Like many ergonomic products, trackballs are an acquired taste—often, acquired by sheer painful necessity. It can feel strange to switch from using a mouse, which feels like an extension of your arm, to rolling a ball to move your cursor. But if you have wrist or shoulder troubles, trackballs keep your whole arm still. They offer economy of movement—all the work falls to a few fingers that, while they move a lot, never have to stretch. It should come as no surprise that Kensington, a company known for making trackballs, would design what I see as the platonic ideal of the form. The $99.99 Expert Mouse Wireless Trackball is comfortable to navigate, and compact enough to suppress strenuous motions. Plus, it’s cordless, so less desk clutter. A few improvements could be made and power-user features added, but the Expert Mouse earns an Editors’ Choice for providing everything you need to adapt to the trackball lifestyle.
The Perfect Trackball? Roll With Me Here
For an “expert” device, the Kensington Expert Wireless looks and feels quite simple. The roughly rectangular block, measuring 2.7 by 5.1 by 5.8 inches (HWD, including the ball), has four large, triangular click panels that frame the hemisphere crater in which the ball sits. The panels are loud and frankly a bit springier than what you find in most mice; it’s mostly a non-issue, but can occasionally become a distraction.
Around the ball is a textured scroll ring that looks a bit like the ring around an old kitchen timer. The ball itself is a large, smooth sphere of shiny red plastic. It fits into the rest perfectly and stays in place, so long as you don’t pick it up.
The device grows about three inches longer when you add the detachable wrist rest. This thick, firm, leatherette-coated pad serves as a guide, much like the hump along the left ridge of a mouse, ensuring that your hand sits in the right place with your fingers in the correct position over the trackball. (That’s important, especially for new trackball users.) It isn’t really plush, but it’s soft enough that your wrist and hand feel supported. Your hand stays in position, even during long sessions.
The simple, elegant button placement is more important than you might think. With proper “posture,” your middle three fingers rest on the trackball, with your thumb and pinky on the bottom click panels, which serve as left- and right-click by default. None of the buttons requires you to bend or extend your fingers into uncomfortable positions. With slightly stubby fingers, I occasionally needed to move my wrist slightly to reach the top click panels, though people with larger hands or longer fingers should not have that issue.
The placements are all very intuitive. It takes just a few minutes to get used to the setup, even for a new trackball user. Compared to other ergonomic mice and keyboards, that’s nothing. Though it’s a four-button setup, with less functionality than most basic mice, each input feels like it’s in the right place. The scroll ring, in particular, feels incredibly natural to use: You can easily scroll up and down using one finger without moving the others out of rolling position. Truly, the ring feels like a feature that every trackball designer should steal gong forward, and it’s shocking that other devices handle scrolling in other ways.
But let’s talk a bit about the limitations of trackballs. Like other ergonomic-mouse form factors—specifically, vertical mice—using a trackball requires you to make a compromise: speed and accuracy in exchange for comfort. It’s easy to roll the trackball accurately over short distances and to make fine adjustments, but long rolls—like what you’d use to travel across a dual-monitor setup, for example—are generally imprecise and require corrective motions that require more deliberate thought than a standard mouse.
The need to be accurate at high speed is rare unless you play video games or edit art professionally. If you aren’t a gamer or making digital art, your speed and accuracy will improve over time to the point where the trackball becomes second nature. If you are in one of those groups, a trackball could make sense for day-to-day computing to keep repetitive strain injury in check, but it isn’t suitable for high-performance tasks. These issues are endemic to all trackballs, not just the Expert Mouse Wireless, so I’m not criticizing Kensington here. They are worth considering, however, and I’m still holding out hope for a design tweak or new functionality that bridges the gap.
In terms of connectivity, the Expert Mouse Wireless gets full marks. It supports both Bluetooth and a 2.4GHz connection via a USB dongle, and it’s easy to switch between them at will. Both connections worked perfectly without any lag or dropped signals in my testing. There’s even a storage slot for the Wi-Fi dongle should you ever need to take the trackball on the road. (I wish there were a similar solution for holding the trackball in place.)
The device also has exceptional battery life: The Expert Mouse relies on two AA batteries for power, and Kensington claims that each pair of cells should last a full 12 months whether you use Bluetooth or a 2.4GHz connection. If you tend to keep a pack of AAs in the drawer for all situations, you might prefer its reliance on disposables.
That said, to my eyes, the battery situation is still a low point for the Expert Mouse. As I’ve noted in past reviews, I generally prefer wireless devices that use rechargeable internal batteries—while they require more charging and cap a device’s long-term shelf life, using disposable batteries creates additional waste and introduces the possibility that a device may power down at an inopportune time, sending you hurrying to the store.
On top of that, the battery housing for the Expert Mouse Wireless stacks the two AAs on top of each other, which makes it tricky to get the bottom battery out. It adds a bit of labor to a thankfully rare chore.
From TrackballWorks to KensingtonWorks
Since the Expert Mouse Wireless’ initial launch, Kensington overhauled its configuration software. The new version, KensingtonWorks, is a simple, utilitarian program that lets you make crucial adjustments to the trackball’s sensitivity and button-mapping.
Even more than with gaming mice, KensingtonWorks is essential to getting the most out of the Expert Mouse Wireless. Adjusting the cursor sensitivity so the cursor moves the amount you feel it should as you roll the ball is essential to the experience. (You should not assume that it will feel perfect right out of the box.) Also, the device and software allow for two unmapped shortcut inputs: pressing the two upper click panels, and pressing the lower click panels. When you have just four buttons, a couple of system-level combos go a long way.
Plus, the Expert Mouse Wireless’ inputs are highly customizable. You can remap any of the four click panels and two shortcuts with a wide range of functions, including triggering keyboard shortcuts, acting as media controls, launching apps, and opening system menus like Task Manager. You can set app-specific mappings for as many programs as you like, and upload those mapping files to either Google Drive or Microsoft OneDrive for transfer from one device to another. These kinds of features are common among gaming peripherals, but they show up only in the very best office-grade gear.
Though Kensington’s software toolkit is less flashy than Logitech Options, the program that accompanies the finest Logitech productivity gear, KensingtonWorks adds a ton of functionality that allows you to personalize your trackball and reach the level of comfort you should expect from any kind of ergonomic device.
This One Wins a Starring Roll
The Kensington Expert Mouse Wireless Trackball has a lot going for it. It has a compact, comfortable layout, including the admirable scroll ring. It has a wrist rest that makes it easy on your arm. And it has a lot of customization potential on the software side.
If you read many mouse reviews, you’d think that all of these things would be par for the course with a $100 pointer, but they aren’t. The Kensington’s distinctive features accentuate the best parts of using a trackball, making an acquired taste look and feel appealing right from the start. If you want to go Team Trackball and don’t know where to start, this is it.
Kensington Expert Mouse Wireless Trackball Specs
|Number of Buttons||4|
|Interface||Bluetooth, RF Wireless|
|Power Source||Two AA Batteries|
|Warranty (Parts and Labor)||3 years|