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What is an Optical Trackball?

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  • Written By: Liora Hess
  • Edited By: Lindsay D.
  • Last Modified Date: 18 September 2016
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An optical trackball is a computing device that allows the user to select or navigate through computer content. It contains a stationary base, a protruding ball housed in a socket, and one or more buttons that allow the user to perform the functions of clicking. Some optical trackballs also contain a scroll wheel to for ease of scrolling through web sites and documents.

The ball portion of the optical trackball is covered with dots arranged in a pattern. As the user manipulates the ball with his fingertips, infrared optical sensors read the movement of the dots and send the data to the computer. This feature may allow for a more precise tracking of movements than non-optical trackballs, since non-optical sensors simply read the rotation of the ball on two axes. An additional benefit of optical trackballs over their non-optical counterparts is that they detect movement optically; dust, dirt and skin oils do not interfere with the detection of movement. However, the ball and sensors should be cleaned on a regular basis according to manufacturer's instructions to ensure optimal functioning.

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Some benefits of the optical trackball are that it requires less desk space than a conventional mouse. No mouse pad is necessary since the ball is the only portion of the trackball that moves. Many optical trackballs also offer ergonomic benefits to their users. Some are designed so that the wrist remains in a neutral position. Additionally, many are able to be operated by either hand, allowing users the freedom to change hands as desired.

Trackballs designed specifically for left-handed users are not readily available, so left-handed users typically either choose an optical trackball that may be used by the left hand or simply adjust to using the trackball with their right hand. Wrist rests made out of gel or other materials may add to comfort in using a trackball.

Trackballs are most commonly sold as individual units that are connected to the computer through a USB, serial port, or wireless access. Some trackballs may be incorporated into the design of the keyboard. The keyboards that do include a trackball usually house it in the upper right-hand corner of the keyboard. Portable computers sometimes do contain trackballs, although these have been largely replaced by touchpads. Trackballs may also be sold as small thumb-sized balls that attach to the side of the keyboard. Most of the trackballs found on portable computers and computer keyboards are not optical, although there are some keyboards that do have optical trackballs.

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Charred
Post 3

@allenJo - Well, I don’t do much graphics work but I think the optical trackball is great! I got so tired of my old mouse pad and having to move my hands and arms around just to position the cursor where I wanted it to be.

The optical trackball lets me accomplish the same results with fewer movements and in a limited space. I used to have a regular keyboard trackball with my first laptop years ago.

It wasn’t optical, and it was positioned in the middle of the laptop. It wasn't that comfortable. However, with the optical trackball I can position it where I want it.

The only downside is that some of the docks that house the trackball are rather weird shaped. I think they do this in an attempt to be ergonomic, but it just feels a bit funky to me.

allenJo
Post 2

I like the cordless trackball in principle, but I’m not a fan in practice. The ball resides on the side of the unit (at least the one I tried) and I find having to move the ball back and forth with my thumb constantly to be a bit of a strain.

Of course, traditional computer mice have their own strain problems as well, but I can change positions to make it more comfortable. I also find it easier to rotate images and stuff like that, when I do a lot of graphics work (which I do a lot) with the traditional mouse and trackball.

I think the optical trackball is ideal if you’re mainly doing word processing and work on the Internet.

LisaLou
Post 1

I use a wireless optical trackball that I absolutely love. I always hated the cord that came attached to my mouse and have used a wireless mouse for along time.

What I like about the trackball is that it makes it much easier and quicker to quickly scroll through and scan a web page. I do a lot of online research and many times need to quickly scan a page for the information I am looking for.

I am currently using a Logitech optical trackball that I have used for many months. I am on my computer all day long and get a lot of mileage out of my mouse. The only thing I have had to do is replace the batteries, but other than that, it has held up extremely well.

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