Hardware Review: Logitech Cordless Trackman Optical

We could have used Logitech’s top trackball for just a day or two and our conclusion would have been the same as after many weeks of testing: this is a great pointing device. If you’re looking for help avoiding repetitive stress injuries, or if you just plain prefer trackballs over mice, this one is worth trying out.

Pointing Devices and Repetitive Stress Injuries

As I’ve alluded to in our reviews of other ergonomic computer input devices (such as the Kinesis Advantage USB keyboard and the Kensington Expert Mouse Wireless), spending time in front of a computer as a mental health practitioner working with clients online can be a great way to discover the fun of repetitive stress injuries.

With mice, you reach out a hand, grasp the device, and then move at least your wrist, if not your entire forearm and sometimes even upper arm and shoulder, in order to move a tiny little pointer on a computer display. When moving across your computer’s virtual desktop, your hand is moving across your real desktop, over and over, every day.

I don’t like mice very much. As someone who has experienced repetitive stress injuries, I’m convinced there’s a better way to point, and the trackball is the most common of those alternative ways of getting your pointer across the screen.

Logitech Cordless Trackman Optical

And having tried several trackballs over the years, I can say without hesitation that Logitech’s Cordless Trackman Optical is among the best. Ordinarily, I like to try out a new piece of hardware or software for several weeks, if not months, before writing about my impressions. But with this trackball, my first impressions just haven’t changed much.

The one thing which has changed over a few weeks of using the device is that I no longer find it harder to use than the comparable Kensington Expert Mouse Wireless, and in some ways I now prefer it. Having used the Kensington device for quite awhile before switching to the Logitech, I will mention a few comparisons between the two as I go along.

Logitech Cordless Trackman Optical

Cordless Trackman Optical

Logitech Features and Software

Like the other trackball, the Logitech device includes several additional ergonomic features in addition to the obvious:

  • primary and secondary buttons
  • forward and back buttons
  • clickable scroll wheel with buttons above and below
  • click-lock/drag button

I count no fewer than 8 things that can be clicked, and one that can be scrolled, in addition to the trackball itself. All of these can be programmed for different purposes, and the responses of the trackball and scroll wheel fine tuned, using the included MouseWare software. (Mac users can also control all those buttons with third-party utilities like USB Overdrive.) In my testing, I settled on button assignments that cover right-click, left-click, double-click, return, escape, home, end, and click-lock/drag. They could just as easily be assigned to launch applications, type keystrokes, open files, etc.

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As with the Kensington we reviewed last year, I found it fiddly to configure the response of the trackball itself; while the software offers a huge adjustment range, I would have preferred finer control over a much narrower range. In addition, the adjustment itself is not as sophisticated as that of the comparable Kensington device, which permits detailed tweaking of a nonlinear acceleration curve. Using USB Overdrive on a Mac, however, I ultimately settled on a speed of 250 dpi and acceleration of 175%, and for most purposes this has been fine.

The trackball itself is powered by 2 AA cells (included), and the wireless receiver draws power from the USB or PS/2 bus. I found the range of the base station to be more than adequate in my working environment. Unlike the Kensington, the Logitech Cordless Trackman Optical works just fine with NiMH rechargeable cells, and it has now been in use for some weeks, many hours per day, without recharging the cells. The ability to work flawlessly with rechargeables is, to my mind, a huge benefit — and offers significant savings.

Usability and Build Quality

The Logitech Cordless Trackman Optical is designed to be used by right-handers, with the trackball operated by the fingertips. The soft-touch finish is pleasant, and the primary and secondary buttons are right where I need them. The same is true of the back button, which is just above the left button. The scroll wheel I find requires just a slight stretch for my index finger; once positioned on the scroll wheel, the button below it is easy to hit, and the wheel itself is easy to click, but the button above the wheel is a definite stretch. The click-lock/drag button doesn’t ever seem easy to reach, and as a result I rarely use it.

Users with hands either larger or smaller than mine will probably discover something different in terms of how easy it is to reach different parts of the device; I would encourage anyone considering any pointing device to try it out first to see how it matches with your own particular physiology.

I am still undecided about how to compare the trackball itself with that of the Kensington; the latter is certainly larger, and as a result offers noticeably more momentum and potentially greater control. On the other hand, in actual use, I find myself bemoaning the Logitech’s smaller trackball only occasionally. Both devices provide very smooth rolling action, although the Logitech comes out on top here by a small margin.

One immediately obvious ‘flaw’ — although it stretches the meaning of the word to call it that — is that the device is so light it slides around on my desk very easily. This creates additional muscle tension as a result of struggling to move the ball or the wheel without sliding the whole device. Although it includes little rubber feet probably intended to stop it sliding around, they just don’t do the trick. Fortunately, this ‘flaw’ is easily remedied with two pieces of Blu-Tac stuck to the bottom to anchor it in place. This obviously makes it less mobile for those times when I really do want to move it around, but that is rarely an issue in my working environment.

The general build quality is excellent.

Finally, the Logitech Cordless Trackman Optical exhibits none of the odd ‘falling asleep’ behaviour which we found with the Kensington. The latter had proven very aggravating as a result of its tendency to ‘nod off’ into an energy saving mode after only a few seconds of idle time, requiring either clicking or rolling of the ball to make it responsive again. One of the most refreshing things about testing the Logitech immediately after having used the Kensington is that it doesn’t appear to do this at all. I would imagine there must be some kind of energy saving mode at work, in order to keep the AA cells working as long as they do, but however this works, it is not at all disruptive in normal use. Logitech clearly has this aspect of building wireless devices very well figured out. The Logitech wins hands-down over the Kensington when it comes to power management.

Overall Assessment

As I said at the outset, I could just has easily have written this review after only a couple of days of testing rather than several weeks: my views on the Logitech Cordless Trackman Optical haven’t changed significantly, and this is now my preferred pointing device. Yes, I think I would prefer a larger ball, and in an ideal world I’d be able to hit all the buttons without making any adjustments at all to my hand position. But the slight stretch required to hit some of them is due to the fact that it has all those buttons in the first place, and if it really proves to be a problem to hit one or more buttons (such as that click-lock/drag button), then I can just ignore them.

If you’d like to reduce the chances of injury through repetitive hand, wrist, arm, or shoulder movements — or if you just plain prefer the precision of a trackball, as I do — then I believe the Logitech Cordless Trackman Optical should be on your short list.

System Requirements and Pricing

You can read more about the Cordless Trackman Optical and other input devices at the Logitech site. The Cordless Trackman Optical requires:

  • PC running Windows 98 or later with an available USB or PS2 port
  • Mac running OS 8 or later OS X with an available USB port
  • An internet connection or CD ROM drive is required to install the MouseWare software

The Logitech Cordless Trackman Optical retails for $59.95 or £49.99 and is backed by a 5-year warranty.

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