May 212012
 

Being ambidextrous, I often keep my mouse on the left side so I can control the arrow and the nearby keys (Ins, Del, Home, End, PgUp and PgDown), and all the cut, copy and paste combinations (Shift+Del, Ctrl+Ins, Shift+Ins, respectively), and the numeric keypad with my right hand. However, when I swap my mouse buttons, I find it somewhat difficult to control my laptop when it’s not docked, as well as my virtual machines preset with a right-handed mouse, but all the trackballs mentioned in this article have handy drivers that keep the system settings for the left and right mouse buttons intact and only swap clicks on the particular device. All that combined with a repetitive strain injury and a programmer friend finally converted me into a trackball user after all these years.

The Logitech Cordless Optical Trackman was a present from the friend mentioned above and the first trackball I’ve ever had. No matter how much I originally disliked trackballs, I gave him the benefit of the doubt, started using it with my right hand and got used to it very quickly. It is a very, very handy and fine pointing device (as opposed to the other two I’d call it a pointing instrument) for right-handed people and it has an excellent design with great buttons positioning. The only bit it lacks to score a perfect ten in my book is a perfect scrolling grade, which according to my previous experience goes to my ex Logitech MX Revolution mouse at work which had two scroll wheel settings, the better one providing the absolutely liberating experience with totally smooth, inertial movement, where you spin the scroll wheel and let it rotate till it reaches the desired section. The Cordless Trackman Optical still scrolls OK, either by rotating the wheel notch by notch or by clicking on it to lock it in a scroll mode and guiding the auto-scroll down or up. Naturally, by being used to one of the greatest trackballs around, I compare everything to it.

Cordless Trackman Optical vs. Trackman Marble vs. Kensington Orbit with Scroll Ring

Battle of the trackballs: The Marble and The Orbit aren't as good or as pricey as the Cordless Trackman Optical, but they're ambidextrous.

I still use that trackball, but particularly since I started trying to heal a repetitive strain injury on both my pinky (little) fingers, I wanted to switch back to my left hand. However, my searches for the Logitech Trackman for left-handed people were fruitless and only revealed the sorry discriminating fact that there is no such thing. (I’m getting on my soap box now) What a shame for Logitech to discriminate against left-handed users! If this was similarly affecting different gender, race or age groups I’m sure somebody would have sued for discrimination by now (getting off my soap box).

In my further research I saw some supposedly great ambidextrous Kensington trackballs, but I don’t think a good pointing device is worth one third of a price of an affordable computer, so I searched furhter. Then I discovered the two close calls, affordable (around $30 or under) and promising trackballs with universal ambidextrous design (alleluia!), the first one being Logitech Trackman Marble, and the other Kensington’s Orbit with Scroll Ring. Reading the reviews and looking at pictures they seemed similar and I couldn’t decide which one to get, so I decided to try them both.

 

Kensington Orbit Trackball with Scroll Ring

Kensington Orbit with Scroll Ring Trackball

Kensington Orbit Trackball with Scroll Ring offered no bad surprises to me – what you see is what you get, although subjectively, it feels a bit better than what it looks like. I like the fact that there’s no CD or DVD with software in the box for a multitude of reasons, the first being less clutter on this planet, second, I always check for the latest drivers on the manufacturer’s website anyway, and third, the device works fine out of the box without any drivers and the only extras you gain by installing the software are the more flexible ways of programming the two buttons (like my swap for left-handed people) and possibly adding the third, accessed by simultaneously pressing the two, which I configured for the middle click. The software download link (download Kensington drivers from http://trackballworks.com) is given both on the box and in the minimalistic instruction manual that I opened just now since I’m writing this, days after the installation, to make sure there were no surprises in there (none found).

I did run into one obstacle, a failed installation when trying to install the downloaded software. Tried again with same result, of course, but it worked okay when I right-clicked the downloaded file and selected “Run as an administrator”.

Just in case, before the Kensington drivers installation I uninstalled Logitech SetPoint and scrolling software, but to my great pleasure after installing Kensington and reinstalling the Logitech Marble drivers,  I discovered that both trackballs AND their drivers can peacefully coexist on one computer and be programmed with their own software without any errors, so first I kept0 Kensington Orbit on the left and Logitech Marble on the right of my keyboard for a day or two and then I swap the sides to stay as impartial as I can, what didn’t change my final choice, but more about that later.

After having used Logitech Marble for almost two weeks, the Orbit at first felt plasticky and the ring movement sounded likewise if you try to spin it “in neutral” a lot, but once you use it connected to a computer, it really works well and it requires far less spinning than I expected, so this is where the Orbit with Scroll Ring beats the Marble. It’s virtually seamless and much less demanding and more intuitive than scrolling on the Marble.

Perhaps it’s because I have bigger hands and because the Marble’s buttons are a bit off for my hand, but Kensington feels really well fit and its clicks have more of a “silenced” sound than on the Marble.  The Orbit requires more force for a click which might not make some people happy, but as a piano hobbyist and an ex professional drummer I find that just right.

I read a user review where the person didn’t like the rubbery extension of the trackball, but how could one not like having more options – this makes it come in two shapes, while the Marble has one unchangeable design, take it or leave it.  I’m not yet sure whether I like the Orbit more with or without the extension, so I keep trying, but so far it seems more natural and comfortable to my slightly painful little finger without the extension.

 

Logitech Trackman Marble

Logitech Trackman Marble Trackball

Logitech Trackman Marble is also great for left and right handed and ambidextrous users and it has a very nice, eye-pleasing design. The device fits ergonomically in the hand and the button clicks feel and sound precise (but the pointer could use a bit more precision, though).  Except for the scrolling, the device works reasonably well without any drivers installed. After the drivers are installed, the scrolling function works in both up-down and right-left direction in most (not all) applications.

There are two different scrolling functions that can be assigned to the programmable buttons: AutoScroll or Universal Scroll. I currently keep both small buttons programmed for the different scrolling functions so I can compare them and here’s what I discovered: with AutoScroll you control both the speed and direction of the scroll (including sideways) by slight up, down, left or right moves of the trackball. The more you move the ball, the faster the scroll. With Universal Scroll however, you have to keep spinning the ball (a lot), and it scrolls only throughout the current (selected) section of the document/page. For example, while writing this post, with AutoScroll I can move from top to bottom of the entire post edit page very quickly, while with Universal Scroll I can only move within the text writing window and it takes much more effort to reach the end of the line or of the section, so I recommend using the AutoScroll instead of the Universal Scroll. Both options require a click to the programmed button to get the trackball into the scrolling mode and another click to release it from the scrolling mode, which is not how I imagine seamless scrolling, so here goes the rant:

Scrolling is my biggest problem with the Logitech Trackman Marble. First, there’s no dedicated scrolling wheel and second, scrolling didn’t work without the drivers because the small programmable buttons are set to back and forward function. Nothing, nada, nichts, zilch, zip, zippo, didly-squat!

Then when you install the drivers you discover that it’s not that great either so I’d rather have a dedicated scroll button (or a wheel) than the two extra buttons and lousy scrolling.  Even after assigning one of the two smaller buttons for scrolling, it doesn’t work in browsers without installing another software driver, the Logitech Flow Scroll, which then appears as a plugin in Chrome, Firefox and the Internet Explorer, but still leaves you without any scrolling in Safari (?!) or in LibreOffice (?!). Really, Logitech???

Also, once installed, scrolling is jumpy, not smooth like on my Cordless Trackman Optical, or even with the third click on the Kensington Orbit. In Universal Scrolling mode on Logitech Marble the ball needs to be spun quite a bit to scroll down and around on a 1920×1080 or larger resolution screen or when you have both the monitor and the laptop LCD on. If I change the settings to faster, then each move tends to jump to far. I really don’t understand how Logitech could have messed up their otherwise great universal scrolling feature that much, after having designed all their great pointing devices that work so well even without any drivers, as does the competitor’s Kensington Orbit trackball in this review. Perhaps I should replace the scrolling rant of this Logitech Marble comparable review with a three-letter word: Boo!

The bigger two buttons aren’t as flexible and the only programmable feature is their swap for left-handed users. Different functions (including key sequences) can be assigned only to the two smaller buttons, but the option of assigning it the middle click is nowhere to be found(?!). Positioning of the buttons is a bit problematic, particularly for the two smaller buttons which are too far behind the ball. I’d move both big and small buttons at least several milimeters ahead, closer to the ball.  Sometimes I had problems precision-navigating the cursor to the desired position while editing graphics.

Marble has a bit too much of an arch for my feel and taste, while the Orbit feels more natural although the Marble has a far more sophisticated design. If you’re not a power user but a technology aficionado who just likes to impress people with technology marvels (pun intended) and design, stick to the Marble, but if you value the function more than the form you’ll most likely go with Kensington Orbit. I highly recommend it.

Here’s a video showing these two side to side by my keyboard:

 

Summary

So far I like the scrolling of the Kensington Orbit and I don’t miss the alternative two buttons of the Marble as much (particularly because my Microsoft Ergonomic Keyboard 4000 has forward and back buttons that work like a charm with browsers), and that decided the Marble’s destiny, but here are some features that are similar and different for both trackballs:
 

Similarities

– None of the two trackballs is perfect, but both are good enough to please an ambidextrous user not willing to spend much over thirty bucks ($30 US) on a pointing device.

– Great ambidextrous functionality, with equal feel and easy buttons swap for either right or left hand.

– Interesting design.  The Marble looks like it was built for a Flash Gordon movie while the Orbit with a bit more emphasis on retro-futuristic design kind of belongs to Dr. Zarkov in a Flash Gordon comic book (and I’ve got to love it, missing only one letter and a doctorate to have the same name).

– Both devices work right out of the box without the drivers.

– Both could use a bit better precision, perhaps because their balls are a bit smaller than the Cordless Trackman Optical trackball. Having bigger balls seems to pay off in this case (no pun intended).

Trackballs of Cordless Trackman Optical, Marble, and Orbit

Cordless Trackman Optical with a bigger ball costs double and it's not ambidextrous

 

Differences

– Kensington Orbit’s scroll ring feature is miles ahead of the Logitech Marble’s programmable scrolling buttons.

– The Marble doesn’t have any scrolling functionality before installing the drivers and programming one of the two smaller buttons for scrolling.

– The Marble’s fancy precision-sounding and sticking out buttons make it far more trigger-happy and prone to accidental selections (at least that’s my experience),

– However, the Marble’s easily accessible buttons make it possibly more valuable to extremely fast people.

Due to its better scrolling features which unlike the Logitech Marble, work in all software applications and browsers, the Kensington Orbit with Scroll Ring is my universal affordable trackball of choice for left-handed, right-handed and ambidextrous users. The Marble is going back to the store.

  4 Responses to “Kensington Orbit with Scroll Ring vs. Logitech Trackman Marble – Affordable Ambidextrous Trackballs”

  1. Nice comparison. Thanks!

  2. Super helpful, thanks so much for your thorough review and comparison!

  3. I have the same trackballs (Logitech Marble & Kensington Orbit) and found the scrolling using the Orbit ring ‘jumpy’. Scrolling a few cm at a time, which hinders a flowing read experience. Can you confirm this?

    Also I like the Marble because it fills the palm of my hand better, and the click-direction (mouse button orientation) of the Marble is in line with the finger bend positions, where with the Kensington you have to push the mouse button down.

  4. I’ve been using the Marble for several years now, and I use the right small button to enable/disable grab scrolling. Click the button once to switch into scrolling mode, use the ball as a scrolling wheel (best wheel ever!) and click again to disable grab scrolling. Alternatively, it can be used to enable grab scrolling only while holding the small button.
    Can’t quite remember now if that mode needed anything aside from the original drivers on Windows, but on Mac I had to use “USB Overdrive” app to make it work properly.

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