by Len "Viking1" Hjalmarson
Article Type: Hardware
Article Date: December 20, 2001
Product Name: Various
Category: Pointing Devices
Manufacturers: Logitech, Microsoft
Release Date: Released
Files & Links: Click Here
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I wondered what to title this look at recent pointer technology. After all, it isnít that exciting to talk about mice and trackballs to simulation junkiesÖor is it?
The truth is, I upgraded from a standard trackball to a digital optical trackball four months ago, and it has made a big difference in my gaming experience. The precision and ease of use of a good trackball, plus the maintenance free life, are really nice.
You know, any shower will do. Even a cold shower. But give me a warm shower, and Iím a happy camper. A digital optical trackball is a comfy and cozy addition to my gaming experience. It affects the whole game, though I might not notice it after a while.
And there is the dilemma. When pointing hardware does its job, we quit noticing it. When you can really forget about your pointing device, you KNOW you have a great mouse or trackball. The Microsoft Trackball Explorer is one of the best pointing devices you can own.
After four months of rigorous use, I decided it would be a good project to compare my highly valued pointer to other recent technology. I asked Logitech if they would supply their latest trackballs for some testing, and they gladly did so.
Logitech, after all, was as early to this game as Microsoft, or very nearly. They probably sell more pointing devices worldwide. And their technology is equally sophisticated. On to the shootout!
The Challengers: The Logitech Trackball Family
|Logitech's Trackball Family |
Gentlemice, please step up to the starting gate!
We have three contestants:
The Logitech Cordless Trackman Wheel
The Logitech Marble Mouse (with a mild case of gender confusion)
The Logitech Trackman Wheel
Weíll begin our testing with the cord-free devices and then continue with the more traditional devices.
Cordless Trackman Wheel:
- Wireless Freedom
- Digital Optical Technology
- Power Saving Features
- 3 Buttons
- Enhanced rubberized grip
- Precise Wheel Scrolling
- USB Connector
- PC- or Mac-Compatible
|Logitech Trackman Wheel (has cord) |
The first surprise was that this is not an IR device, but a radio device. Yep, uses 27MHz, which Logitech maintains has advantages over 900MHz technology. I canít comment on that, except to say that it is really nice not having to worry whether the device is pointed directly at the receiver.
Installation involves plugging in the receiver to a USB port, and placing the AA battery into the pointing device. The "receiver" is powered by the USB port, so it doesnít require batteries.
The range seems to be about four feet, plenty of room, but this isnít a device you can have on your coffee table while your PC is across the room. The unit detected as soon as I plugged in the USB cable, and the drivers installed and I was away.
Precision in use is excellent. Logitech describes their optical marble technology as the answer to recurrent trackball problems - namely that dust and dirt clog up the mechanics inside and reduce their efficiency. As someone who previously used a standard trackball for five years previous, I can attest to dirt and clogging issues!
In comparison to the old technology…there isnít any comparison. I have used a digital optical trackball for some months and so I am accustomed to it, but when I had a friend give it a try, even he was impressed! The increased speed and precision is more noticeable at higher resolutions. If you run your desktop beyond 1024x768 you will really notice the precision of an optical device.
Digital optical technology replaces vulnerable mechanical parts with an optical sensing system that works through light. The sensors are not affected by dirt or scratches, and tracking is more reliable and smoother than with traditional trackballs. How smooth? Once you feel the difference, you will hardly believe it. Then…youíll simply forget about it!
When I went to a digital optical pointer I was testing IL-2 Sturmovik and playing Eurofighter Typhoon a bit. I didnít use the pointer much in Typhoon, but I was using it for cockpit panning and external view panning in IL-2. The difference was smoothness and quick response.
It was like my PC had been waiting for optical technology. I love it.
What about those batteries wearing out when you are in the middle of a project?
Believe it or not, there are power saving features built into the unit. Expected battery life with an alkaline battery is roughly four months. And when the battery is low, you will receive warning.
The cordless Trackman Wheel was the favorite of my kids. They have tried the Microsoft Trackball Explorer and all the Logitech trackballs, but this is the one they chose for themselves.
|Logitech Marble Mouse |
Iím not sure why Logitech chose to call this a mouse, unless they were hoping to ease the transition with those who are simply accustomed to the term and might be intimidated by the word ďtrackball.Ē
Seriously, they call this unit a mouse because it fits your hand like the traditional mouse. Thatís where the similarities end, however. The Marble Mouse (MM) has all the precision of the TrackMan Wheel, and is a nice device for the lefties. It fits either your right or left hand exactly the same, and is likely selling very well to the south-paws out there.
The MM looks like a trackball and works like a trackball. As you can see from the picture, it has a large red ball front and center, on the cable end. Personally, I preferred this unit over the Trackman, probably because it is more similar in design to my accustomed device. If you like the idea of a large and central ball for control, youíll like this one.
If you happen to want a scroll wheel, however, the MM is not for you. The MM has only two buttons and the ball.
|Logitech's Cordless Trackman Wheel |
The corded variant of the TrackMan Wheel is exactly like its twin, except it has the tail. If you want to free your desktop from another cord, get the other one. If you donít mind the traditional corded device, this is for you.
As if all this wasnít enough, Logitech includes some innovative software for their optical pointing devices. The heart of their innovation is called WebWheel. WebWheel was created to help the user work faster and with greater ease when using an Internet browser. WebWheel provides three of the most commonly used web browsing commands along with five web addresses which can be personalized, all at your fingertips.
|Webwheel software |
Using WebWheel is simplicity itself. Click and depress the assigned WebWheel button (normally the scroll wheel) and then move the pointer to highlight the selection of your choice.
The wheel action options are Back, Stop, Reload, Open Favorites, View Help, and Go to an assigned address. Itís this last one that I like the best.
Previously I used a toolbar which AUTO hides along the bottom of my desktop to access some of my favorite simulation sites. But WebWheel is a very nice tool that gets me there with even less effort.
The Incumbent: Microsoft Trackball Explorer
|Microsoft Trackball Explorer |
Alright, Logimice, step up and meet the enemy: Trackball Explorer, or TE for short.
The TE is a precision optical pointer, just like the Logi pointers. The optical rate of capture is an amazing 6000 frames per second. This means you can move the cursor a long way at high speeds with accuracy. As with the Logitech pointers, it feels very smooth and stable.
The TE has five button functions including the scroll wheel, and all of them are programmable. Two of the buttons reside around the scroll wheel on the left side, and two of the buttons reside below the ball on the right side. By default, the left buttons are the standard right and left click functions. The two buttons on the right are FORWARD and BACK in your browser.
Some people are not going to appreciate the extra buttons, and may never use them. Others who want maximum functionality will think they are in mouse heaven.
In comparison to the Logitech gear, the extra buttons provide additional flexibility. Logitech compensates with their excellent WebWheel software.
After a week using the Logitech Trackman Wheel, there are two reasons that I still prefer the Trackball Explorer, and they are reasons that others might prefer the Logitech gear. The TE is larger than the Trackman, and the central location of the ball, as on the Marble Mouse, feels more natural.
My hand is probably an average size for my height (5 five, 8 inches), but the larger size of the TE is more comfortable for my grip. The central location of the ball, a position I have become used to over three years of use, is perfect for me.
For women, the slightly smaller size of the Logitech gear might be preferable. For anyone who is accustomed to a ball on the left, or who otherwise feels more dexterous with their thumb, the Logitech gear will be preferable.
ConclusionThe days of mice are long past, long live the track ball! These devices take up less real estate on your desk, and with the option of even losing the cord, who could ask for more?
Far from being the mere servant of your PC gaming experience, a good optical pointer can make or break your game. Iíve learned to value the precision of an optical pointer in all my applications, but they really shine when it comes to scrolling your view in a high resolution cockpit, at least until the microstick on the HOTAS Cougar arrives!
Any of the devices reviewed here would be a great addition to a modern PC. The choices are personal and will depend on your particular history and needs.
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