While mainstream users have long since traded the trackball for standard move-and-click mice, it still remains a viable option for computer jockeys who suffer from carpal tunnel or other physical ailments. Whereas standard mice force your wrist and forearm into an unnatural position, a trackball allows your arm to stay seated as you manipulate the pointer with just the tips of your fingers. The Kensington SlimBlade Trackball brings back the familiar design and adds the ability to control specific types of media using the extra buttons built into the casing. The shortcut buttons and a heads-up display indicator are convenient features, but work better on a mouse with buttons seated adjacent to the scroller. The SlimBlade Trackball places your hands in an awkward position and the learning curve is altogether too high for the average consumer to enjoy. That said, if you're a die-hard trackballer and can throw down $130 without immediate buyer's remorse, then the Kensington SlimBlade Trackball is a decent alternative. For all other people, we recommend the Logitech MX 1100 cordless laser mouse for a more precise, comfortable user experience.
Design and features
The base of the SlimBlade Trackball is made of a granite-colored plastic with four rubber feet on the bottom to prevent it from sliding around on your desktop. Unfortunately, the trackball draws its power and connectivity from USB 2.0; we're disappointed that Kensington leaves Bluetooth out of this equation, especially considering the physical dimensions of the platform. The whole device measures 6 inches long and 5 inches wide, taking about as much space as a standard mouse pad. Technically, the mouse is plug-and-play on both Mac and Windows, but if you want access to the extra Media and View modes, you'll need to download the full software package from the Kensington Web site to find the necessary drivers. (No installation CD is included in order to reduce disposable waste.)
The platform and USB cord are completely separated from the trackball, and there's no way to lock the ball in the cradle to keep it from rolling off your desk if it gets knocked over. Optical sensors within the cradle translate the motions of the ball into cursor movements on the screen. When your hand is placed with three fingers on the ball, you'll find two large buttons underneath your thumb and pinky fingers that control the left and right clicks, respectively. Two extra mode buttons sit above the trackball and control Kensington's unique application shortcuts.
The SlimBlade Trackball's default setting is always in Navigation Mode, where you have complete control over cursor movements just by moving the ball around. You can also turn the ball left and right like a large knob to scroll up and down in an application. While we're still more comfortable with the dual-functioning scroll control on the Logitech MX 1100, we can appreciate the trackball's benefit to users with prolonged wrist pain. However, using it was far from intuitive. For example, we had a hard time simultaneously twisting the knob to scroll down a Web page and guiding the cursor toward a link at the same time; this is a dual-action movement and usually taken for granted in normal mice, but we found ourselves having to physically take our fingers off the main clickers in order to use the knob.