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What Trackball Mouse Do You Recommend? 45

Pentapod asks: "I'm giving in to RSI and looking for a trackball mouse. I've tried the Logitech Marble Wheel but didn't find it very comfortable for my small hands. Now I'm looking for a thumb-operated trackball like the Logitech Trackman Wheel Mouse or the Microsoft Trackball Optical Mouse. These two look most promising, but there's also the Logitech Marble Mouse and the Logitech TrackMan FX among others. My question to Slashdot - the prices vary by up to A$100. So is there a real difference? What is it? Is the Microsoft 'Intelli-eye' technology really 'new' and better? Has anyone done any comparison between trackball models?"
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What Trackball Mouse Do You Recommend?

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  • You don't once mention the Kensington series of trackballs, which are a generally nice set of devices. Really nice. I used to use a Logitech Trackman+ at home, and I loved it; I got another Logitech trackball at work (I can't remember which one, but it's finger operated, not thumb operated, with MOUSE1 controlled by the thumb).

    But then I tried a Kensington Turboball in a local CompUSA. It was fantastic! I bought it almost immediately, and gave my fiancé my Trackman (she's got a laptop, one place where trackballs really shine IMO). It has two buttons on either side of a nice, big trackball, and a vertical wheel underneath your knuckles (depending upon how I'm using it, it falls under either my index or middle knuckle). It's USB with a PS/2 adapter (and you can get an ADB adapter for old Macs), has very nice fine control, and the buttons work fine in any setting I've tried.

    I love it enough I've considered buying ADB adapters and 2 or 3 more to connect to my Mac and NeXTStations, so I can feel the love everywhere :)

  • see topic
  • A couple of years ago, I tried to cut off part of my right hand (okay, it was really an accident) and ended up with my right arm in a brace for several months. Since my work just happens to involve computers (whose doesn't these days?) I had to come up with some way to point. I tried mousing left-handed but since I normally write, throw, eat, etc with my right hand it was a complete failure. I couldn't (and still can't) control a mouse with my left hand. But, I learned to use an "ambidextrous" (as someone else said, equally uncomfortable for both hands) trackball with my left hand. Much, much better. In fact, I still prefer it to regular mousing because now that my hand is repaired I can type right-handed & still point with the remaining hand. I can play Half-Life just as well, if not better, becuase now my hands are naturally spread out with left hand on the 'ball and right hand on the keys.

    Still, despite long searches, I have been completely unable to find any trackballs which are designed to fit the left hand. I would certainly buy one for the comfort factor alone, as even though an ambidextrous 'ball is more comfortable than a mouse, an ergonomically shaped trackball would be just that much better.

    Has anyone else seen left-handed trackballs? I've never, and I've looked extensively. I'm pretty near to just making my own and giving up on the whole pointer industry. Links will definately be appreciated.

  • I've found that pretty much mice of any sort irritate my wrists :)

    The problem as I see it is not that there's a shortage of symmetrical trackballs but that there tend to be a lot nicer features on the right-hand only models. Take the Kensington TurboRing, for example. That seems like a really useful widget, but you can't get it on an ambidextrous model. Or a scroll wheel. I've only seen two ambidextrous trackballs with scroll wheels and both of those have the wheel in an inconvenient position (dead center, of course). If I had a wheel under one of my fingers, (like on the logitech right hand only models) it might be useful but when the wheel is centered directly under my palm it's not convenient enough to be useful.

    And while I'm griping, pointer devices just aren't big enough. Even the so-called extra-big models still seem like puny little playthings under my 9-inch long (from wrist crease to middle fingertip) hands. I want a solid quartz ball the size of a grapefruit sitting in a huge ergo-freakin-nomic left handed slab of polished rosewood, dangit! And buttons! 10 HUGE buttons, two under each finger. And it should GLOW. Like with neon or something. Yeah. Like that.


  • The TurboRing is ok, but it doesn't seem to have the same fit and finish as the Expert Mouse. Also, I am having some problems adjusting to it "ergonomics" (I have been using the Expert Mouse for almost 3 years). The only reasons I upgraded is 1.> Scroll ring (D!@# MS for "inventing" the scroll wheel :) ) and 2.> my machine would have problems booting (into windows) or not find the PS/2 port (in linux).

    I am looking forward to playing with the new Expert Mouse Pro USB. It should be quite interesting to use, and maybe it won't take as long to break in as the TurboRing.

    Oh, and for all of those who say a trackball sucks for gaming, well, I didn't seem to have much of a problem :) PS2rate + twitchy settings on trackball means you can spin very quickly. In fact I still have problems going back to a mouse since they don't react as quickly and always seem to run off of the pad :)

  • The ball is going to pick up more gunk and skin debris than the mouse because it is in contact with your hands, even if you keep your hands relatively clean. My trackball picks up tons of stuff and has to be cleaned out more than my mice did. But it is easier to do.

    I use the Logitech Marble FX at home and mice at work, that variety helps with the RSI. I tried a few at the store and settled on this, it took a while to get used to but I'm quite comfortable with it and have no problem switching back to a 'normal' mouse.

  • I use the Logitech Marble FX and have no problem in Half Life, I use it for mouselook / aim and I usually end up near the top of the public servers.

    Descent 3 is another problem, for some odd reason it is very sensitve and almost unplayable. I don't think it is the trackball itself, I think there are some kind of weird driver / DirectX problems.

  • Excellent. I'll check it out.



  • by "Zow" ( 6449 ) on Saturday January 20, 2001 @08:34PM (#493367) Homepage
    I'm giving in to RSI and looking for a trackball mouse. . .

    Keep in mind that a trackball alone won't solve any wrist problems you're having, nor will wrist rests as others have suggested. At best it will reduce the length of time before the problem becomes critical.

    The most important thing you can do if you're having any kind of wrist problems is take regular breaks. 5 minutes out of every hour is recommended for all computer users. My theripist told me to take a 5 minute break for ever half hour at the computer. That may seem like a lot of time, but it's nothing compared to the downtime from a serious RSI problem, and I find the time is nice to clear my head and grab some caffinene. There are programs like xwrits (search for it on freshmeat) that will remind you to take regular breaks.

    It's also good to do regular wrist stretches / exercises - a quick web search should give examples. I think the combination of breaks and exercises helped me more than my new keyboard, trackball, chair and all that.

    Of course, none of this should be considered medical advice (IANAD). If you're having any sort of pain, see a doctor or licensed theripist.

    As for trackballs, I got the ITAC Evolution as I wanted an ergonomic trackball with three buttons so I wouldn't have to do button chording to emulate the middle button. I can't say I'm happy with it though since it tends to gunk up a lot and the action isn't smooth. I'm wondering if any of the trackballs being discussed here do all three buttons without chording. Anyone?


  • I'm using the Logitech Cordless Trackman.

    The obvious benefit is the lack of cables. This may seem like no big deal, but I tell you, with my USB cradle, two computers, a laptop with external floppy, joystick, speakers, etc.. it's nice to have one fewer cable to worry about (actually, for me, 2 fewer cables because I have a cordless keyboard).

    The cons:

    Changing batteries. I find I can go about 1 month with days consisting of 4-10 hours of use. But it's still agravating when the mouse starts flaking out before my brain goes "oh yeah, time to change the battery". Would have been much better if the trackball included some sort of LED indicator instead of just relying on it failing to function to let you know the battery was dying.

    Lower sample rate. The number of updates per second is lower than its corded brethren. This has no noticeable effect in most cases. I do find this is a major drawback for playing Quake. Enough that I'll probably buy a corded USB mouse or trackball to use as a second mouse when playing FPSs.

    Purchase it from someplace with a good return policy. It's different enough from corded trackballs that I'm sure it's not for everyone.

  • is there ANY benefit whatsoever from having a trackball be optcall, since its still relying on a ball?

    It's very beneficial, except when the ball spontaneously transforms itself into a cube or a pyramid or a dodecahedron. I'm just happy to be rid of that awful mousepad that kept BSODing several times a day.

    Seriously though, the benefit of optical is that it gets rid of those damn rollers. With my Logitech Marble Mouse (two-button finger-operated optical trackball) the ball itself rests on three tiny points. Only the ball moves (and the buttons. and my fingers). After a few rounds of Q3A gunk builds up on the points and increases friction on the ball but it literally only takes about five seconds to lift the ball out and wipe the points clean. Trackballs tend to get dirty more quickly than mice because your hands are in direct contact with the mechanism, so being optical is actually more important for trackballs than it is for mice.

  • The only fault I find in this device is the tracking sensors cannot handle very high speed movements (blurred dots) and is not a viable device for playing 3d games that involve mousing (ala Descent 1 2 or 3 or quake). But it's a natural problem.

    I have the same device. In my experience, the resolution and/or sample rate settings matter a lot.

    Pointing XF86 4 at the PS2 mouse port gives bad results. It's like the opposite of acceleration - after a certain point moving the ball faster makes the pointer move slower. I can't find any way to change the resolution or sample rate in XF86 4 either.

    What I've done is run moused (this is the FreeBSD equivalent of gpm) with the flags "-r high -F 200" for high resolution, 200 samples per second. X opens /dev/sysmouse. This makes a huge difference. I no longer hits the slowdown in normal use; I have to really push it to see the slowdown.

    Under Linux there may be similar options for gpm. They may or may not accomplish the same result - the options in XF86Config certainly don't. YMMV. Good luck.

  • Yer fulla crap, the Logitech Marble Mouse doesn't need cleaning.
    It's a ball that sits in a cup and rides on three tiny points. Off to the side is a window for the optics, at the bottom of the cup is a drain hole.

    It doesn't need cleaning, but it does benefit from it. Lift the ball out and wipe the gunk off the three points. The ball will glide with unbelievable smoothness.

    Takes a couple days to get used to it, very precise, good for skipping across page and placing boxes for deskptop publishing.

    Try cleaning it some time. I think you'll be even more happy with the device than you are now.

  • I'll second that.

    I've used many of the trackballs mentioned on this page, including the Kensington, other Logitechs, etc. The Logitech Marble FX and its successor, the cordless TrackMan FX, are in a class of their own, and leave the others in their dust in terms of feel, control and precision. If you've ever found a thumb-driven trackball to be hard to control precisely, the FX is the answer - you can use any or all of your first three fingers, and your thumb too if you like.

    As an added bonus, if you appreciate good design, this trackball is unusual-looking enough to have been used in the Sci-Fi channel TV series "Farscape" as a navigational control on the spaceship "Moya". Of course they tricked it out with a bit of paint and stuff first.

    One drawback to be aware of: I don't know if there's a left-handed version, but if not, left-handers are out of luck since it's shape makes use with the left hand nearly impossible.

    Looking at Logitech's site just now, I see that the Marble FX isn't listed anymore, but the cordless TrackMan FX [] is.

  • Big, meaty trackball. Natural shape. It's like resting your hand on a tennis ball. Some wrist support thrown in. No wrist fatigue.

    It also rocks for games, since you can spin that thing every which way. There's no running out of mouse area. Four buttons, so you can program them to do extra things in games.
  • Have to agree with ya on this. I've got the same trackball (well 4 of them at this point..) and my Half Life scores went up, after about a week of adapting to it.
  • I'm just as quick and accurate with my USB Optical trackball now as I was with a USB optical mouse. Just takes a week or two of practice.

    Oh yeah..and my wrists won't hurt as bad when I'm older.
  • If you are starting to feel RSI, get some good wrist rests too along with your trackball. I use 3M gel filled. They are GREAT. They aren't cheap like most of the gel filled ones you find in stores. I've had the same set for about 4 years now and they are still going fine. Full selection at 3M under their office - ergonomic section. I know sells them for a good price.

    HIGHLY recommended. The gel doesn't hurt or bother your arms while you work.
  • by NetJunkie ( 56134 ) <`moc.liamg' `ta' `hsan.nosaj'> on Saturday January 20, 2001 @02:36PM (#493377)
    Go to a large computer store, like CompUSA here, and try them out. I can't really tell you which trackball you will like best. They vary greatly. I use the Marble+ from Logitech on all my systems now and love it. My wife hates it. She uses the thumb operated trackball they have. I hate that one. See. :)

    She has now switched to the Microsoft Explorer trackball. If you think the Marble+ is too small, check the Microsoft one that looks like it. It is larger than the Marble+, but uses your thumb.

    The Microsoft trackballs seem to roll smoother than the Logitechs, but I just didnt like the feel and larger size over my Marbe+.
  • IANAME (I Am Not A Microsoft Engineer)

    As far as I know, the big plus would be that there is not as much to "go wrong." I've had gunk build up in the trackball rollers before, and with optical, the ball can get as dirty or greasy as the user will tolerate, and not skip a beat.

    You may still have to clean it occasionally though. I've got one of their optical mice. About once a month I'll get a hair or piece of fuz in the hole where the light goes. I'll remedy it by a quick blow. Other than that, I've had zero issues.
  • I had some simmilar problem, but I can't help myself with trackballs .. they are WAY too slow for me to use .. ;)
    (perhaps there's only learning missing ;)

    anyway ... I got myself a mouspad with a moveable
    wrist-holder (on .. damn whats the english word for Kugellager :)

    It is very good, and I never had any problems
    with my wrist with it ...

    Samba Information HQ
  • I would definately recommend the Marble FX. I've been using on for over two years now and I love it. I haven't gotten all four buttons working in Linux, but I'm a keyboard user more than a mouse user. Logitech gives you a great warranty, three years I think. When I started having trouble with the left button that prevented me from dragging anything around, their tech support shipped out a new unit and said I could just trash my broken one. Now that's what I call service!
  • The Kensington TurboBall is a great trackball. I've been using mine for several months, and I haven't a single complaint (and I am picky!). tml []

    It's got a big, two-finger operated ball, four buttons plus a clickable wheel, ambidextrous design, and USB/PS2 connectivity.
  • Get a optical mouse and a good chair. The chair is what's going to help the RSI. I frankly think the trackball promotes more RSI then a mouse. Just think your thumb is repeating that movement alot more then your hand doing things on the mouse. Get that chair where the keyboard is split and attached to the arms and has a moveable platform for mouseing. The only thing better then a mouse, in my opinion, is a track point. You can even get a trackpoint integrated into a plain IBM keyboard (sorry don't know the part number from IBM).
  • I have not encountered any left-handed trackballs, but would like to second the support of tracking with the left hand. I have mild RSI and found that switching to left-handed mousing made a world of difference. I'm not reaching over past the numpad for the mouse anymore, it's right where it belongs. It did take a lot of concentration to get used to, but wasn't that hard to get the hang of (though I might have benefited from playing piano as a child thus having to do stuff with my left hand).

    I've also found that "ergonomically shaped" mice are annoying and irritate my wrists. I wonder if a left-shaped trackball would really be more comfortable than a symmetrical one? It would be interesting to try out.

  • Ahhh... I understand why we might have differing opinions. My hands are tiny. Like, my hand is as long as a CDROM drive bay is wide. For me, ergonomic mice are like holding a softball: very hard to control. So, you can have your extra-large models, as long as I can have my scaled-down versions.

    You'd think there'd be some sort of market for pointers for lefties, large folks, small folks. Especially with RSI concerns about proper fit and companies willing to accommodate about any way possible to avoid a potential lawsuit/disability claim. It can't be that hard to adapt current designs. Why hasn't someone taken advantage of this?

  • Ive seen the M$ optical trackballs around before, but one thing thats always come to my mind, and still does:
    is there ANY benefit whatsoever from having a trackball be optcall, since its still relying on a ball?
    i thought the major benefir of going towards the optical neutered mice was that you didnt have the probs associated with its one-balled brethren, the dust and all...
    with a trackball, that is kinda pointless...
    even the name implies a ball. =P
    or is this simply a marketing tactic for M$, to use its latest technology and marketing gimicks to a market that it has no point being in?
  • I highly recommend the Kensington TurboRing [] trackball. I got one for my father when his ancient Mouse Systems trackball finally bit the dust, and it has been nothing but pleasure for him to use. It fits nicely in your (right) hand, and the scroll ring is a stroke of genious, in my humble opinion.

    I have no idea what to say if you're left handed. I have yet to see any left-handed trackballs, only a few that are handednedd-agnostic - that is, they are equally uncomfortable in either hand.
  • I use the Logitech Marble Mouse and, in addition to taking breaks, I switch hands every couple of days. After I got used to using the track ball with my right hand (I'm right-handed), it was fairly easy to get used to using it with my left hand (I'm not ambidextrous by any stretch of the imagination). Switching hands also had the added side effect of confusing my co-workers ("I thought you were right-handed?")
  • I bought a Logitech Marble Mouse originally as a trackball for MAME, but it worked so well, it's my main mouse.

    The only downside I've had is that it isn't precise enough for careful detail work or smooth drawing in Photoshop or sniping in Quake. The way the three ball bearings are laid out, it tends to start to rotate on a diagonal when it starts moving. The semi-randomness of the dots on the ball also make it move a little unpredictably.

    Now I use a USB Wacom Graphire [] for precision stuff. I haven't tried it in games yet, but it'll probably play well.

  • I've been using the Logitech Trackman Marble since it came out .. oh ... 6 or 7 years ago? I replaced my original one with the new Marble+, which added the obligatory mousewheel, although my old one is still in service on another one of my machines.
    My entire family uses them as well, both at home and work, and I've convinced at least a half dozen friends to buy them as well, and not one ever went back to a mouse.
    There's definately a little learning curve, but once you get used to one, you'll never go back. Not only do you not have to move your wrist, you can lean back in your chair and hold it in your lap, on your chair arm, etc ... whatever is comfortable. I also find you get much finer controler with it than a mouse.
    It's also extremely good for gaming, allowing all kinds of fast spins and such for FPS and RTS gamers alike. Unlike a mouse, you just need to spin the trackball's ball with your thumb, rather than lifting the whole mouse up. Interestingly enough, at the last LAN party I was at, there were 13 people there, 10 of whom had the Trackman Marble+'s =) I actually tried sitting down at someone's mouse equipped computer and tried to play, and I just couldn't grasp how someone could possibly play without a Marble. =P
    Honestly, it was one of the best purchases I've ever made.
    I would reccomend you avoid the Microsoft Optical Trackball. I demoed one in a store and I just didn't like the feel of it. It was overly large and felt decidedly flimsy. I'm not keen on the Logitech Trackman Marble FX either, but I know at least a couple of people who swear by them.
    If I was you, I'd find a store with a generous return policy and pick up a Marble+ and try it out for a week or two. Odds are you'll keep it though
  • I have a trackball called Logitech Marble Mouse. The name implies it's a mosue but it's a trackball.

    I find it much more confortable than any other trackball I have delt with. This one functions by finger control or by using all the fingers or the palm operate. The thumb falls on the primary button and the pinky or ring finger falls on the right button.

    In linux it has no trouble with using 3 button emulation (clicking both mouse buttons to simulate the middle mouse button).

    Something else I love about it, that it is an optical tracking trackball. There are dots on the red trackball and i assume an infrared detector/transmitter to translate the movement.

    The only fault I find in this device is the tracking sensors cannot handle very high speed movements (blurred dots) and is not a viable device for playing 3d games that involve mousing (ala Descent 1 2 or 3 or quake). But it's a natural problem.

    Im curious if other optical pointing devices have the same problem with speed and playability in games. Please reply, with your indications on your devices. I would like to find another device with a decent feel that would be good in gaming.

  • the logitech trackman marble is the stuff!

    the biggest problem i find is that most folks have trouble using their thumbs to control the ball. i had some issues at first but once you get used to is you really don't want to use anything else.

    besides, mice take up too much deskspace

  • Well, I've been using a Logitech Trackman Marble for a great while, and haven't had any trouble with spinning it too fast. I have been able to spin it faster than it can handle, but it's design is such that it makes more sense to use smaller movements (ala higher sensitivity/acceleration), so it's not a real issue. It's a thumb operated ~1.5 inch diameter ball set in a nice ergonomic lump that allows the hand to rest atop it comfortably.

    Recently upgraded to a USB version with a wheel, and found the wheel is a little flakey; that is, I get wheel movements when all I really wanted was a middle-click. Bad stuff when that swaps weapons on ya...

    As a gaming device, I've been very satisfied with it. I can stomp all on campus in Q2 or Q3 with it, though this may be due to a generally lower than average quality of players here... The firewall we have prevents general Net play.

    As a general pointing device, it's also good, but it falls short on any fine detail work. It tends to build up gunk at the three contact points where the ball rests, and that can make very small, precise movements more difficult. A quick wipe with a tissue helps that a lot.

  • Closest to a perfect piece of technology that I have seen.

    No wrist movement required, built in wrist suppport

    Supported on 3 sapphire bearings. To clean tip ball out and blow.

    Incredibly precise and even operation, literally fingertip control to any part of the screen.

    I very much doubt I'll ever find anything better in a hand directed pointing device.

    Of course what we really need is a device that senses where you are looking.

  • If you value your Quake skills, DO NOT get a trackball. An optical USB mouse is much better.
  • Dirt does get into the rollers, though, but the whole thing comes apart easily (3 #1 Phillips screws on the bottom) for cleaning.

    Took a few days to get used to a trackball vs. a mouse, but worth it!

    Here's a writeup [] on it from an ADA point of view. Paid $50ish at Office Depot.

  • Yer fulla crap, the Logitech Marble Mouse doesn't need cleaning.

    Not necessary to be rude.

    It's not sealed against dust, bread crumbs, or pizza remnants.

    I'm glad to hear that it's cheaper now, and wasn't bashing the product. You should consider therapy about your anger.

  • I suggest that you go to a store that actually has the trackballs connected to a computer... Most stores in my area just have trackballs sitting on a shelf... It is very useful to get a feel for how it will act on the computer.

    I am particularly fond of my Logitech MarbleMan mouse (I don't remember the exact model number). The main reason that I got the trackball was that the cheap mouse that came with my computer was getting dirty and kept locking up. I decided that a trackball was cool, and I wanted one. I did a (small) bit of research, and found that the "Marbleman" technology worked even if the trackball was all gummed up, and I *love* this feature.

    But be warned -- it's like big monitors. Once you get used to it, you'll refuse to back to anything else. Which is a bad thing considering that the 'average' computer has a 15" monitor and whatever mouse the manufacturer gave you...

  • I have a logitech trackball (the thumb-operated one) that includes a scroll wheel. If you push it downward into the trackball it also functions as a middle button.

    No chording necessary :)
  • I decided not to go for cordless, for one simple reason - hedonism - on c-c-cold winter nights, is there anything more luxurious than lying in bed with a hot water bottle under the feet, a warm laptop on the stomach, and a trackball mouse under the covers so that not an inch of skin above the chin needs to be exposed to the cold air while you play "Alpha Centauri"? (Well yes, there ARE many things more luxurious than this, but sadly, not available in my life at the moment!) I didn't think the cordless option would work very well un this instance. =) Thanks for your comments!
  • I agree with you - after trying out the feel of several models in various stores, I bought the Logitech Marble +. The Microsoft model was too big - obviously designed for male hands - I had to move my thumb far too much to use the ball. Thanks for your comments!
  • Fortunately, I'm not left-handed. =) I did notice that distinct lack during my searches, however. I didn't see anything by Kensington; I assume they aren't available in Australia at the moment. In the end I decided on the Logitech thumb-operated Wheel +. Thanks for your comment...
  • Kensington's TurboBall is also good. Nothing compares to their discontinued line of trackballs that used what was (nearly) a cue ball for control, but I guess cost prevailed.
  • This is GREAT news. Every sysadmin should have one of these.

"If it's not loud, it doesn't work!" -- Blank Reg, from "Max Headroom"