It may be time to switch to a trackball mouse — here's why

ProtoArc EM01 trackball mouse
(Image credit: ProtoArc)

Laptop trackpads have certainly improved over the years but some tasks — like working with spreadsheets or editing photos — are still best done with a mouse. At the same time, many people experience discomfort and even wrist pain when using a mouse or their desk is too small or cluttered to use one.

If you miss using a mouse and fall into either category, a trackball mouse could be the perfect solution to your problems. Unlike a traditional mouse that has a sensor on its underside and needs to be moved across your desk using your hand, trackball mice have a ball you move with your thumb or one of your fingers to navigate.

For those with a small desk as well as for people that suffer from a repetitive strain injury (RSI) from spending all day on the computer, a trackball mouse could be the answer to a problem you didn’t even know you had. These are the benefits to using a trackball mouse and a few reasons you may want to consider switching to one.

More space for a larger keyboard

A trackball mouse next to a mechanical keyboard

(Image credit: Future)

Although smaller 60%, 75% and tenkeyless (TKL) keyboards have become more popular in recent years, many people still prefer a full size keyboard with a numpad. However, while those extra keys are useful for entering numbers, you do end up with less space on your desk.

Even with the one of the best desks or the best standing desks, you may find that you no longer have enough room, especially if you’re using a larger monitor or have your PC or laptop on your desktop. By making the switch to a trackball mouse, you’ll have more than enough room to work comfortably as the ball moves while your mouse remains stationary.  

This also holds true when using one of the best laptops on a small table but more on that later.

They work on glass and you don't need a mouse pad

A trackball mouse next to a compact mechanical keyboard

(Image credit: Future)

Besides reducing hand and wrist strain, a trackball mouse can also be used on many surfaces like a glass coffee table or desk where a traditional mouse might struggle.

Sure, you can buy a more expensive mouse like the Logitech MX Master 3 that works on glass but there are actually a number of very affordable trackball mice. For instance, I picked up the ProtoArc EM01 ($60, Amazon) with an RGB ring around its trackball pictured above for $45 from Amazon on Prime Day. Wired trackball mice can be had for even cheaper such as the Kensington Orbit Trackball Mouse ($33, Amazon).

By buying a trackball mouse, you’ll also save a bit on other accessories as you won’t need a mouse pad or a desk mat. While both can add some personality to your workspace, having a completely clear desk can help you achieve that minimalist aesthetic – if that’s what you’re after.

The perfect choice when you don’t have a lot of room

A trackball mouse next to a laptop on a lap desk

(Image credit: Future)

If you don’t have the space for a desk at home, a trackball mouse can be even more useful. For instance, maybe you’re working on a lap desk on the couch or even in bed. This way you’ll have all the benefits of a mouse without feeling cramped.

Although they’re often a bit bulkier than a traditional mouse, a trackball mouse can also be used while traveling. Whether you’re in the airport lounge or trying to get some work done using your seat’s fold-out tray table during a flight, a trackball mouse is ideal for tight spaces.

Plenty of shapes and sizes to choose from

You can also choose from several different trackball mouse styles to meet your needs. Just like with the best mouse or best gaming mouse, there are wired and wireless trackball mice and the trackball itself can be positioned on the right, left or at the top of the mouse.

Even though trackball mice with the ball on the left side are the most popular since more people are right handed, the Japanese mouse maker Elecom sells plenty of left-handed models at affordable prices. For instance, the Elecom EX-G Trackball ($38, Amazon) is wireless and sells for just $40. Likewise, you can also get a trackball mouse with the ball positioned at its center so you can use it with your index finger instead of your thumb. 

Customization is another factor as to why you may want a trackball mouse. I also own the MX Ergo ($88, Amazon) from Logitech and with the company’s Logitech Options software, I’ve programmed its eight customizable buttons with a number of keyboard shortcuts like alt-tab that I use throughout my workday.

If you’ve been less than impressed with the trackpad on your laptop or just want to move your hand and wrist a bit less throughout the day while having more room on your desk, a trackball mouse is a great investment and a worthwhile upgrade you’ll be able to use for years to come. 

Anthony Spadafora
Senior Editor Security and Networking

Anthony Spadafora is the security and networking editor at Tom’s Guide where he covers everything from data breaches and ransomware gangs to password managers and the best way to cover your whole home or business with Wi-Fi. Before joining the team, he wrote for ITProPortal while living in Korea and later for TechRadar Pro after moving back to the US. Based in Houston, Texas, when he’s not writing Anthony can be found tinkering with PCs and game consoles, managing cables and upgrading his smart home.