We're not in a hole. A lot of companies would like to be in our hole - Scott 'touch'n'feely' McNealy
MUCH LIKE ERGONOMIC keyboards, trackballs tend to fall into a love or hate divide in the PC peripheral market.
Similarly, trackballs take some getting used to, especially when it comes to the finer levels on control, but most avid fans will tell you that once you're used to them they are a lot more accurate than a mouse, especially for drawing programs and the like.
At first glance the unit looks like quite a chunky device with a fairly large base and a big ball dropped into the centre, hardly living up to its name, but because it doesn't move around it still takes up less of your overall desk space than a mouse and mat.
Once you have the hang of it, the large ball makes the Slimblade easy to use without having to spin the ball repeatedly when moving the cursor across the screen and, although users with very small hands may have some issues, someone with an average or large hand should find it very comfortable to use. Also left-handed users won't have any problems with it as it's completely symmetrical.
The Slimblade packs in four buttons around the large central ball, in the default navigation mode the bottom two buttons serve as the traditional left and right click while the top two enter the media and view modes.
You can use this device as a standard trackball straight away, but in this case only two of the four buttons - namely the left and right click - will work. To use the top two buttons you'll need to install the drivers.
Unlike most mice these days, trackballs don't have scroll wheels, so instead scrolling on the Slimblade is done by turning the ball clockwise or anti-clockwise, which works remarkably well.
Once the drivers are installed you can enter and exit the aforementioned view or media mode by hitting the appropriate button.
When in view mode the ball rotating the ball zooms in and out, while rolling it pans around and the left and right click reset the page to its standard size and fit-to-width respectively. The view mode is not supported by all applications, but a helpful icon will pop up on the screen to tell you when this feature is not available.
Similarly, multimedia mode only works in Windows Media Player and Itunes and in this mode rotating the ball adjusts the volume, rolling the ball left and right goes back or skips to the next track, the left button pauses or resumes playback and the right button acts as a stop. If neither of these media players is running, one of them will be fired up automatically when you click the multimedia mode button.
Where it does fall short is the almost complete lack of customisation. You can adjust the sensitivity and the 'handedness' but you can't configure the buttons in any other way - so if you don't want to use the navigation or multimedia modes, you can't assign the other two buttons to any other purpose and if - as we found - your pinky finger rests more comfortably on the top right button instead of the bottom right, you'll probably find yourself constantly entering and exiting view mode instead of right clicking.
Fortunately this is an issue that could easily be fixed in a new version of the driver software.
Like so many peripherals, how good the Slimblade is to use is very much down to personal habits, requirements and hand size. At a retail price of around £100, the Slimblade isn't cheap, but it's very solidly built and should last years without giving any hassles. µ
A solid device that's easy to use once you get the hang of it.
The inability to customise any of the buttons is a major drawback.
Somewhat on the pricey side.
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