by Eric Ravenscraft on
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Trackball mice have never enjoyed the market saturation traditional mice have achieved, but they have a devoted fan base for a good reason. Here’s our top picks to help you dive into the trackball lifestyle.
If you’ve never used a trackball mouse before you might be curious as to why the fans of the quirky looking mice are so in love with them. Unlike traditional mice where you have to move your entire arm and hand to create a corresponding change on the screen, with a trackball mouse you can just flick your finger. Many people prefer this style because it offers an incredibly tight degree of control over the movement of the mouse cursor that is useful in everything from gaming to graphic design.
The design choices for trackballs are split broadly into two categories: thumb-driven, with a smaller ball on the side of the housing, and finger-driven, with a much larger central ball meant to be operated by multiple fingers at once. There are some good picks in both categories, but the thumb-driven design seems to be winning in the market by a considerable margin. Even so, we’ve assembled the best choices for both, along with picks for mobile users, gamers, and those looking for a budget option.
Logitech has long dominated the trackball mouse market and it’s no surprise that their recent update to their lineup is a winner. Logitech’s MX ERGO model incorporates the classic form factor with modern creature comforts that aren’t available on any other choice at the moment.
This top-of-the-line gadget includes all of the standard mouse features you need, along with Logitech’s very handy double wireless connection (USB dongle plus Bluetooth) for using the gadget with multiple PCs or mobile devices at once. It also includes a tilting stand to put the trackball at a more vertical angle, which can help avoid repetitive stress during long work sessions.
The precision button allows a quick shift to more small, guided movements. The only small downsides are a design that doesn’t accommodate lefties (a common problem with thumb-based trackballs across the board) and a heavy integrated battery that doesn’t travel well. For a more in-depth look at the MX ERGO, check out our full review.
If you prefer your balls on the big side, your choices are more limited. Among the high-end offerings, we recommend the Kensington’s Expert Wireless Trackball over it’s nearest competitor the CST Laser on account of increased features and a price point around 50% lower.
The Kensington model includes a more intuitive scroll wheel that surrounds the main ball, which doesn’t require the user to reach above the ball in order to go up or down a page. Four programmable finger buttons offer extra flexibility and user choice. Oh, and it comes with a freebie wrist rest—a major plus if you’re switching to a trackball for ergonomic reasons. There’s a newer “SlimBlade” model in Kensington’s lineup, but despite the sleek updated appearance there are widespread complaints of poor software implementation and inconsistent button presses. The SlimBlade also lacks the Expert’s double Bluetooth/RF wireless option and physical scroll wheel. The physical design of the Expert might look a little more dated, but the features and ergonomics make it a clear winner.
The M570 was Logitech’s only trackball offering for years, and now that the super-premium MX line has one, it’s become the budget alternative. While it doesn’t have the fancy dual-mode wireless or quite as many programmable buttons, its AA battery can give it a year or more of consistent use. The M570 is still a favorite among many trackball users for on account of its excellent design, long battery life, and its weight—unlike the beefier MX, it packs very well for trackball users on the go.
There are two models widely available at the moment, with the old Logitech and new “Logi” branding, but they’re functionally identical. If you’re looking for a larger ball or ambidextrous option with an under-$30 price tag, the Kensington Orbit is a solid choice, though the full-sized version is only available in a wired model.
Trackballs for gaming are a niche of a niche. But if there’s a standout among them, it’s Elecom’s mouthful, the M-HT1URBK. Its 1500 DPI optical sensor isn’t much in terms of gaming mice, but the on-the-fly hardware switch to go from 500 to 1000 to 1500 instantly is a must-have if you’re in a game that constantly shifts variables. No less than eight bindable buttons on either side of the ball mean you’ll have plenty of options for things like melee strikes or weapon switching, and the design includes a padded wrist rest.
It’s worth noting that fans of the much-loved, discontinued MS Trackball Explorer seem to have settled on this Elecom model as a worthy successor thanks to its combination of a mouse-style grip and oversized 52mm ball. The standard model is wired if you’re wary of input lag, and there’s a wireless option available for only a few dollars more.
Mobile trackballs are another sub-category without too many options, which is odd, since the standard designs are so much bigger and less travel-friendly than conventional mice. Kensington’s Orbit Wireless takes the crown in this very limited field, thanks to a standardized design with a decently-sized ball and an integrated touch scroll wheel. Southpaws will appreciate the ambidextrous design, but others may be put off by the left and right click buttons on the side of the plastic housing. It’s also a bit of a bummer that there’s no Bluetooth, only an RF dongle (which means no working with phones or tablets without an adapter). On the plus side, the street price is below $35, so if you lose it while on the go you won’t be too put out about it.
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