Written by Jin May Soo
Types of Trackball Mouse
Benefits and drawbacks of both Trackball Mice
Final thoughts on the Trackball Mouse
The first trackball precursor of the computer mouse was invented in 1952 by Kenyon Taylor and his team using a standard five-pin bowling ball. Many thanks to the advancement of technology, the modern trackball mice have evolved to be lighter, more compact and portable.
Imagine carrying a standard bowling ball to and fro the office every day.
My back hurts just thinking about it.
The trackball mouse is designed to target a different sort of muscle group to navigate the mouse. Ones that are less tender and more resilient to injury - the thumb and fingers, to rotate the sphere ball that is in charge of steering the mousing cursor. With lesser arm movement, it mitigates the hand cramps and wrists pain from gripping and moving the standard mouse.
There is also another reason why trackballs mouse managed to withstand the test of time and is still sticking around favourably. Unlike the other mice which depend on the size of the surface to navigate, the trackball mouse range is infinite due to its endless cycle of loops. Its ability to move the mouse cursor while remaining stationary on the table makes it ideal for small workspaces.
Thumb or Finger?
Trackball mice are primarily broken down into thumb-operated trackball and finger-operated trackball. The thumb-operated trackball mice are shaped like horizontal mice but with a sphere ball at the location of the thumb. It is less intimidating than its sibling, the finger-operated trackball mouse, as it has a closer resemblance to its predecessor.
Now, if the thumb-operated trackball mouse also twists the arm into an unnatural position, how is it better than the horizontal mouse?
The answer to this question is that the thumb-operated trackball mouse requires no gripping at all. As there is no effort exerted to grip the mouse, there is also no pressure on the tendon and your hand remains in a relaxed state. Moreover, as the mouse remains stationary during navigation, there is no twisting of the wrists and overall arm movement is also reduced.
That being said, the manoeuvring of the mouse cursor is left mostly to the thumb. Wirecutter raised a concern whereby the extensive usage of the thumb over time may result in Quervain’s tenosynovitis, a condition where the tendons around the base of the thumb are inflamed and irritated due to overexertion. In this aspect, the finger-operated trackball mouse may be more superior.
The finger-operated trackball mouse often looks like the outline of an alien head (think Grand Councilwoman from Lilo & Stitch) with a sphere ball at its centre. As it does not heavily rely on just one finger to navigate (like the thumb-operated trackball mouse), the usage of the finger-operated trackball mouse is more flexible.
One can glide across the sphere ball with whichever fingers they feel most comfortable with or even with their palm. In addition, the left and right buttons are located in close proximity to the trackball in a natural, easily accessed position. There is no stretching or overreaching of the fingers as though we are trying to play the piano.
The ambidextrous design of the finger-operated trackball mouse also captures the hearts of many southpaws. It is comfortable and both right and left-hand friendly which also makes switching tired hands relatively easy.
But before you cross out the thumb-operated trackball mouse from your list, PCMag also pointed out that the strains and injuries also depend on one’s individual physiology.
Taking the editor of the PCMag article as an example, the editor has been using the thumb-operated trackball on a daily basis for more than 15 years and has yet to encounter any ill effects. There were also many people that did not face any issue despite using thumb-operated trackballs for years.
As the operation of the trackball mouse is vastly different from its predecessors, one has to learn not only to adapt to the functionality of the mouse but to also go the extra mile in gaining mastery, especially on accuracy.
The problem arises when one’s task is highly related to precision such as designing and gaming. Switching from a horizontal mouse to trackball mice will undoubtedly impede the accuracy for some time until mastery is achieved. However, the said time is not definite and varies for each individual.
Which could be daunting for such professions.
On top of that, the ordinary mouse is proven to be more superior in terms of speed and precision against the trackball mouse for PC gaming.
Is Trackball Mouse Better?
When it comes to the health of your wrists, the trackball mice are positively a better choice but they do come with pretty severe deal breakers - that is, the steep learning curve.
As good as it may be, the shift to a trackball mouse is not a price everyone is willing to or is able to pay and this is something new converters ought to keep in mind. There are always other ergonomic alternatives to consider even if the trackball isn’t the one for you.
When all is said and done and a trackball mouse is still an option you would like to consider, a tip for the new user would be to test it out.
Both trackball mice are an acquired taste. As their price tags are on the high end of the mice range, it would be best to be certain before you are stuck with one. Besides, a short try-out is all you need as people tend to decide pretty quickly if they prefer swiveling a ball or moving a mouse.