Logitech revitalizes the trackball for the modern era. (September 25th, 2010)
Trackballs were legion in the 1990s, but the input method has largely fallen out of favor in the past decade both as traditional mice gained precision and as the public swung its attention to notebooks. For a certain audience, though, the appeal of an in-place pointer is undeniable: it can be comfortable and more precise in the right conditions. We're reviewing the Logitech Wireless Trackball M570 today to see if a long-in-the-making refresh is enough to keep trackball users committed to the cause.
Product Manufacturer: Logitech
- Comfortable and precise.
- Good button placement.
- Very long battery life.
- Power switch and stowable Unifying Receiver.
- Easily programmable.
- No horizontal scroll or free-spin mode.
Ergonomics and precision feel
Veteran trackball owners will find the M570's shape very familiar. Logitech makes this clear that it was on purpose: even on its promo page, the company showed that the design is a dead ringer in many ways for models several years old or more. There's a good reason for it, as the heavily sculpted shape is designed to fit a right hand almost perfectly. The trackball, buttons and scroll wheel all fall to hand very easily. Left-handers who can't use a mouse right-handed will want to stay away, but that's true of most trackballs.
Whether or not it's comfortable over long periods is partly dependent on your desk and mousing position. When we first tried the M570, it was actually less comfortable than Apple's Magic Mouse, which itself is known for not being especially friendly to wrists. After adjusting our position, however, we found that it was good for several hours of work.
Our chief issue over a long period is simply noise: the trackball is silent as you'd expect, but the buttons all make relatively loud clicking noises compared to some mice, including some of Logitech's own. If you often listen to music or work in a noisy office you won't mind, but it may be distracting to someone in a quiet room.
Actual motion for the trackball is pleasant; it feels much like a marble and is as price as you'd expect. Be prepared to adjust sensitivity, since your first experience will invariably result in overshooting the target. You may also need to modify your habits for selecting text or other tasks that need drag-and-drop behavior. We also liked that the scroll wheel has clear detents -- a must-have for gamers and anyone else who needs precise scrolling -- though it definitely isn't as polished and pleasant-feeling as the metal wheels on Logitech's MX and VX mice. It would have been appreciated if Logitech had tried to rival its best mice in at least this area.
Functionality and customization
As a standard five-button mouse, the peripheral works well. The trackball design works in its favor since the fourth and fifth buttons don't have to be shrunken or tucked away on the side. We could also middle-click very easily without accidentally scrolling, and it was actually faster to mass-select text than on a usual mouse since a trackball flick covers much more space quickly.
Compared to some other mice, though, we're disappointed with the scroll wheel's feature set. While the option to freely spin the scroll wheel like the MX/VX series would be a luxury, there's no horizontal scrolling at all. That's a definite setback and somewhat odd given how much space Logitech had to work with in the design. Not everyone will notice, but if you regularly have to work with large images or app windows that don't have as much width as you'd like, you might find it intolerable.
Customization does go a long way towards keeping the M570 useful. For those that need it, Logitech's SetPoint app (for Windows) or Control Center (for Macs) helps you reassign buttons to specific commands. It's not absolutely necessary on a Mac, however; we used System Preferences to bind buttons to Dashboard and Expose even before trying Logitech's software. You may need the Unifying Software regardless of features, however, if you plan to use the trackball with a recent Logitech keyboard and want to use a single USB dongle for all your controllers.
Notes on battery life and the Unifying Receiver
Battery life is increasingly difficult to gauge in tests like these. Logitech claims that the M570 can last for up to 1.5 years in typical use on a single AA battery. That's impossible for us to verify, but having seen a VX Nano last for over a year between batteries, we're inclined to believe the estimate. It's one reason why we almost always prefer RF-based wireless peripherals over Bluetooth. They may consume a USB port, but the money and time saved on batteries is often more than worth the sacrifice.
And while it's a desktop mouse, the M570 has the appreciated extra features of both a dedicated on/off switch and a compartment for stowing the very small Unifying Receiver when it's not being used. Both are valuable, especially if you use a notebook. We've had bad memories of wireless mice that would wake up a computer without warning unless you fully disconnected it; that's thankfully not an issue here.
For most tasks, the M570 is ably up to the challenge. We can certainly see some CAD engineers or office workers flocking to the new trackball in large numbers, since in most ways it modernizes a traditional control method. At $60, it doesn't command any more over a regular mouse and could be worthwhile for addressing those with carpal tunnel issues.
Before advocating this point of view uniformly, though, we have to say that the scroll wheel is a big knock against the mouse for those that need it often. Despite having the time to implement it, Logitech has yet to create a trackball that uses its top-flight wheels or even necessarily the features of most wheels. We'd have been willing to pay a $10 premium to get those features, but as of now there's still a strong incentive to give up a trackball to get better features. At least one trackball in the line should be good enough to be a complete substitute; this is considered high-end by Logitech, but it's not high-end in features.
Picking the M570 then is a judgment call. It's a success for some, but we and no doubt some experienced trackball users feel Logitech could have done better.