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February 23rd, 2000


Kensington TurboBall
Contact And Other Information
Manufacturer: Kensington
Product Home Page: Kensington TurboBall
Description: 4-button programmable USB trackball
Address: Kensington Technology Group
2855 Campus Drive
San Mateo, California 94403

Price: Price (US$53.95) online at NECX
Telephone: 650-572-2700
Fax: 650-572-9675
Requirements: OS 8 or later
USB equipped computer

System Used For Testing: B&W G3/400
192MB RAM
OS 9
[Review]
Kensington's New TurboBall Leaves Users Longing for a USB TurboMouse

Kensington TurboBall
by Kyle D'Addario

Introduction

A few months ago, we were fortunate enough to get a review unit of the Kensington Orbit USB trackball. In that review, we commented that Kensington had made a product aimed at the consumer/new user and that serious/power users should hold out for a USB version of Kensington's venerable TurboMouse. While a USB TurboMouse still exists only in our collective imaginations, Kensington did take a stab at the higher-end market with the release of the new TurboBall. While it is not clear at this point if the TurboBall is being positioned to replace the TurboMouse, or merely coexist, once you use the product you may wish that it were abandoned all together.


First, the Good

The TurboBall offers all the features, technically, of the older TurboMouse. Users have four programmable buttons, plus a scroll wheel that does not scroll. Fortunately, the wheel can be programmed as a fifth button, giving power users, and especially gamers, nearly unlimited button options. Button functions are assigned using Kensington's spectacular MouseWorks software. This software lets you customize button behavior, control cursor speed, and create specific button sets for certain applications (again, a boon for gamers). The latest version offers a number of interface changes, allowing you to easily configure your specific Kensington product. On our test machine, a Blue and White G3, we have an ADB TurboMouse installed along with the TurboBall. The MouseWorks software let us easily switch between devices and configurations.

The TurboBall also features an oversized ball, and a more ergonomic design than the TurboMouse. The unit is designed like an oversized mouse, allowing the hand to rest in a natural position "around" the unit. The oversized ball, theoretically, allows for precision and stress free cursor control. The design, like the TurboMouse, caters to both left and right handed users. Conceptually, the device is laid out like a dream. The heavier base keeps it from sliding like the Orbit, but does not offer quite as much stability as the brick-like TurboMouse. However, once one gets passed the conceptual soundness of the product, that individual will realize that design execution is severely flawed.


Now, the Bad

The ball itself is housed in the same type of enclosure, using the same rolling "pins" as its smaller cousin, the Orbit. These rollers provide a heavy, sticky feel, exaggerated by the larger ball found in the TurboBall. The TurboMouse uses stainless bearings for mouse control, which proved smooth, quick, uninhibited movement. The smaller rubber coated bearings in the TurboBall force the user to work a little bit harder to get the cursor across the screen, especially on monitors larger than 17". The MouseWorks software allows users to customize cursor control when moving the ball fast or slow, but implementation of those controls is lacking when it comes to the TurboBall. In order to get the ball all the way across the screen, cursor speed needs to be turned up. Despite specific controls offering the user more control over speed settings, these sped up cursor settings make precise control (for simple tasks such as clicking a close box on a window) very difficult.

This may be due to the rubber rollers functioning like a magnet for dirt and dust. Cleaning the unit requires turning the entire unit upside down, popping out the ball, and then cleaning the rollers. If you can get the unit turned over and cleaned without accidentally hitting one of the omnipresent buttons, you are better people than we are. This may be something that the user could grow accustomed to. Button placement on the device is another matter.


And of course, the Ugly

As mentioned above, the TurboBall offers five programmable buttons (including the scroll wheel). However, button placement renders the device nearly unusable. The four major buttons fall along the edges of the device, where the thumb and pinky finger might rest when using the TurboBall. However, because the buttons protrude from the device at precise hand contact points, unintentional clicks are numerous. Also, the buttons are laid out in such a way that one must move the entire hand to access different buttons, not just adjust or wiggle a finger. While this is no different from the TurboMouse, the situation becomes problematic on the TurboBall. Often users tend to glide their hand over the device "searching" for the other buttons. Doing this on the TurboBall will invariably lead to unintended clicks or cursor movement. After using the device for just a few minutes, we felt almost "afraid" to rest our hands on the device because any slight movement, including moving the ball itself with available fingers, resulted in accidental clicks. Combined with the amount of sheer movement required to move the cursor from one area to the next, due to the "heavy" nature of the cursor and ball, we found contextual menus popping up, windows closing and being moved, and applications being accidentally launched far too often for our taste.

Gamers may feel compelled to try this device due to the array of programmable buttons. Don't. The quick responses required in most games cause even more unintentional button contact than usual. It only took a couple of instances of trying to use the alternate-fire method in Unreal Tournament only to end up hitting the primary fire button instead, to give up on the TurboBall as a viable option for gaming. This mistake would cause us to launch a rocket into the wall, which was only inches away. Having the UT narrator repeatedly announce to everybody that, "You blew your own dumb self up," had us scrambling for our TurboMouse.

For their part, Kensington representatives had this to say about the new button design, "We have received extremely positive feedback on the design of TurboBall. Many customers have told us they like the way the product positions their hand and the fact that the buttons are long enough to fit a variety of hand sizes. The fact that it works with both left and right hands is an added bonus."


Conclusion

Kensington has created a visually appealing, but nearly useless input device. The bright blue ball catches the eye, yet one hopes that Kensington is not downgrading their products in hopes of appealing to those new users that want something to match their new Blueberry iMac. While having a series of programmable buttons is an appealing feature, the layout and feel of the device forces us to suggest that you would be better off with your hockey-puck mouse. We can only hope that Kensington continues to develop the classic TurboBall, and provide a USB version of that device. Apparently they are. A Kensington representative told us, "I can tell you that TurboBall was not intended to replace TurboMouse. We are in the process of creating a new and improved TurboMouse launching this fall." This is good news indeed! Another Kensington source assured us that the TurboBall was aimed at a different market segment than the TurboMouse. Our advice is to wait it out for the new TurboMouse. If you are unable to do that, it might be time to start looking at other input devices like the Microsoft Intellimouse Explorer.


Final Score (Maximum Score is 5 Gadgies)
1 Gadgie
Pros 5 programmable buttons.
Cons Awkward button placement.
"Heavy" ball. Clumsy design leads to many unintentional clicks.
Very difficult to use overall.



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