Efficiency: Mouse vs Trackpad vs Touchpad vs Joystick vs Pen Input

By Xah Lee. Date: . Last updated: .

Which is More Efficient? Mouse, Trackpad, Touchpad, Joystick, Pen Input?

This is how to scientifically determine which input device is more efficient, when the usage is intensive and demand for accuracy and speed is extreme. Is it mouse, trackball, trackpad, drawing tablet, joystick?

osu game r3xw8
osu game


Osu! First time playing: Feint - Vagrant (feat. Veela) [Noz's Insane]

The song is Feint โ™ช Vagrant

the trackball he's using is Kensington Orbit Trackball but with the ball of Logitech Trackman Marble Mouse.

The guy is a very skilled trackball user.

but, i think trackball is a loser here. Trackball excels in comfort and ease of operation. You can use it for hours daily without problem, but mouse will give you Repetitive Strain Injury. That's why there's many Ergonomic Mouse.

but, trackball is inferior to mouse when you need bursts of split-second movements with precision. Because, with mouse, it's like using a stone to draw things on sand. We are familiar with that. With trackball, you roll the ball to create a path, and that's not intuitive.

Drawing Tablet

osu with drawing tablet.

the drawing tablet in this video is actually sold just for this game! For example, this:

osu pen tablet
osu pen tablet

They are just cheap generic drawing tablets. But people apparently do buy it because of osu. It seems, osu is hugely popular in Asia. 8 million registered users, 500k active users.

Touch Screen

osu touch screen

Touch screen obviously wins here.

Touch screen doesn't require training, and anyone is proficient. (because, we use fingers to touch and point all our life sans computer.)

The precision is also better with touch screen, because it's direct. With mouse, trackball, drawing tablet, or touch pad, the relation of device movement and cursor on display is indirect.

But, touch screen have fat-finger problem.

But also note, for prolonged use, touch screen have problems. Imagine if this game is to be played for 2 hours straight. Your finger rubbing will become uncomfortable or even painful. If required to do everyday, 8 hours a day, as in industrial workers in a factory, then, touch screen quickly becomes a health hazard.

also, if the screen is vertical, you get gorilla arm problem. (your arm gets tired after 10 minutes.)


osu with touchpad

touchpad has less of a problem for prolonged use than touch screen. Because, instead of rubbing on glass, you rub on plastic, which is slightly more tolerable.

touchpad also suffers from fat finger problem.

another thing i noticed about touchpads is that, they seem to have delay or uncertainty problem. That is, sometimes you tab on it, but isn't sure if it actually happened. You try again. With a mouse button or keyboard key, you never have this problem. Also, sometimes you glide your finger across touchpad, but there's delay, resulting you rub and rub to see what's going on.

i think the problem is with the technical issue of touchpad, namely, by electrical capacitance. With mouse or trackpad, signal are generated by optical or laser sensors, and it's reliable and instantaneous. But with touchpad, it's wishy-washy.

Controller / Joystick

Playing osu! with a PS3 controller

you can see that a joystick fairs the worst here.

because, joystick does not have direct control of movement speed. With mouse, trackpad, trackball, you have direct control of speed. You can whip to any place you want as fast as you move the device. But with joystick, you can only control acceleration. The more bent is the joystick, the more acceleration you have, therefore speed, but no direct control of speed. The result is awkward movement and bad precision.

on the other hand, joystick excels when you need smooth and continuous transition of speed. Such as, controlling the roll pitch yaw when flying a plane. There, you don't want sudden jerky change.


osu with mouse

In terms of precision and intensive usage for 30 minutes or so (such as playing osu), the best to worst are:

  1. pen drawing display
  2. touch screen tablet
  3. drawing tablet
  4. touchpad
  5. mouse
  6. trackball
  7. joystick (such as Gamepads for PC )

Note, this ranking doesn't consider prolonged use or comfort.

Now, there are many aspects to consider for input devices.

For example, the pros and cons:

Speciality: Spin

osu! How fast can you guys spin?

Now, this special task of spin. Here, the ranking of devices would be:

  1. drawing tablet
  2. touchpad
  3. trackball
  4. mouse
  5. joystick

Also notice, they all use keyboard as mouse click. That means, when usage is intensive, keyboard key is far better than mouse click, in efficiency and comfort.

while writing this article, i came across this great article:

[i-Touch Systems that I Have Known and Loved By Bill Buxton, Microsoft Research. At http://www.billbuxton.com/multitouchOverview.html , accessed on 2016-10-29 ]

Bill Buxton is a researcher in human-computer interaction field, in particular, i see he's done lots study on input devices.

see for example, his collection of input devices, few hundreds of them: