Trackball vs Mouse, and How to Choose a Trackball

By Xah Lee. Date: . Last updated: .
trackballs 2017 08 89b67 s

Trackball Advantage

  1. Easier to use than mouse. More healthy/ergonomic for hand. Requires less effort.
  2. No need to lift as with mouse.
  3. More stable pointer. The pointer won't move by accident. (if you are not touching it.)

Mouse Advantage

  1. Mouse is better for fast linear movement with precision, as in first person shooter games.
  2. Mouse is easier for drag and drop.
  3. It's harder to draw pictures with trackball. For example, try to write your name.

If you draw a lot, use a Pen Tablet

Why Trackball Can't Beat Mouse for FPS Games

Mouse excels at fast straight line jerks. (because, you simply push it, and this naturally can be done very fast, and naturally results in straight line movement.)

So, if the task is fast straight line jump to n points, mouse beats trackball, pen, trackpad, trackpoint.

For playing First Person Shooter games, the demand for the pointer control is exactly that, fast jump to n points, meaning, straight lines movements of the mouse.

Who Prefer Trackball?

How to Choose a Trackball?

Most Important: Comfort

The most important thing when buying a trackball is comfort. How does it physically fit your hand.

All other aspects of trackball are less important than comfort.

Trackball's comfort is most important, because, it is this aspect you have to live with. When a trackball's ball size, position, button position, are designed in a way that you find it hard to operate, then it is a major pain.

Thumb vs Index Finger Operation

Elecom EX-G
, thumb operation.

Elecom M-DT2
, index-finger operation.

Trackballs have many different designs and shapes. One major difference is thumb-operated ball vs middle-finger or pointing-finger operated ball.

Trackballs designed for index finger is easier to operate than the thumb. Because, with index finger design, you can use the whole hand to move the ball. Thumb based design usually have the ball on the side, and you must use thumb.

Does the Ball Spin?

When you buy a trackball, the less the ball friction, the better. If you can make the ball spin for second or more, it's GOOD.

marble madness
Marble Madness screenshot. This games is played by spinning a large trackball. 〔►see Marble Madness, Arcade Trackball

Trackballs That Can Spin

see Trackballs That Can Spin

Physical Scroll Wheel/Ring

Logitech M570 Wireless, with scroll wheel.

Physical scroll wheel is GOOD.

Kensington Orbit + Ring

Physical scroll ring is GOOD.

Some trackballs have a touch-sensitive ring, it's no good. It doesn't work well.

Some trackballs let you hold one button and the ball becomes scroll wheel. That's no good. It's awkward to use.

Here's trackballs with a physical scroll wheel or ring.

Trackballs with Scroll Wheel

Buttons Placement, How Many Buttons

Next is button placement. This really depends on the overall design.

There's no general way to say which is good. You just have to try it yourself.

Trackball DPI Comparison

One thing about trackball is how far/fast it can move pointer.

In computer mouse, this is called DPI (dot per inch) (aka CPI, for Counts Per Inch)

Trackball also has DPI, but because different trackballs have different ball sizes, and some can spin, so DPI is misleading.

Instead of counting DPI, a more practical way to judge trackball sensitivity is to rotate the ball half a circle, or whatever exposed area of the ball, and see how far the pointer moves.

It's rather complicated, because large trackballs only expose a small area, while smaller trackball exposes most of the ball surface.

In the end, you just want to roll the ball and feel it.

Here's a video that helps.

“Trackball DPI comparison” Logitech Trackman MarbleLogitech M570 wirelessKensington Orbit WirelessSlimblade

But, ultimately, it doesn't matter much. Because you can set acceleration in your Operating System {Microsoft Windows, Linux, Mac}. That is, with acceleration, the pointer moves further when you roll the ball faster.

My Recommendation

See Best Trackballs 2017

Repetitive Strain Injury Alternatives

If you have RSI and don't like trackball, you might try some ergonomic mouse, or trackpad, or some fancy input devices.

Some people prefer touch-pad, but not all. For example, for me, i don't like rubbing my finger on a cold slab, that doesn't yield nor respond physically in any way.


SpaceNavigator 3d Mouse