Is a trackball mouse ergonomic?
A trackball mouse has a few properties that can be helpful from an ergonomic point of view.
First, they can be operated in a stationary position, avoiding the regular side-to-side “windshield wiper” movements associated with a traditional mouse.
For some users experiencing discomfort from regular mice, this can be helpful.
Trackball mice also utilise different muscles, typically offering more variety in terms of what fingers and movements can be used to move the cursor.
Again, some users find this reduces the repetitive, concentrated strain that can crop up with regular mice.
In my experience so far, my trackball mouse has been a great ergonomic option for me.
That said, you should always get proper medical advice if you’re experiencing suspected work-related discomfort. This is because there are many reasons why you might be feeling discomfort (including factors outside of your mouse choice).
My recommendations for the best trackball mouse
Kensington Orbit with Scroll Ring
This bad boy is the mouse I’m currently using. You can read my longer review of it here.
For a budget-friendly, general-purpose trackball mouse, this one is hard to beat.
It has a built-in scroll wheel that provides a smooth scrolling experience, beating out some of the rougher scroll wheels available in the market.
Ergonomically, having a built-in scroll wheel is much better (in my opinion) than having to use the trackball for scrolling.
For example, some trackball mice require holding down a button while rotating the trackball to scroll.
I personally find this quite uncomfortable, since you need to put your hand into a constant state of contraction while scrolling. This may seem like a minor gripe, but given scrolling is something most of us do routinely throughout the day, any extra strain adds up.
That’s why I like the Kensington Orbit scroll ring. It can also be manipulated in a variety of ways, using different fingers based on preference. This lets you distribute the work across different hand muscles and reduce overly repetitive motions.
Of course, this mouse is not perfect.
It has a fairly basic design with only two clickable buttons for left and right click. It’s also wired-only, which may or may not be a factor for you (not something that bothers me as much).
One other personal gripe I have with the mouse is it does feel a little wide for my hands. That said, I have pretty small hands for a guy and I haven’t seen many other users complain about this specifically.
All in all, I’d characterise the Kensington Orbit as one of the “best value” options on the list here.
The Kensington Expert is another well-liked trackball.
This rectangular model is finger-operated and features a large red trackball, enabling smooth, responsive cursor movement.
It also comes with four programmable buttons and a scroll ring.
Ergonomically, this one has a few strengths as well as weaknesses.
On the strengths side, the large trackball helps minimise excessive hand movement during use.
The mouse also has an ambidextrous design, meaning it works well for either hand. Again, this helps avoid any particular arm carrying all the strain.
However, one thing about this mouse I personally dislike is the incline or “wedge” shape of the base. This forces you into a position of wrist extension when using the mouse, which is not ideal from an ergonomics standpoint.
I’ve included this one in the list since it seems to have some happy users. That said, some of the other models in this list might be a better option if ergonomics is your primary concern.
Logitech MX Ergo
This is a popular option that looks a bit like if a vertical mouse and a trackball mouse had a baby.
Instead of a centrally located trackball, it has a smaller thumb-operated trackball on the left side of the mouse. There is also a built-in scroll wheel and left / right buttons that resemble a normal mouse.
The base is tiltable up to a 20 degree angle, allowing you to adjust the tilt for maximum personal comfort.
How does this mouse stack up ergonomically?
Pretty good. According to Logitech, using this mouse involves 20% less muscle strain than a regular mouse.
One down side, however, is the smaller trackball takes a little more effort to move the cursor across a larger screen.
Options with a larger trackball (i.e. the Kensington Expert) allow you to move the cursor across the screen with a small swipe.
By contrast, the Logitech MX Ergo requires a few more spins of the ball. For general use though, most users do not seem to be worried about this.
Elecom DEFT Pro
This is another popular choice for those in the market for an ergonomic trackball mouse.
The Elecom DEFT Pro utilises a finger-operated trackball and left-clicking is performed with the thumb via a button on the side.
Ergonomically, this really helps take strain off the muscles normally stressed with a traditional mouse.
If you’re experiencing discomfort from constant back-and-forth wrist movement or finger discomfort from constant left-clicking, the change in movement pattern may be beneficial.
Note that I’m not a medical specialist, so this is only an opinion based on what some users have reported (not medical advice).
Another interesting feature of the Elecom DEFT Pro is the extra programmable buttons you get built-in. In total, there are 8 mappable buttons on the mouse, allowing you to customise it for your needs.
This means any awkward functions you perform regularly could be mapped to one of these buttons, reducing load on your hands and making your work more efficient.
For example, you can perform a copy or paste function with one button click. You can also go back and forth in your browsing history with a button click as well.
You may also certain modifiers as part of your workflow (i.e. SHIFT, CTRL or ALT). Rather than contort your hands in uncomfortable ways every time you need to do this, you could map the modifier to one of the buttons in this mouse.
Now, there are some downsides to this mouse too.
One big one is that it is designed for right-hand use only. This means it is NOT for left-handed people.
Therefore, if you’re experiencing any strain in your right hand from mouse use, you won’t have the option of mixing up the hand you use to “distribute the work”.
From an ergonomics perspective, I personally prefer ambidextrous mice, since they don’t have this limitation.
Another issue that some users have reported is the software used to map functions to the buttons (Elecom Mouse Assistant) having issues on Mac OS X. Although this mouse is marketed as compatible with Windows and Mac, you’ll want to tread carefully as a Mac user if you’re interested in those programmable buttons.
Honorable mention: if you’ve got larger hands, you may want to check out the Elecom Huge model instead.
Another very popular offering from Kensington is the Slimblade.
Aside from the sleek look and cool name, this one has a number of great ergonomic features.
The slim, low profile design helps keep your wrist in a neutral position. This is much better than having to angle or extend your wrist upwards like you do in some other models.
Like many of the other options in this list, the Kensington Slimblade uses an ambidextrous design. Again, this gives you the option of varying the hand you use for “mousing”.
In a feat of clever engineering, scrolling is handled by twisting the trackball. This makes scrolling feel a little similar to the scroll wheel in say the Kensington Orbit, without needing a separate component or button press to activate.
There are also four big buttons, laid out like quadrants across the surface of the mouse. These are all mappable using the free KensingtonWorks software, allowing you to assign functions based on what is most comfortable for you.
The Slimblade is also compatible with both Windows and macOS.
Things to consider before buying a trackball mouse
Before purchasing a trackball mouse, there are several factors to consider.
First, what current physical issues if any are you experiencing?
If you’re dealing with thumb discomfort, then you may want to look for finger-operated trackballs rather than the thumb-operated variety.
If you’re finding one arm or hand in particular is strained, then maybe you’ll want an ambidextrous trackball so that you can use it with either hand.
Second, if ergonomics is your motivation, what is your more holistic gameplan to work more healthily?
You can’t just buy a trackball mouse and suddenly expect any work-related strain to disappear.
Setting up an ergonomic workspace, taking breaks and adopting good typing posture are all other pieces of the “ergonomics puzzle”.
Another important principle for ergonomics, in my opinion, is variety in your movements. Many people like to buy more than one mouse and alternate periodically for this reason.
Please note I’m not a medical specialist, so if you’re experiencing discomfort, make sure you get some qualified advice! I’m just sharing my opinions based on my experience and research.
We’ve just had a brief look at five of the best trackball mice for ergonomics on the market at the moment.
Obviously, there are plenty of other options out there and the best choice for you will depend on your preferences, budget and needs.
If you’re looking for a general-purpose, budget-friendly option, the Kensington Orbit is the one I’d recommend checking out.
If you don’t mind paying slightly more, another great general-purpose option is the Kensington Slimblade.