Trackball vs. Mouse

Trackball vs. Mouse: Pros, Cons, Use Cases & More

For most users, a regular mouse is the standard. However, it’s not the only option. 

If you’ve been searching for a new mouse, you may have come across trackballs. Some swear by them, while others have no clue what they are. 

There are many cases where a trackball can reign supreme, especially if you have limited mobility or suffer from work-related wrist strain. When it comes to the trackball vs. mouse debate, this in-depth guide covers the advantages and disadvantages of each option so you can make a more confident purchase. 

SitWorkPlay has all the information you need to make the best decision based on your needs, goals, and budget.

Trackball vs. Mouse Comparison

Here’s a quick look at how a trackball differs from a mouse.

OperationSurface moves over sensorSensor moves over a surface
User MovementRequires you to use your thumb/fingerRequires wrist and arm movement
Space RequiredNo additional space because it’s stationary Requires additional room to move around
DesignMany possible trackball sizes and positionsMultiple designs, but few stray from the three-button layout (left click, middle click/scroll wheel and right-click)
WeightTrackballs tend to be heavierRegular mice tend to be lighter

Trackball Basics

Modern Trackball Mouse

Trackballs are nothing new; they’re just not as common as a regular mouse. A trackball relies on your fingers or thumb to move a ball on top of a sensor. One of the major perks when choosing this option is ergonomics, especially if you suffer from a condition like carpal tunnel. 

There are two primary categories of trackballs — thumb-operated trackballs and finger-operated trackballs. 

  • For a thumb-operated trackball, the trackball is located where the thumb is. This is also known as a side-mounted trackball. This option is often recommended for long-term, one-handed use. 
  • For a finger-operated trackball, the trackball is on top, which is why it’s also known as a top-mounted ball. If you’re used to touch-screen devices, joysticks or trackpads, this is likely the better choice for you. 

Trackball mice are like other ergonomic mice in that there’s a healthy mix of affordable and expensive models. You can pick up a reliable, quality trackball for between $30 and $50. However, some of the top trackballs can cost up to $100. 

Trackball Features 

  • Stationary – Unlike a regular mouse, you don’t move the whole mouse. Instead, you move your finger or thumb over the trackball. If you often work in a café or somewhere that is limited in space, this is a great option. 
  • Versatility – Trackballs come in many different shapes and designs, including side-mounted, top-mounted, ergonomic, premium, basic, big ball, small ball, etc. This versatility allows you to choose a trackball mouse that’s perfect for you. 
  • Ergonomic – Many trackball mice are specifically designed to be ergonomic, reducing the risk of wrist pain and repetitive strain injury

Cons of Using a Trackball

  • Less precise – Compared to a regular mouse, a trackball can be less precise for specific tasks — particularly those that are detail-oriented 
  • Slower – Using a trackball vs. mouse isn’t the best option for quick or competitive gameplay, as it tends to be slower and less accurate than comparably-priced gaming mice.
  • Learning curve – If you have never used a trackball, there’s a slight learning curve. 

Trackball Models & Brands To Check Out 

  • Kensington Expert Mouse® Wireless Trackball | Amazon ($109.99) – This wireless finger-operated trackball is smooth and responsive, offering a comfortable fit for right- and left-handed people. This trackball comes with downloadable software so you can customize your experience.
  • Kensington Orbit® Trackball with Scroll Ring | Amazon ($39.99) – Looking for a more affordable option? This award-winning trackball is wired, so you don’t need to worry about battery-life issues. Benefit from precision and control for just $39.  
  • Logitech ERGO M575 Wireless Trackball | Amazon – If you want a thumb-operated trackball, this one is highly recommended. The button layout makes it easy to transition from a regular mouse to a trackball. Known for its ergonomic shape, you can grab this trackball for $50. 

Mouse Basics 

Standard Mouse

Regular mice come in a few designs. But they all share a standard layout — left-click, right-click and a middle-click or scroll wheel. Some designs add additional buttons, but they’re not overly common for everyday use.

To move a regular mouse’s on-screen cursor, you must physically move the mouse along a surface. Although this requires more space than a trackball, the design generally allows for greater precision. 

Concerning price, a quality mouse is comparable to a trackball. You can generally find a reliable mouse for around $15, but the top-rated mice typically fall into the $25 to $50 range. Meanwhile, the “best” options on the market cost closer to $90 and up.

Mouse Features 

  • Standard layout — Most models and designs will have a right button, left button and scroll button. If you invest in a gaming mouse, it may have 12+ buttons. 
  • Optical sensor — A regular mouse uses an optical sensor, whereas a laser mouse is most typically associated with gaming mice as this option is more sensitive. 
  • Functionality — A standard mouse is highly functional and easy to use. Simply move the mouse to move the pointer on the screen and then when ready to make a selection, press the corresponding mouse button. 

Cons of Using a Mouse

  • Less ergonomic – Regular mice aren’t as ergonomic as trackball mice. The most significant risk of moving your mouse around for many consecutive hours is wrist strain. 
  • Require more space – In general, regular mice require more surface space to operate. 

Mouse Models & Brands To Check Out 

  • Logitech MX Master 3 | Amazon ($99.99) – When it comes to computer mice, Logitech is an industry leader. This specific wireless model offers a comfortable design, oodles of buttons, and a unique scroll wheel. Pick it up for $99.
  • Microsoft Classic Intellimouse | Amazon ($39.99) – Often named the best “classic” mouse, this model is comfortable and customizable. It’s an ideal choice for both work and gaming. Best of all, you can find it for as little as $26.99.
  • SteelSeries Rival 3 | Amazon ($29.99) – Rated for six million clicks, this mouse is a good choice for gamers. Offering great performance and great value, you can pick up this five-button programmable mouse for just $30.

Trackball vs. Mouse FAQs

In this section, let’s answer some questions about the modern trackball vs. mouse.

Mouse Close Up

1. What is the main difference between a trackball and a mouse?

The main difference between a trackball and a regular mouse is that the latter moves around. A trackball mouse is stationary and requires less space to operate, but it can also be less precise. 

2. Are a Trackball and Mouse Interchangeable?

Yes, a trackball mouse and regular mouse are interchangeable under most circumstances. Both allow you to work and play casual games. If you seek a specific feature, the differences between these two options become apparent. For example, a trackball should be used over a regular mouse if you have limited wrist mobility. 

3. If trackballs are so great, why don’t more people use them?

The regular mouse is what most people are used to, and it’s the top choice for general purposes. Trackballs come with a slight learning curve and can be more expensive. Overall, a trackball is ideal for industrial purposes and a regular mouse is suitable for everyday general purposes. 

4. I work long hours using a regular mouse, should I switch to a trackball?

The best option is the one that’s most comfortable and makes you most productive. However, it’s worth noting that a trackball can reduce your risk of many repetitive strain injury concerns. Sometimes, you’re unaware of how strained your wrist is until an injury occurs. If you know someone with a trackball, ask them if you can test it out.

Trackball vs. Mouse: Which One Should You Buy?

The best trackball vs. mouse option depends on your needs. A trackball mouse can be more ideal for professionals who work for extended periods, as it’s a more comfortable option. If you have dexterity or mobility issues, a trackball is an optimal choice here as well.

A regular mouse is the best choice if you need a mouse for general use or conduct more detailed-oriented work. 

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