Xbox 360 Trackball Controller: First Impressions

*UPDATE* The full review is up!

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It was very pleasant surprise to see an Xbox 360 Trackball Controller arrive in the mail, Monday. If you’ve followed this blog in the past, you realize how long I’ve been waiting to see someone put out a functioning trackball controller for any console. Thanks to Jay Garcia for coming to the rescue.

I was hoping to do a review this week, but to be fair, I’m giving myself more time to get used to the controller before making any conclusions. I can, however, tell you what some of my initial impressions are:

  • Great care has been made to make the Xbox 360 Trackball Controller function well, physically. The relocation of the “right thumbstick click” button to the underside of the controller works well, and I quickly got comfortable with it.
  • The ball sinks about halfway into the controller. At first, this seemed odd, because most trackball mice have the ball more “nested”. However, I think this was a great decision, because it creates more space around the ball for the thumb to play with. Also, because of this design, the ball does not lock into place and can be lifted out at any time for cleaning.
  • I was told that the controller works very well with Call of Duty: Black Ops, so I’ve primarily been playing that game with the device. I did, however try Battlefield: Bad Company 2 to compare. I could not get the controller to feel as consistent with that game, but before I come to any conclusions, I’ll ask the developers if they have any tips. *UPDATE* Jay Garcia explained how to calibrate the controller for each game, and it worked BEAUTIFULLY in Bad Company 2 – More to come in my review.
  • The first thing I noticed is that I could perform a much wider range of movements than I could with a thumbstick. For example, in Black Ops I was able to set mouse sensitivity to 7 of 10, making near-twitch movements, as well as ultra-fine, highly subtle adjustments to the cross-hair position without any difficulty.
  • For people who are accustomed to using trackball mice on the PC, very fast “twitch” motions over a high range on the trackball might not have predictable results. I’m waiting to get more comfortable with the device before making conclusions.
  • The controller comes with two trackballs, one black plastic one and one heavier, metal ball bearing. The metal ball certainly has nice visual appeal, but I am sticking with the plastic one for now.

I hope to have a more complete review, soon!

A Trackball Controller for the XBox 360 Has Arrived

I was thrilled to get a heads up from Jay Garcia (inventor/Designer of the first Mouse/Keyboard adapter Smartjoy FRAG)  earlier this week, announcing a fully operational trackball controller mod for the Xbox 360!

I was skeptical until I saw this:

I’m excited to have one of these controllers coming my way next week, and I’ll be one of the first to give it a hands-on review. In the meantime, you can get more details on this new device at Jay’s website: http://trackballcontroller.com.

Stay tuned.

Review: Logitech Wireless Trackball M570

logitech-wireless-trackball-m570

I’ve spent two days using the new Logitech Trackball Wireless M570 and I’m very impressed, overall.  Retailing for $59.99,  M570 is Logitech’s newest thumb-operated trackball mouse, and is ostensibly a spiritual successor to their popular Trackman series. Updates and additions include:

  • Programmable back/forward buttons
  • Further refined shape over existing Logitech Trackman mice.
  • Wireless, supporting “Logitech Unifying” technology
  • Adjustable laser

For me, the M570 is a potential replacement for my coveted Microsoft Trackball Optical, a model which has been discontinued. Thus, I compared the M570 to my “MTO” in nearly every regard.

Style

In terms of looks, the M570 is a departure from Logitech’s incumbent trackball mice. Its plastic shell is black and they chose a blue trackball instead of their usual red. Blue isn’t my favorite color, but I like the appearance overall. (It would be nice if you could buy replacement trackballs in various colors to personalize it.)

Installation

Great job, Logitech. I simply plugged in the included USB wirless receiver into my computer and I was using the mouse within seconds without having to see a single menu. No disks were even included in the box. You can optionally download the free Logitech software to program buttons and adjust settings.

Using the M570

Like other Logitech trackballs I’ve used in the past, the ball makes almost imperceptible noise and feels a little  “rough” when you roll it. I’d compare it to the sound and feel of rubbing one of your fingers on paper. My MS Trackball Optical, on the other hand, is as smooth as glass.  At first, the feel of Lotitech annoyed me, but after a day I don’t notice it.

Though I’m not yet a fan of the “feel” of the ball, I’m  huge fan of the performance. The M570’s most noticeable advantage over the MS Trackball Optical is how much more easily the ball moves. With the MS Trackball Optical, I’ve found it difficult to move a stationary cursor (or crosshair) just one or two pixels, because there is always just a little stickiness to overcome before it starts to glide.  The ball in the M570 simply glides more effortlessly from a standstill position. This is a huge advantage for gamers, but also for people using graphic design programs.

Compared to the Microsoft Trackball Optical, the M570 felt less substantial in weight, size and feel. In fact, the trackball itself felt smaller, too, so I compared them:

The Logitech ball is indeed 10% smaller than the MS one. I don’t know if that actually matters. The Logitech ball feels a little “pointier” on my thumb, but not uncomfortable.

I was glad to see the alignment of the mouse felt identical to the MS Trackball Optical. Switching back and forth between the two required no re-orienting.

Less “Room to Play”?

The M570 itself is smaller, too. I have mixed feelings about the overall comfort of the device:

(**UPDATE** Be sure to read my 4-month follow up to this review)

The contours and shape of the M570 fit my hand like a glove. In fact, it’s a much better fit than the MS Trackball Optical.  However, after using the M570 for a minutes, I noticed something.

When I placed my hand so that it felt most comfy on the mouse, my thumb extended past the middle of the ball, limiting the range of motion. I found myself either sliding my hand back or curling my thumb slightly to stay “on point”. It seems that the M570 (and perhaps other Logitech trackballs) are designed for smaller hands. (I’m a 6-foot male, by the way.)

My old MS Trackball Optical overcomes this problem by having a more generically shaped shell and longer mouse buttons. Users with a wide range of hand sizes (like those in my family) can find their “home” on it and use it comfortably. The M570, on the other hand, is so ergonomically shaped that I wondered if it ends up being a little  less accommodating to those outside a certain range of hand sizes.

In normal computer use, the above issue is minor, and I am able to use the M570 comfortably. However, gamers will want as much range of motion available to them as possible. The Microsoft Trackball Optical seems  to excel in this area by placing the ball on a wide, open face. Your thumb has lots of room to “play”.  The ball in the M570 sits within a more contoured socket that “juts out” along the bottom and upper portion near the “forward” and “back” buttons. Sometimes, my thumb is stopped by these bumpers before I want them to.

I’m happy to say that, after a few rounds in Team Fortress 2, the M570 performed wonderfully — especially once I found a good hand position that gave me the most control and range with the ball.

*Disclaimer* I haven’t empirically tested whether there is actually less available range of motion on the M570; It just feels and looks that way.

Going forward, and back

I can’t imagine using a web browser today without having the “back” and “forward” buttons right at my fingertip. So, the biggest selling point for me was the addition of those buttons on the M570. I have to admit they are much better designed than the ones on my trusty Microsoft Trackball Optical. Everyone who has used my MS mouse has accidentally clicked the small “back”button, thinking it was the primary mouse button. The Logitech forward and back buttons should cause no confusion for new users.

Other Observations

Like other trackball mice, the ball can be ejected for cleaning. However, the hole on the underside was too small for all but my pinky finger, and it was uncomfortable pushing the ball out.

Logitech earns some karma points by including a Duracell battery in the mouse – a pleasant surprise. Thanks!

Summary

Pros:

  • Fool-proof, fast setup
  • Trackball moves very easily and precisely and should satisfy gamers until a gaming-oriented trackball is released.
  • Great functional design overall
  • Battery included with purported 18-month life.
  • Wireless trackballs are awesome. This is a perfect laptop companion or home theater control.
  • **UPDATE!** Be sure to read my 4-month follow up on the Logitech M570

Cons:

  • Feels a little light and small (for my taste)
  • Although the molded shape fits my hand well, the position of the buttons and trackball seemed to be geared for smaller hands and took some getting used to.
  • Ball “eject” hole on the underside should be larger.

The Verdict

The Logitech M570 is a very well crafted mouse and a welcome device in my home office. Though gamers and advanced users might appreciate a gamer-oriented design with higher  range of motion and more programmable buttons, this mouse appears to be the leader of today’s very small pack of trackball mouse options. The addition of programmable buttons and wireless  make the M570 the trackball mouse to get today, whether you are new to trackballs or are looking for an upgrade.

What Happened to the Microsoft Trackball Opticals?

For years now,  I’ve cherished my two Microsoft Trackball Opticals (one at home, one at work) fearing the day when I’d have to replace one. My Microsoft Trackball Opticals (MTO’s)  are rarer than you might think. Not only has production of the MTO been discontinued — mine might be some of the few MTO’s produced that actually work.

This is one of the early "smooth-operating) hardware versions of the MTO.
This is one of the early “smooth-operating) hardware versions of the MTO.

About ten years ago when I first started using the MTO, I became almost religiously converted, evangelising trackball mice to anyone who would listen. Many converted — some to the Logitech series and some to the MTO’s I recommended so highly. Many sore wrists and arms were healed. Mousepads vanished. Desktop space formerly reserved for wandering mice was given back to the commons. Water almost turned to wine once.

Then, a couple years later, I noticed some people, including my mother in law, were complaining that the trackballs in their MTO’s were just too sticky. A coworker said he had to clean his constantly, and even then it was tough to roll. I was convinced they were doing something wrong.

“Did you use window cleaner? Is hand lotion gunking it up? ?”

My MTO, which I had been using for over 5 years, was smooth as glass. I could gently flick it and the ball would spin freely and silently in the socket, like a beach ball in a pool. Not so in the other’s mice.

One day at the office I decided I had to figure out what was going on. On a whim, I put the ball from my MTO into the socket of the “bad” mouse. It worked smoothly, just like mine — huh? The opposite was true: putting the other mouse’s ball into my MTO’s socket exhibited the same tough rolling my coworker complained about. It must be the ball!

Looking closely at the two extracted trackballs side-by-side, it was clear: My MTO’s ball was glossy, and in the mirror-like reflection I could make out fine details in the window and office. The other ball had a somewhat cloudier finish. My mother-in-law’s mouse had the same problem.

Here’s what I know. The “bad” mice were more recent productions of the Microsoft Trackball Optical (a lighter , more gray plastic is the most noticeable difference).

I have a few theories on why the trackballs got in such poor shape:

  • The newer MTO’s shipped with poorer quality trackballs with a less polished finish and never worked smoothly. (Maybe… But that seems like something QA would have noticed and rectified quickly.)
  • The MTO’s worked fine out of the box, but the plastic used in the trackballs was less durable and eventually degraded.
  • The MTO’s worked fine out of the box, but the little metal bearings upon which the trackballs rest were produced differently and scratched the trackballs over time.

Whichever the case may be, I realized I may never be able to find a good high quality trackball mouse again — at least not one with” forward” and “back” buttons. The MTO was the only trackball mouse with more than three buttons on the market. Today you can find some used MTO’s for sale online at inflated prices, but I suspect most of them are of the defective variety.

Worse, I knew thousands of people probably tried those flawed MTOs and either suffered with them or gave up on the whole idea of trackballs altogether. Maybe this is why the MTO’s were pulled off the market. Or, maybe there just wasn’t enough demand to begin with. My irrational side feared manufacturers would soon cease production of trackball mice. My future grandchildren would have to listen to my endless rants about the way things could have been.

So, last month when I read about the upcoming release of the Logitech M570 due to “overwhelming demand,” I knew I could put my fears to rest. And, with the unceremonious  arrival of the new Logitech M570 at my doorstep last night I’m ready to tell you what I think about it. Will it live up to my unrealistic expectations and help me overcome my sentimental attachment to my proven, sexy Microsoft Trackball Optical? Find out shortly in the review….