Why You Need a Trackball Mouse

The vast majority of computer users get by with a standard mouse, but a select few absolutely adore trackballs. There are some good reasons for that love! If you are wondering if you need a trackball mouse, here is why a trackball mouse is the perfect tool for you.

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In recent years the conversation about healthy ergonomics in the work place has grown. More workers are aware of the health risks and problems associated with long periods of sitting daily. It’s supremely unhealthy, and many companies have made a serious effort to help modern office workers reduce the risks of desk-bound work. While standing up will help your health, more ergonomic input devices can protect you from an RSI, or repetitive strain injury. These injuries are caused by repeatedly straining your body in the same way, over and over again. These injuries can cause numbness, tingling, and pain, and they won’t go away until you stop the stressor.

Trackball mice can be a blessing for workers suffering from a wrist-based RSI or carpal tunnel. The benefit comes from the trackball’s stable position. While you move your wrist and arm to manipulate a traditional mouse, you only need to move your fingers to use a trackball. If you use a wrist rest with your trackball, your wrist will be at a healthier angle. This frees it from the strain associated with sliding your mouse around. Because your hand stays in one place, your arm and wrist won’t be strained by the constant back and forth movement of a mouse.

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My computer’s mouse is easily the most failure prone device I own. A mouse is one of the few components of your computer that still requires moving parts, and those kinds of parts wear out and fail over time. Cheap mice fail most quickly, but even high-quality mice are subject to wear and tear. Part of this is due to entropy and the planned lifespan of things like click sensor. But your mouse’s lifespan can be shortened by constant, aggressive movement. I’ve seen plenty of people slam their mouse down in frustration, or accidentally track it right off the edge of their desk. Because trackballs are stationary, they’re spared the potential stress of aggressive moments or drops. Provided the buttons stay in good shape, a trackball can outlast a high-quality office chair. A well-cared-for mouse might last just as long, but they seem less common.

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You might need a little time to become comfortable with a trackball. But once you get used to it (perhaps a week or so), your cursor’s accuracy can increase significantly. This is especially true for small, precise movements, to which trackballs are typically more sensitive. Trackballs also make it easier to “whip” the cursor from one edge of the workspace to the other, requiring only a roll of the fingers. The one caveat is gaming: accuracy in FPS games actually benefits from engaging more of your body, allowing you to develop unconscious muscle memory and “snap” your crosshair to the right point on the screen. That’s certainly not impossible with a trackball, but it might be more difficult.

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If you want to make the most of limited desk space, a wireless trackball frees up a chunk of desk formerly dedicated to your mouse’s movement. Even if your mouse doesn’t require a mousepad, you still need room to slide it around. Since trackballs stay in one place, you can reclaim desk space for whatever you’d like.

Every laptop on the market today has a track pad for cursor movement. Some track pads are large and responsive, while others are miserable and frustrating. And even the best ones are limiting: try using Photoshop’s lasso accurately with a track pad. Travel mice are helpful, but they require room to maneuver. Trackballs are perfect for precise work while traveling. You can replace your track pad with a better pointing device without requiring an extra tray table for your mouse. A small trackball is an exceptional travel companion.

If you’re ready to explore the world of trackballs, the Kensington Orbit and Logitech’s M570 are both excellent inexpensive choices. After a week, you’ll probably never want to switch back!

Images by Kensington K72359 Trackball, Toniosky2

8 comments

  1. “Desk Space”
    The device that took up the least amount of desk space (0%) was a thumb mouse, or actually a thumb trackball. You wore it like a ring on your forefinger and rolled the ball with your thumb. Alas, the one I had did not prove to be very durable. It literally fell apart after about two months. No, I did not abuse the little rodent. I believe the device was made by Logitech. I am surprised that they did not pursue its development. A wireless thumb trackball would go great with today’s laptops.

  2. Interesting… always looking for a better ‘mousetrap’. Years ago, before USB, there was a small device that wrap around your finger and had the trackball on top. The small device fitted on your index finger with the old-style (dust-collecting) trackball positioned for easy access by your thumb.

    Never tried it at the time, as I felt the conventional mouse was perfect. These trackball mice seem more comfortable and manageable.

  3. I have been using a track ball off and on for 20+ years. Having gone through about 4 Logitech M570 trackballs, I am now using the ELECOM M-XT3URBK Mouse. I have the wired version, but it comes in a wireless version. I really can’t figure out why anyone, especially anyone with wrist problems would not want to use a track ball.

  4. Ah yes, it was truly a sad and very dark day when the “left mouse” switch on my trusty Logitech TrackMan Marble FX Trackball finally died. I don’t why Logitec stopped making them :’-(… best trackball EVER! Not only did it have all the benefits described in the article above but it (and my trusty old Microsoft ergo keyboard with most of the letters worn off the keys) helped to discourage “squatters” from using my desk when I was out of the office :-)… Alas poor FX… I knew (and loved) it well.

  5. I used to use a trackball back in the day when mice and keyboards were plugged in with a mini DIN connector. When I had to move to USB the only replacement I could find was very much right handed. As a lefty I need something that is well designed for left-hand operation. Now I use a Logitech RX1000 laser mouse – it has no moving parts and works on almost any surface and it is completely symmetrical.

  6. I’ve used trackballs for going on 30 years. At first it was a space consideration, as tabletop space was small. Later on as I developed RSI/carpel tunnel I kept using them as they alleviated the numbness and pain from the condition. I’ve gone through about 4 generations of Kensington Expert Mice, from serial to PS/2 and finally USB. I like the design as the have a large ball that you move with you index, middle and/or ring fingers, which I find easier on my hands. Other styles that have a smaller ball that you operate with your thumb are harder for me to use, as my thumb has issues first. Plus those style trackballs are not useful if you need to switch to operating left handed on occasion, as they are asymmetrical.

    However I have discovered over the years that trackballs are not as useful for artistic tasks or gaming, as they aren’t as easy to get the precision you might need for those activities. This is my experience and others might disagree, but I usually try to do any freehand drawing or work like that with an oversized, gaming mouse. If it supports the whole hand and has enough weight to it many gaming mice are easier on your wrist than the cheap mice that may have come with your PC. As a second-best choice they work better for me than those cheap mice or even those vertical mice marketed to folks with RSI issues. (I will admit they say if you continue to use the vertical mice your are supposed to get used to the change in hand position. I just haven’t had the patience to do it.

  7. My experience with trackball (the old style with ball on top) was I abhorred the conventional ‘lil rats as they always worked against me, limiting real time movements with limited areas especially. So my son introduced me to a better option. It took awhile but eventually I got used to the TB and have never gone back to the ‘lil vermins again. I do have a problem with side balls but the top ball is perfect for me, enough so that I have three (two in waiting) just in case they decide to go full side ball on me.. I also prefer wired to wireless because I use my computer up to 10 hours a day and, well a wireless does have to be cared for occasionally. And don’t worry, age has nothing to do with eventual trackball proficiency..

  8. After finishing the article, I went to my parts box and dug out the Logitech mouse. After a little while back into the parts box it went. While it is great for my CTS, its performance in large movements across the screen leaves a lot to be desired. I can be much more precise with a mouse.

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