Logitech TrackMan Wheel
Price: $30 (corded); $50 (cordless)
Requirements: Mac or PC with USB
There are many multi-button input devices to choose from, but when it comes to mice there isn’t much difference between one model and the next—at the end of the day, they all leave users with stiff joints and wrist pain from repetitive movements and stress. For many users, the Logitech TrackMan Wheel can offer significant relief from repetitive stress aches and pains by providing superior ergonomics. Instead of moving the hand and wrist as is typical with mouse control, the hand and wrist are stationary when using the TrackMan. The user’s thumb rotates the trackball to control the cursor, and the remaining fingers can be used for the buttons or scroll wheel.
Installation is simple and pleasant. With the corded model, plug the cord into an available USB port. With the wireless model, plug the USB radio dongle into an available USB port, and make sure the AA battery is installed into the TrackMan. Logitech chose to use a proprietary radio dongle over Bluetooth. Using their own system ensures compatibility with Macs that do not have Bluetooth, however it also uses an additional USB port and duplicates technology already available on Bluetooth-equipped Macs. The device becomes instantly available without further installation, but Logitech provides additional drivers that allow programmable scrolling, application switching, and keystroke shortcuts.
The TrackMan Wheel requires only finger and thumb movements, so it requires little desk space. Because the device works independently of the surface it is used on, the TrackMan Wheel can even be used almost anywhere (even in your lap) with no problems.
The trackball moves smoothly under the thumb, and the resulting cursor actions are equally smooth and precise. The tracking is precise enough to make text selection easy, even in the first few minutes of use. The buttons offer feedback, both with an auditory click and noticeable movement. The scroll wheel has a rubberized coating, offering a tactile separation from the plastic buttons surrounding it. Using the scroll wheel as a button was a little mushier than expected, but still adequate.
The TrackMan Wheel may take a few hours to get used to. After years of practice, most people automatically try to pickup the TrackMan and move it the same way they would a mouse. This old habit completely disappears after a few days of retraining.
The only thing I would like to be improved about the TrackMan Wheel is the appearance. In my opinion, the gray-metallic-plastic and maroon speckled trackball are not a pleasant combination; it’s reminiscent of the cheap plastic telescopes and science kits available at the local toy store. Something less techno-kitsch would be welcome.
I tested the TrackMan with word processing, graphics, 3D, games, and video editing applications. The device performed admirably in all, and was surprisingly easy to use for precise tasks. This is not only due to the precision of the device, but because during mouse-clicking the cursor will remain stationary even if the entire TrackMan moves—unlike with a mouse. While the TrackMan works for games, it doesn’t offer the solidity or ergonomic options necessary for hard-core game use. Other trackball controllers are better suited for anything more than casual gaming.
Overall, I recommend the Logitech TrackMan Wheel, especially for older users who suffer from aches due to repetitive mouse use.