Mouse, Trackball, or Touch Pad? Which One Should You Get?

Back in the early 90s, there was a flaming debate about what kinds of input devices people should use to move a cursor around in the monitor. A war was about to start, and just in the nick of time, the debate was settled and people wanted mice that they can move around on a pad. It was all fine and dandy until laptops took center stage and introduced touch pads that were much more versatile in portable environments. After that, people were contemplating getting touch pads that were much larger for desktop computers, and even going back to the old track ball mice that everyone way back in the day used. Which one’s better? Are they even good for today’s use? Let’s explore this!

If you’re thinking about getting another input device, you probably don’t want to give up using the mouse. Why not have both?! It’s perfectly possible to attach both a mouse and a touch pad to your computer and use whatever you’re comfortable with for the moment. I myself would consider using a touchpad for web browsing and work, and my laser mouse for gaming. There’s nothing wrong with hardware polygamy. It’s fine by most computers!

And while we’re talking about gaming, let’s dive in a little deeper. Some gamers that have spoken to me say that their track ball mice are a bit hard to get used to. But once they got acclimated to this new environment, they never wanted to turn back. Others tell me that it’s a nightmare and they just use it for web browsing and other things that don’t require a massive amount of precision. From what I gather, your gaming experience will vary based on preference and the ergonomics of the device you choose. Be sure to test out a track ball on a game before buying it!

As for touch pads, don’t expect much. They really don’t do you any favors. Try gaming with this:

mousedebate-touchpad

What about those “touch” mice? You’ll have a slightly better experience with a touch mouse than a touch pad, but you’ll have to get used to hitting the surface without expecting the buttons to click. That’s probably the hardest part of playing games on a touch-interface mouse like the Apple’s “Magic” mouse or the Logitech T630, shown below.

mousedebate-logitecht630

“What will last me longer?” This is probably the most often-asked question I get in my inbox from hardware enthusiasts who are just starting out with accessorizing their computers. The simplest answer to this question is: “Look for whatever has the least moving parts.”

Trackball mice? Moving part city! First of all, you have the big ball that wafts dust, grease, cat fur, and tons of other nasty stuff (like potato chips, in my case) down into the mechanism that detects the ball’s movement. That can’t be healthy!

mousedebate-trackball

Touch pads and touch mice are by far the healthiest option, but not necessarily versatile enough for gaming. Their lack of moving parts makes them very robust and therefore very attractive to those who want something that will outlast even the best run-of-the-mill mice.

Optical mice also have a good track record, although the gaps between the scroll wheel and the two buttons can often get jammed up with all sorts of dust. The same problem exists there (especially with friction-less scroll wheels) as it does with trackball mice. It’s just a tiny step up, since the laser or LED on the bottom is obviously not a moving part. I must tell you, however, that I had to take apart my mouse three times in the last two years from the enormous amounts of fur that get caught in the scroll mechanism of my Logitech MX Revolution mouse. It’s worth it only if you have no pets and keep your hands and work area ultra-clean.

So, let’s recapitulate: If you want the highest amount of durability, get a touch mouse or a touch pad. But if you want to game like there’s no tomorrow, a high-end regular mouse does the job, although you could grow fond of having a trackball. Keep in mind, though, that the trackball mouse will need regular cat hair cleanups and it will be a bit sluggish after some years of use if you don’t take extra-good care of it.

Got anything to add to this discussion? Leave a comment below!

10 comments

  1. I use, and prefer, a Logitech MarbleMouse trackball. Please note that aside from the buttons, there is only one moving part. The ball. It uses the same kind of LED sensor as a laser mouse. The difference is it reads the movement of the ball rather than of the pad under a mouse. Cleaning is trivial. Pop the ball out, blow, and put it back in.

    Touchpads drive me nuts because they are always doing something unexpected. Especially with Win 8. And I don’t need a lot of room on my desk to move my mouse. My desktop is glass, and many laser mice have difficulty with that. Of course a proper mousepad will cure that, but I don’t need the bother.

  2. There is one consideration you have not mentioned. A trackball aggravates overuse injuries of the hand (Carpal Tunnel Syndrome) much less than a touchpad or a mouse.

    On a laptop I like the little nub in the middle of the keyboard that IBM had.

  3. I have a Kensington Expert Mouse (which is a track ball) for use on my desktop at home. This is touted as the king of track balls and it’s pretty nice, once you get used to it. It’s huge, which suits my meaty hands, and the four buttons can be handy.

    I also have a Kensington Orbit which travels with me. Yes, you need a desk or table to use it, but because it doesn’t move, you need less space than a mouse. It only has two buttons so you have to figure out how to emulate the middle button in whatever OS you use.

    I use them for work and web surfing. I like how you can roll and flick the ball around to get accelerated mouse movement, and then do precision work with your fingertips. Neither of these would be useful for games — the Expert’s buttons are too far apart and the Orbit only has two. I don’t game. Much… Really :-)

  4. I love the track-ball.
    As for durability, I have been using mine since the mid 1990’s, and I’m a very heavy Windows user.
    Never had an issue with it, never felt it’s weakening, or worn out, or getting loose.
    In tight places where it’s hard or not possible to use a mouse, the track-ball comes to the rescue.

    As for the touch-pad, I hate it.
    The slightest unintentional movement / touch of the hand and you never know which application it will trigger, or what link it will click, or what Windows complaint / bong it will bring up.
    While writing a text, and needing to go back to a certain position in a word, you need a number of times touching it to get it to the right spot, if you can, even with my small hands.
    I do not use it on my laptop. I always carry the cordless mouse / track-ball.

    My vote is for the track-ball, first choice, then the mouse as a second.
    The touch-pad comes as number 10 :)

    Sorry to disappoint you, but I disagree with your assessment of the mighty track-ball

  5. I strongly prefer trackballs, and wonder why they are not more common. I am currently using the Logitek Marblemouse and it has outlasted the computer it was bought with. I do have to clean it once in a while (I also have the cat hair problem, with some occasional lion hair as well ;) ), but it is easy to do. The ball rides on three ceramic pins, which have not worn at all in 10 years of heavy use. My previous trackball had a ball the size of a pool table cue ball. I really liked the large ball, and it was the buttons that finally failed in that device.

    I have touchpads on both of my laptops, and they are OK once you are used to them. Several computers at work also have touchpads. They do sometimes have issues with oversensitivity, but you learn how to minimize that problem with use.

    Mice are a distant third choice for me, as you have to physically move them around. Its not a lot of work to move them, but they takes up a lot of space on a crowded desk. They are a real pain on dual monitor systems, where you have to keep ‘resetting’ the mouse to move a long distance. I do not for the life of me understand why they are the most popular pointing device.

    I have but one old laptop with the ‘nub’ in the middle of the keyboard. That is OK as well, as it doesn’t have to move around like a mouse.

  6. I have a Genius Optical Trackball and a Microsoft Optical Trackball.
    After about 10 years+ of use the microswitches in the MS one started to fail, after chasing round the web some were sourced from the Far East and it’s now up and running again, well worth the hassle.
    You can’t beat a trackball.

    • When it comes to precision, I still feel more comfortable with a mouse. I’m thinking of getting a trackball for my wife, though, since she feels pain in her arm when she uses the mouse all day.

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