Kensington SlimBlade Trackball full review

Kensington's new SlimBlade Trackball is a slick way to get your cursor precisely where you need it.

Large trackballs to steer your mouse around the screen are nothing new - we reviewed Kensington's Expert Mouse a few months ago - but Kensington's latest design adds design elements from its innovative SlimBlade wireless mouse, in the process creating one of its best trackballs yet.

Like the Expert Mouse, the Kensington SlimBlade Trackball's based around a static base with a large weighted ball to roll under your fingers, moving the mouse cursor on screen. There are four clickable controls spaced around the Kensington SlimBlade Trackball's metallic grey frame, one in each corner, concealed behind a shiny and sculpted top surface.

The two closest to you are the usual left/right mouse click buttons. Plug the mouse into any Windows PC or Mac, and this basic functionality works out of the box. But you can really make the Kensington SlimBlade Trackball come alive by installing driver software to take advantage of those extra two buttons.

Suitably setup, when you top-right click, the cursor is frozen and the ball is turned into a giant scroll wheel, for moving pages up and down and side-to-side. Spin the ball axially between finger and thumb, and you can zoom text - and images too. To resume normal service, just click the top-right button once more.

There is one major downside to this useful new functionality: it only works in certain applications. In Windows Vista, we couldn't get it to work at all; but in Mac OS X the extra functions worked superbly in, for example, Firefox and Safari web browsers, Preview, iTunes, and iWork and iLife apps.

Conspicuous by its absence was the ability to scroll and roll around the Finder in the extra (top-right click) View mode. If you try the scroll function on an unsupported program, you just get an eye graphic onscreen with a diagonal strike-out.

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You can still use the Kensington SlimBlade Trackball to scroll with any app, but only by using the twisty motion on the ball. Whenever the Kensington SlimBlade Trackball is plugged in and doing a scroll, a soft ratchet sound can be heard - useful sensory feedback.

Meanwhile, the top-left button engages media control. Twisting the Kensington SlimBlade Trackball ball raises and lowers volume (with a neat translucent screen graphic popping up), while the lower-left button controls play/pause functions in iTunes. Roll the ball linearly to the left or right, and you can even skip tracks in either direction.

No other user customisations (other than usual tracking/scrolling speeds) are possible, or indeed necessary, although we did miss the scrollwheel down-click action, which pulls up an application switcher in Mac OS X.

To get a good graphical demonstration of the Kensington SlimBlade Trackball's capabilities, you can view online a demo online.

The Kensington SlimBlade Trackball's cursor tracking is very slick, with optical reading of the ball applied internally, so there are no moving parts to gunk up. The centrepiece is the ball itself, a shiny red billiard weighing 115g. Being weighted, it has good inertia so after a little practice you'll find yourself quickly zipping around your screen's desktop.

You can lift out the ball from the Kensington SlimBlade Trackball at any time to give it a polish, in the event it's become a little greasy from one of those Al Desko lunch hours.

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