pick up your mouse and move it to the side. Meanwhile, a trackball mouse doesn’t need to move around. You can also use them in unorthodox locations; on a glass table, in your bed, or on an airplane tray table.
A side benefit of this design is that you won’t need to move your hands around. This isn’t a big deal for casual computer users, but it’s a huge benefit if you spend most of your working hours on a Mac or a PC. By keeping your hands stationary, a trackball mouse can help prevent or reduce repetitive strain injuries, the scourge of computer workers everywhere.
Trackball mice are also easier to control. In large part, this is because of what we’ve already mentioned; you don’t have to move them around as much. By keeping your hand as still as possible, it’s easier to perform precision tasks, and considerably easier to avoid mis-clicks. And because you’re only moving a single finger, not your entire hand, you’ll have much finer control over where the mouse pointer ends up. This is especially useful for graphic designers, gamers, and others who require very precise control.
Another major benefit of trackball mice is that they’re great for travel. You won’t need to worry about bringing a mousepad with you on the road. And they’ll work on any surface, which is helpful when you don’t know in advance what kind of surface you’re going to be working on. If you don’t like bringing a traditional mouse on the road, but you need better performance than you’ll get from a laptop touch pad, a trackball mouse is the ideal choice.
Of course, no tool is perfect, and trackball mice are no exception. Before you buy one, it’s also important to consider the disadvantages. So, why would you stick with a traditional mouse?
First, if you’ve never used one before, you’ll need to be prepared to get used to the functionality, which can take a few days of use. If you’re trying to finish a design project in a limited period of time, you may want to wait until you’re on a less stringent schedule before making the switch. They’re also not the best choice if you use a shared computer, because your office-mates may complain. In addition, trackball mice are a bit more pricey than traditional mice. This is to be expected, since they’re more specialized, and they’re typically built to a higher standard. But it’s something to be aware of nonetheless.
How to Choose the Best Trackball Mouse
Before we review any mice, it’s important to understand how to make your decision. Just like some people need an economy car and others need a pickup truck, different people will get the most benefit from different types of mice. Here are a few things you should look at before you make your final decision.
First, choose the right design. Some trackball mice have offset trackballs, which are operated with your thumb or with your index finger on one side of the unit. These models are exceptionally ergonomic, and conform better to the shape of your hand. Because this type of mouse is designed to be gripped in your hand, the buttons are generally located directly under your fingers, so you’ll exert less effort using this style of mouse. Generally, a mouse with an offset trackball will be easier to use and learn. That said, these mice are typically designed for right-handed people. While there are left-handed models available, southpaws will need to spend a little more effort finding a design that works.
Alternatively, you could choose a finger-operated trackball mouse, which will feature a single, large trackball in the center. These mice offer excellent precision, since the large size of the ball allows for very tiny movements that would be harder to control with a different style of mouse. In addition, a finger-operated mouse will almost always be ambidextrous. Provided the buttons are programmable – all modern operating systems can do this, as well as most mouse software – a left-handed or right-handed user will be able to operate these mice with equal ease.
The downside of this design is that the buttons are generally large, and buttons that are close to your hand are easy to hit by mistake with the meat of your palms. They also typically take up more desk space, so they may not be ideal for working in tight spaces. And the design is slightly awkward, which means they have a steeper learning curve.
Once you’ve chosen a basic design, the next choice you’ll need to make is how many buttons you need. Some trackball mice feature just a few standard buttons, which can be more than sufficient for many people. Three buttons and a scroll wheel will perform all the functions that you need for everyday applications.
But if you’re a gamer, a developer, or a graphic designer, you may appreciate a mouse with extra function buttons. These can be programmed for media functions, for opening commonly-used applications, and sometimes even programmed for macros for gaming use. If you choose a programmable mouse with many buttons, the options are nearly endless.
Another consideration is whether to choose a wired or wireless mouse. Both of these designs have their own advantages and drawbacks. A wired design saves you the need for batteries, which means you won’t run out of juice in the middle of a presentation or a livestream. On the other hand, a wired mouse will take up a USB port, which can be a headache if you’re running on a small laptop without a lot of ports. A wireless mouse will help you avoid this issue. It will also reduce clutter, since you won’t have that extra wire running around your desk.
Last, you’ll need to find a mouse that’s the right size for you. Take a look at the dimensions, and compare that to the size of your hand. You’ll also need to consider how much space is available on your desk, which is important if you’re working in a tight space. Now, let’s look at some trackball mice!
The Kensington SlimBlade is a compact trackball mouse with a rectangular frame that measures 6 inches long and 5 inches wide. It sits at a slight angle for ergonomics, and is 3.5 inches tall including the trackball. Without the ball, the top of the body sits a shad over 2 inches off the surface of your desk. The frame is constructed from attractive, black ABS plastic, and has a smooth profile. Four rubber feet on the bottom keep it in place, and prevent it from sliding around while you’re using it.
The SlimBlade connects via USB 2.0, rather than via Bluetooth. On the plus side, this means you won’t need to worry about changing any batteries. On the downside, it also means you’ll need to plug it in, which can be inconvenient if you’re on the road with a laptop and your number of available USB ports is limited. The track ball itself is removable, so you can take it easily out of the base and clean out the inner mechanical parts if your mouse starts to collect dust on the inside. But be careful carrying the SlimBlade, because it’s also fairly easy to lose the ball altogether.
This mouse is designed to be operated with your middle three fingers on the ball, and your thumb and pinky controlling the left and right mouse buttons respectively. Two additional buttons are located above the trackball, for use as application shortcuts or as media buttons. This can be awkward at first, but it’s really an efficient design once you get used to it. The SlimBlade is compatible with both Windows and Mac computers. However, the extra media buttons will require a driver install. Simply go to Kensington’s site, download the drivers, and you’ll be fully functional in just a few minutes.
The Kensington Expert is an upgraded version of the SlimBlade. It features the same trackball, along with a similar set of four buttons. However, all four buttons on the Expert are programmable, so you can map the left and right mouse button functions to the top, the bottom, or a mix of the above. In addition, you’ll also find a textured ring around the trackball, which functions like the scroll wheel on a traditional mouse. Kensington has also added a detachable wrist rest that’s constructed from a soft artificial leather that matches the black mouse body.
But the main difference between the Expert and the SlimBlade is the fact that the Expert is truly wireless. There are actually two different ways to connect to your computer. First, you can use Bluetooth. Alternatively, you can pull the mini USB dongle out of the battery compartment, and connect via 2.4GHz radio just as you would with a traditional wireless mouse. The advantage of the Bluetooth connection is that it doesn’t require you to use up any USB ports. However, Kensington’s downloadable configuration software only works via USB if you’re on a Mac. PC users can use either connection without any issues.
The Expert uses optical tracking on the ball, rather than mechanical tracking wheels. But keep in mind that dust can cause issues with an optical sensor just as easily as it can with mechanical sensors. So you’ll need to clean the mouse from time to time to ensure accurate tracking.
Logitech MX Ergo
The Logitech MX Ergo has a more compact design than the last options we’ve looked at. It measures 5.2 inches long, 3.9 inches wide, and sits low to your desk with a height of only 2 inches. This is possible because the trackball is located on the side, by your thumb, and you operate the other mouse buttons as you would with a traditional mouse. The offset design leaves plenty of space for all four of your other fingers, which is fortunate since you’ll have several other buttons to play with.
The two primary mouse buttons are large, and easy to operate. There’s also a scroll wheel, just as you’d see on many popular office mice. To the left of the main buttons are a pair of secondary buttons that function as forward and back browser buttons by default. However, you can change their function using Logitech’s downloadable software, and program them to perform a wide variety of functions. In addition, there’s a smaller button by your thumb for decreasing the mouse’s DPI sensitivity. You won’t need this for ordinary office tasks, but it can be a lifesaver for graphic artists or gamers who want to switch between precision tasks and more general use.
Finally, the MX Ergo can connect to two different computers at once via Bluetooth. A central button between the two primaries switches seamlessly between computers. And if you install Logitech Flow software on both systems, you’ll be able to copy and paste blocks of text or entire files from one system to the other, using only your mouse.
The Elecom M-HT1DRBK is a Sci-Fi-inspired mouse that’s a cross between the compact design of the MX Ergo and the traditional, index finger-operated trackball you’ll find on the majority of trackball mice. At just over 7 inches in length, it’s on the large size, but it’s great for people with large hands, since you’ll feel like you’re holding a serious piece of equipment, instead of a toy. The width is 4.48 inches, which gives you plenty of space for all your fingers, even with the trackball under your forefinger. At 2.2 inches high, it has a very low profile, so it’s convenient to operate on a crowded desk with a keyboard tray.
One quirky thing about this mouse is that the left button is operated with your thumb. It’s fairly large, it’s easy to press, and it produces an audible click without being obnoxiously loud. The scroll wheel is also operated by your thumb, and is positioned just above the left button. Like most scroll wheels, it can also be clicked to function as a third mouse button. The right mouse button is operated with your middle finger, just as any standard mouse. There are also three programmable function buttons. One is located to the right of the others, and is operated with your ring finger. The others are sandwiched between the left mouse button and the trackball, and are operated with your index finger.
Finally, you’ll find a three-way switch below the left mouse button. This allows you to switch between 500, 1,000, and 1,500 DPI sensitivity. For most applications, 500 DPI is more than enough, but for photo editing and gaming it can be beneficial to have more control. In this case, crank up the DPI, and you’ll have excellent precision for detailed tasks. For more on the Elecom M-HT1DRBK, read our full review.
3Dconnexion SpaceMouse Compact 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!
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.
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.
So, what have we learned about these trackball mice? They’re all a great choice, but at the end of the day the best one for you is going to depend on your individual needs. So let’s recap them.
The Kensington SlimBlade is ambidextrous and programmable, and also has a large, easy-to-use trackball. However, it only connects via USB, which can make it a poor choice for travel.
The Kensington Expert is a solid upgrade over the SlimBlade, and it comes with a comfortable, supportive wrist pad. It also connects wirelessly, and the primary buttons can be programmed to either the top or bottom sets of buttons.
The Logitech MX Ergo is a great choice for space savers. The thumb-operated trackball takes some getting used to, but it’s very accurate. And the extra media buttons can be programmed to perform common tasks or open your favorite programs. The Logitech Flow software is also an excellent added value.
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.
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.
Finally, the Elecom M-HT1DRBK is the best option if you’re primarily looking for a variety of function keys. It has three that are programmable, as well as a 3-level DPI switch. That’s a lot of capability for a compact mouse.