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How to Find the Right Trackball
In a survey (DOCX) published by trackball maker Kensington, respondents listed their top three reasons for switching to a trackball: speed and accuracy, ergonomics, and a lack of mouse space.
Trackballs can be useful for people with a repetitive strain injury in their shoulder or wrist because using these devices requires different muscles than using a mouse. Cornell ergonomicist Alan Hedge pointed out to us that a trackball is most useful if it helps you keep your hand in the correct position: “The key to safely using either a trackball (or a mouse) is to operate the device with the hand in a neutral posture (this means the hand is straight and level, not bent up, down, left or right, or twisted).” This neutral position is easier to maintain with a trackball because unlike a mouse, a trackball doesn’t move. Hedge continued, “Rather than extending the hand upwards to allow the fingers to move the ball, it is better to use flat fingers or the palm of the hand to rotate the ball.”
Trackballs come in two variations: finger-operated and thumb-operated. Finger-operated trackballs place the ball in the center, so you can use them right- or left-handed. And they often have a larger ball, which makes it easier to fling the cursor across a larger space, such as on a 4K monitor or across multiple monitors. Thumb-operated models look more like traditional mice but have a trackball on the left side, so they’re comfortable only for people who mouse right-handed (which is almost everyone). Since thumb-operated trackballs look and feel more like a traditional mouse, with a scroll wheel set between two top buttons, they’re easier to get the hang of. But their smaller ball requires more effort to move the cursor across the screen, so they’re better suited for use on single monitors or low-resolution displays.