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The Kensington Orbit Trackball

The input device you use is one of the most important components of your computer system. With it you control how the operating system will function and respond to your input. Quite simply, the pointing device used for input is crucial to the performance of an operating system that uses a graphical interface. While most pointing devices are variations of the two-button mouse there are other devices available. One such device, the Kensington Orbit Trackball, is put to the test for this review. Trackballs are very popular for graphic design work and CAD design but are they as useful for home use?

The Device:

The Orbit is slightly larger than the average mouse. As it is stationary and does not move around this is not a problem. It features an input ball, which is roughly the size of a golfball, that is located at the top of the device. The ball is flanked on either side by the buttons. Included is software that allows for fine-tuning of the deviceís movements and assignments to the buttons. The user can easily assign the buttons so that it can be used by a lefty. The device is compatible with both USB and PS2 mouseport use and retails for approximately $39.95 though it can be had for nearly half that price.

Kensington recommends that the operator steer the ball with the index finger and operate the buttons with the thumb and middle finger. For a person with average to large hands this ends up being awkward. Most trackballs feature a ball roughly the size of a baseball. A user can use his fingers or palm with the larger ball in a more comfortable position. The small input surface of the Orbit makes it difficult to operate precisely or comfortably if a lot of movement is required. I found the most awkward movement to be scrolling down a page (with the index finger) while holding the left button down (with the thumb).

I found the MouseWorks software did make adjusting the movement of the trackball more natural but it couldnít make up for the problems created by the small input ball.

Performance in Software:

Navigating areas such as the Windows desktop are quite easy as most things are spread out. Problems begin to crop up when you move to programs such as Internet Explorer and Word. The Orbit requires a large amount of input to move from one edge of the screen to the other. I found myself using keyboard shortcuts to avoid having to use the input ball excessively. Obviously the large input ball, which is the norm with most trackballs, would have helped immensely. I became much more familiar with keys, such as page up and page down, as they saved me from having to use the awkward movement of scrolling with one finger while holding down the left button with another finger.

Problems became more glaring once I tried to play games. Games like Unreal Tournament and Quake III Arena require very precise movements while navigating the playing areas. Moving the ball quickly to initiate a turn then trying to slow down to take aim virtually became an operation of move and stop short of the target. Obviously this turns strafing into an enormous undertaking. The movement problems made the use of weapons that require accurate aiming, such as the railgun, virtually impossible.


I cannot recommend the Kensington Orbit Trackball. Lately Iíve noticed it priced very aggressively with scroll mice but its performance is sorely lacking. Kensington must have also thought so as I found upon searching their site that their latest trackball, the TurboBall Trackball, features a large input ball and a scroll wheel. Obviously the addition of the large ball and scroll wheel would have made me happier with the Orbit but, thanks to my experience, I donít think trackballs are good input devices for gaming. If you donít game much then maybe a trackball is right for you. For the majority of you out there I think you would be happier with a comfortable mouse equipped with a scroll wheel.

Victor Oshiro
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