The futile quest for the ideal pointing device

Sigmoid

26 Oct 2017, 12:43

So apparently there is no thread yet specifically about the merits and drawbacks of pointing device classes, so I made one for some good-natured jabs and actual discussion on the topic. :)

I was around 10 years old when I first used a pointing device, at a computing expo on an old Macintosh. It blew me away - the whole experience, the pristine black-on-white GUI, the mouse, the cute Mac case, it was such a far cry from both my Commodore 64 and my dad's PC-XT compatible... :) Later my dad bought Windows 3.1 and a mouse. It was like magic.

However, as I'm a lot more experienced now, I find the continuing prevalence of the mouse surprising, with all the alternatives out there... So, let's get the ball rolling on what we think about each solution. :) Personally, what I'm looking for in a pointing device is that it should be quick, precise, it shouldn't require arm movement, and ideally should be accessible in typing position.

My thoughts and subjective ratings on stuff...
  • Mice: 2/5 Good for quick and precise movements. Extremely tiring to use for long. Can't click without moving the cursor. Collects gunk from the desk. I get it how they are good for fps gaming, but why do people who aren't fps gamers use them? ;)
  • Trackballs (finger-operated): 4/5 I really don't understand why they became such a niche product. When I was a kid, you could get trackballs in every computer shop, they usually had at least two-three models. Now only a handful of companies make them. Among my favorite pointing devices. No arm movement. Allows for precision if you take your time (bad for fps gaming though). Doesn't collect desk gunk. Takes little space. Can click without moving the pointer...
  • Trackballs (thumb-operated): 1/5 Who designed these? Hope they burn in carpal tunnel hell.
  • Touchpads (multitouch): 4/5 My other go-to pointing device. Specifically the Apple kind, with two-finger scroll and three-finger drag. It's ridiculously intuitive and great for any non-graphical, non-gaming operations.
  • Touchpads (edge scrolling): 3/5 I mean the stuff you have on non-Apple notebooks, with scrolling on the edges.Sure it's a touchpad, good enough, but they inexplicably tend to piss me off. :D
  • Trackpoints: 3/5 I specifically mean the IBM / Lenovo kind that works well. I love how you don't need to reach away from the keyboard. Probably would be my favorite if it was more ubiquitous. It makes my fingertip hurt though. xD
  • Rollermouse: ?/5 I guess it should be good for typing-intensive work. Never used one though.
  • Light pens: ?/5 I really didn't use them enough to be able to say anything on the matter. They seem like a dead technology, so probably they didn't work out.
  • Touchscreens (on workstations): 1/5 I love tablets, but I can kinda understand why light pens never caught on.
As you can see no 5/5s. :) I've yet to be actually satisfied with a pointing device. Maybe pixel-perfect eye tracking in the future...

Findecanor

26 Oct 2017, 13:16

There are lots of different mice. Palm-grip, claw-grip, Semi-vertical/"pen-grip", very vertical ("oven mitten-grip" :p ), Pen Mouse, Penclick (pen on joint on mouse base).

I have personally never had any problems with precision clicking -- except when pressing a scrollwheel to middle-click.

Light pens: I think the main problem is that most CRT screens were vertical. You had to lift your arm to use them and that was tiring.
Rollermouse: I found it a lot like a trackball but which gravitates towards movement along the axes. I have used one only for a few minutes before going back to mouse, so you should get someone else's opinion.

You forget pen tablets, that which is nowadays synonymous with Wacom.

I have long had an idea for a type of mouse-pen input device that would work like a weeble toy - weighted round bottom. It would have a more pen-like feel but be "picked up" as effortlessly as a mouse. I am not sure how good that would be though to have that much weight.
A semi-vertical mouse with a wide base (WowPen, Anker) is much lighter and almost as precise as that. I like how I can move the WowPen Joy with my finger tips without having to move my wrist.

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kbdfr
The Tiproman

26 Oct 2017, 13:51

Sigmoid wrote: […] Rollermouse: ?/5 I guess it should be good for typing-intensive work. Never used one though. […]
Just checked: it’s been 6 years (!) since I started using one, and I never regretted it.
You don’t have to leave the typing position (I do type an awful lot), don’t have to grasp anywhere, don’t have to move anyghing around, don’t need extra side space on your desk (just a bit between your belly and your keyboard), have several programmable buttons direct beneath the rollerbar.
Besides, it looks highly dedicated and professional :lol:
And unlike Findecanor, I have no problem using the scrollwheel for precision middle-clicking (even with my thumb).

My conclusion: the ideal pointing device if you use your keyboard mainly for typing.
No clue about gaming, though - this field will always remain a mystery to me :mrgreen:

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AMongoose

26 Oct 2017, 14:22

While I also love finger trackballs (especially with a ring scroll) you forgot that while they don't collect desk gunk they collect finger gunk and must be cleaned more often than mice.

It's the only thing i dislike about mine anyway.

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Phenix
-p

26 Oct 2017, 15:32

nice discussion!
However one should pay attention to the question "where is that pointing device located" as well - the keybosrd is another factor.

for one a ergodox with a trackball in the mid (kurplop's builds eg) is imho nicer to use than a trackball living on the side of a board.

the rollermouse is, like kbdfr said, superb: love mine. for usage with normal boards its awesome.

Usage with ergo-boards (ergodox, dactyl, anything split...) it gets a bit worse. But still its reallx comfy.

ckofy

28 Oct 2017, 22:05

I’ve used mouse (obviously), vertical mouse, finger trackball, roller mouse (a little).
I will agree to the above scoring, my current daily driver is finger trackball.
Thumb trackball looks like a good move for the mouse user, but I red the stories about severe thumb joint disorders that its users obtained.
Vertical mouse I would rate 3/5. It is quite comfortable, but accuracy is questionable. I could not reach acuracy needed for my work, while it may be enough for somebody.
Roller mouse seems good for cursor control, but what I had troubles with is the buttons usage. May give it one more try.

Kurplop

29 Oct 2017, 05:11

AMongoose wrote: While I also love finger trackballs (especially with a ring scroll) you forgot that while they don't collect desk gunk they collect finger gunk and must be cleaned more often than mice.

It's the only thing i dislike about mine anyway.
That seems to be a common experience for many trackball users, though I've had the opposite experience. My Slimblade will act up about every six months to a year. A quick cleaning makes all right. The funny thing is that I am probably one of the dirtiest, dustiest, and grimiest people on this forum. I rarely clean my board. Right now it's covered in eraser particles from my electric eraser, and there's a couple months of dust under that! Go figure.

I'm quite partial to large finger trackballs but I don't think there is a stock one that I could use. I find the wrist extension necessary to use them to be unbearable. I first tried an Expert Mouse and really liked it after I sunk it into the table. The Slimblade is lower but I don't think I could use it stock either. After using a trackball almost exclusively for several years, I still find a mouse to be faster. If I had to use a mouse, I would use something with at required minimum pronation of the wrist like the Wow Joy Pen..
I think it's good to revisit the "Which is the best input device" topic every so often. Although, in the end we all have our favorites, it's good to point out the merits of all of the options for all those looking for a change.

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Phenix
-p

29 Oct 2017, 08:54

Kurplop wrote:
AMongoose wrote: While I also love finger trackballs (especially with a ring scroll) you forgot that while they don't collect desk gunk they collect finger gunk and must be cleaned more often than mice.

It's the only thing i dislike about mine anyway.
That seems to be a common experience for many trackball users, though I've had the opposite experience. My Slimblade will act up about every six months to a year. A quick cleaning makes all right. The funny thing is that I am probably one of the dirtiest, dustiest, and grimiest people on this forum. I rarely clean my board. Right now it's covered in eraser particles from my electric eraser, and there's a couple months of dust under that! Go figure.

I'm quite partial to large finger trackballs but I don't think there is a stock one that I could use. I find the wrist extension necessary to use them to be unbearable. I first tried an Expert Mouse and really liked it after I sunk it into the table. The Slimblade is lower but I don't think I could use it stock either. After using a trackball almost exclusively for several years, I still find a mouse to be faster. If I had to use a mouse, I would use something with at required minimum pronation of the wrist like the Wow Joy Pen..
I think it's good to revisit the "Which is the best input device" topic every so often. Although, in the end we all have our favorites, it's good to point out the merits of all of the options for all those looking for a change.
Can you please share some pics? makes sunking the trackball into the table/chassis of a kb really that much of a difference?

Kurplop

29 Oct 2017, 15:19

Phenix wrote:
Can you please share some pics? makes sunking the trackball into the table/chassis of a kb really that much of a difference?
I wish I could. I recently lost most of my photo library (temporarily, I hope). If/when I get them back I'll do so. BTW, I never actually butchered up a desktop. The surgeries were always performed on trays.

For me, lowering the trackball was not just an improvement, It was essential. I have several different wrist and hand issues that most people probably wouldn't relate to. Because of that, any extension of my hand beyond being inline with my forearm is sometimes painful and always fatiguing. My center trackball's elevation is low enough to be the same height as the keyboard so there is no change in wrist flexion or extension. So, if the keyboard is at the right height—so is the trackball.

I made a custom tray several years ago for an expert mouse and Truly Ergonomic keyboard where the EM was to the right of the keyboard but sloped down to better match, not only desired height requirements, but also pronation concerns. It worked great. In fact, I was afraid that centering the ball on later boards would be a step backwards but that wasn't the case. Neither better or worse for the trackball; just different (the Ergodox and later custom keyboards were definitely better). Also, my remote trackball switch locations are superior to those on the Expert Mouse and even more so compared to the Slimblade.

I think what I learned from my experimenting is that the positioning of the tools are as important as the tools themselves.

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Phenix
-p

29 Oct 2017, 20:35

Kurplop wrote:
Phenix wrote:
Can you please share some pics? makes sunking the trackball into the table/chassis of a kb really that much of a difference?
I wish I could. I recently lost most of my photo library (temporarily, I hope). If/when I get them back I'll do so. BTW, I never actually butchered up a desktop. The surgeries were always performed on trays.

For me, lowering the trackball was not just an improvement, It was essential. I have several different wrist and hand issues that most people probably wouldn't relate to. Because of that, any extension of my hand beyond being inline with my forearm is sometimes painful and always fatiguing. My center trackball's elevation is low enough to be the same height as the keyboard so there is no change in wrist flexion or extension. So, if the keyboard is at the right height—so is the trackball.

I made a custom tray several years ago for an expert mouse and Truly Ergonomic keyboard where the EM was to the right of the keyboard but sloped down to better match, not only desired height requirements, but also pronation concerns. It worked great. In fact, I was afraid that centering the ball on later boards would be a step backwards but that wasn't the case. Neither better or worse for the trackball; just different (the Ergodox and later custom keyboards were definitely better). Also, my remote trackball switch locations are superior to those on the Expert Mouse and even more so compared to the Slimblade.

I think what I learned from my experimenting is that the positioning of the tools are as important as the tools themselves.
Damn it, I should pay more attention to the usernames and not only on the content.

Your builds are (always) nicely done and top-notch crafted - fuction over design (tough design is still incredible) - just wondering why we dont see more ergonomic solutions (like your ideas) in the 500$+ tier of "high end" Custom Kustoms
-> I would happily spend some sum on a Planet 6-styled board (preferably with one more column as Im using German)


IIRC you already had the setup I am aiming at - how would you improve it in retrospective? Sure one cqn check your immediate design changes - I mean in term of what I (soldering skills and low-end wood skills) can do to make it ergonomic wise better.

Im planning for my Kinesis Advantage
- QMK
- Slimblade in the middle
- like that one pic somewhere: 3buttons per side
- accomplished with other input devices (trackpoint, rollermouse, trackpad, hyperwheel...)
- somehow I want to have a volume knob as well :lol:

Kurplop

29 Oct 2017, 23:54

Phenix wrote: IIRC you already had the setup I am aiming at - how would you improve it in retrospective? Sure one cqn check your immediate design changes - I mean in term of what I (soldering skills and low-end wood skills) can do to make it ergonomic wise better.

Im planning for my Kinesis Advantage
- QMK
- Slimblade in the middle
- like that one pic somewhere: 3buttons per side
- accomplished with other input devices (trackpoint, rollermouse, trackpad, hyperwheel...)
- somehow I want to have a volume knob as well :lol:
The only thing that would improve the designs of my last three keyboards is the switches. Using Cherry ML's was a slight compromise though not as much as some might think. (Today, I would use the new Kailh low profile switches. I've bought enough to make about eight keyboards with them.) With time, the only thing I don't like is the occasional stuck switch when I off-press certain keys, and that is becoming rarer. The switches feel great overall—just the right pressure to activate, short throw, and they get smoother the more I use them. As far as trackball placement goes, the center is a no-brainer with separated halves. It naturally spreads the hand to a more comfortable position and is super close to slide over to. I've gotten a few comments from the "Reddit for Ballers" guys thinking it wouldn't be comfortable. Nothing is farther from reality.

This may be the Advantage you were referring to. Geekhacker hweller did an outstanding job on this mod.
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Phenix
-p

30 Oct 2017, 00:21

Yes that is the mod I’m talking ng about - I wasn’t able to add a pic as I was on my phone.

Anything „special“ for this mod where I have to watch out - would you change the placement of certain parts / the buttons?

Findecanor

30 Oct 2017, 02:13

The original controller board could be where the trackball is located in that mod. If you have a replacement controller board, you might be able to fit it but be aware of lots of rewiring...
I'm not sure. The interior has changed a lot between models and I am not entire sure what I have seen that is which.

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