For someone that uses a computer a lot and after years of various frustrations using a regular computer mouse for my daily work, I finally had enough of my current Microsoft wireless laser mouse. The wireless on the mouse worked fine, but I was forever having to replace and/or clean the mouse pad, and always looking for an alternative pad that would keep the mouse working properly. No matter what I tried, the surface would eventually begin to wear, develop a shiny or dirty surface and the mouse would stop working or jump about erratically. I was using hard surface pads, but cleaning didn’t seem to make any difference, as the shiny spots that appeared on even the best of surfaces would cause the mouse to misbehave. It got to the point that numerous times during the day I’d be swearing and ready to throw the mouse at a wall because it became so frustrating. It was time to try something new.
Knowing that nothing was ever going to make a regular mouse work well for very long, though a laser mouse was infinitely better than a traditional trackball mouse that forever gathers lint and dust (I still have one), I decided to try something different. I went for another mouse, but in this case an inverted one and bought myself a Kensington Expert Mouse Wireless Trackball at a great eBay discount price. Now anyone that grew up in the 80s would be very familiar with trackballs, as they were often found on arcade game consoles where you played Space Invaders, Asteroids (my favourite) or the like. Trackballs kind of lost favour over the years, taken over by laser mice and trackpads (something which have never worked for me), but have never disappeared completely and still remain a favourite computer accessory for many disciplines such as engineering. For years I’ve thought about getting a trackball mouse, but always decided not to do so, until now. There are many versions of trackball mice, some of which look like an oversized mouse with a ball protruding from its side, but I preferred the Kensington style (perhaps I was being nostalgic).
Physically the Kensington with/without its wrist pad attached, is significantly larger than a regular mouse; however, you need to consider that with the trackball, unlike a mouse, you don’t move anything but the ball with your finger/s. So, in effect, the trackball doesn’t take up any more space and perhaps takes up even less space than a mouse; you’ll understand if you’ve ever run out of mouse pad while moving the mouse around. The other benefit of a trackball mouse is that you don’t have to move your hand at all and your wrist is far less aggravated by awkward movements or positioning. In fact, the extended pad on the Kensington supports not only your wrist, but helps support your arm to some extent as well. Anyone that uses a computer a lot will, at some point in time, suffer a sore wrist (which could lead to Carpal Tunnel Syndrome) from the awkward and sometimes unnatural movements you have to make with an ordinary mouse.
As you can see from the photographs, the Kensington mouse is dominated by the sparkling red ball, which is its main feature. The other features are the four buttons surrounding the ball, where the bottom left one appears to be a fixed button for left click, but the other three can be fully programmed for a number of different actions. Around the ball is a ribbed wheel that has the same function as a scroll wheel on a regular mouse and I have to say that it works better than a regular mouse scroll wheel. The Kensington also comes with software, TrackballWorks, that allows you to configure the trackball even further, but this has to be downloaded from the Kensington website. The one thing to note is that it’s not compatible with Windows 10 (something I wasn’t aware of) and so required installation through the legacy process. I was expecting it to take some time to get used to the trackball, but after installing the software and adjusting the pointer speed settings, I started to get the hang of the trackball rather quickly and was using it comfortably and, more importantly, accurately after just a couple of hours use as the muscle memory took hold.
The TrackballWorks software provides traditional mouse control adjustments where you can adjust the speed of the mouse pointer as well as acceleration, which speeds up movement the faster you move things, as well as snap to default, which takes the pointer to a default button in a dialogue box (something I’ve never liked). There are also control settings that allow you to slow the trackball momentarily if you are doing fine movements, as well as locking the trackball movement if you want the mouse pointer to move in just one axis (it’s excellent for highlighting text). Both work very well. The scroll wheel also provides a speed setting and directional control, for which I’ve only adjusted the speed marginally and left the direction as it came. But I’ve gone back to the slow setting, as speed is more an indicator of how many lines are scrolled at a time. Inertial scroll provides a similar experience to that which you get with a mobile phone or tablet interface where the screen keeps scrolling once you swipe with your finger, like when moving from one photo to another. Personally, I don’t like the effect on a large computer screen.
There’s one more feature available with the TrackballWorks software and that’s the Profile. This apparently allows you to set the trackball to work differently with different programs. Let’s say that you want the buttons to do certain things and the scroll wheel to work in the opposite direction when I’m using one program but with another program you want these to work differently. In theory, you do this by simply assigning a profile to the program and call it up when you want to work on that program. This would be a nifty feature, but unfortunately I couldn’t get it to work. I could set the profile up and save it, but whenever I recalled it and tried to apply it, it always reverted back to the default All Applications.
After using the Kensington trackball mouse now for well over a month, I’m more than just happy, this really is an outstanding device. Knowing what I do now, I should have bought one of these years ago, it really is that good. It might not suit everyone, but I have no intention of returning to a regular mouse. And one way to become really familiar with a trackball mouse is follow Microsoft’s solution that got people familiar with mouse actions when Windows was first introduced, play Solitaire or FreeCell. Solitaire wasn’t created to keep bored office workers amused, but to get people used to using a mouse, and it kept bored office workers amused.
Footnote: It’s been over six months since I bought the trackball and overall it’s been pretty good, but there are several annoyances that come and go. Firstly, the wireless connection doesn’t always take at PC start up and I have to remove the USB transmitter and reinsert it into the PC before the trackball is recognised. But this doesn’t happen if I restart the PC at any other time but at first startup in the morning. The second annoyance is that I can’t use Bluetooth, as it constantly goes to sleep and takes several seconds to begin responding. This is a apparently a Windows power saving issue that I haven’t been able to resolve, even by adjusting device settings. The third annoyance is that the left mouse button doesn’t always respond, sometimes requiring a second, or third, firmer press. It’s intermittent, but annoying. And finally, not being compatible with Windows 10 is a massive failure given that it’s not that old a device and is compatible with Windows 8. It works with Windows 10, but was a pain to get working.