For the sake of those who are just learning about trackballs a bit of background information is required. Trackballs come in two basic styles. A finger ball, and a thumb ball. What this refers to is where the trackball is located. In the finger style configuration it is basically right in the center line of the device. Some have them in sitting in the middle of the device with buttons around it (this was the original trackball configuration and, for example, used extensively in arcade games), others are a bit more ergonomic and have it at the front. In either case users can use either their fingers to move the ball or their palm. As the name suggest a thumb ball has the ball located on the side and you use your thumb to move the ball.
In either case the ball itself may look smooth but if you look closely it has pattern inlaid into it. This pattern is enough that when moved the light from them LED shining on it shifts enough for the optical sensor to pick up the movement and translate this into pointer movement. To imagine this, think of an optical mouse, but instead of moving the mouse to change the image the optical sensor is ‘seeing’ you rotate a ball with your thumb. Just as with a mouse, users can adjust the speed, or the amount of cursor movement, that happens for a given amount of change in sensor image. Unlike mice which have gone to laser based sensors such technology is not needed for a trackball – as the ‘surface’ it is scanning always stays the same. Thus battery life is best rated in months and not weeks like laser mice.
There are pros and cons to finger vs thumb style trackballs but the big decision comes down to ergonomics vs speed, and precision vs speed. Center style trackballs use bigger balls – for example the Kensington designs are the size of an billiard ball – and as you can use multiple fingers to ‘flick’ the ball they are much, much faster. Conversely thumb balls are smaller, but allow for arguably greater precision and much better ergonomics- that large ball is harder to move in smaller increments and how you hold your hand while using them is… less than optimal. For novices we recommend trying a thumb style one first as they are the most mouse like in their ergonomics and have a much smaller learning curve.
When judging a new trackball a few keys areas have to be considered and judge. In no particular order these are comfort, ergonomics, precision, customizability, features, value, and robustness. Comfort and ergonomics do somewhat go hand in hand but we have used many an ergonomic trackball that may be great at lowering RSI… but were not all that comfortable to use. We have also used many highly customizable trackballs that were not overly ergonomic nor comfortable… and we have used too many to count trackballs that simply could not justify their asking price. As for robustness we have had trackballs that were built like tanks, and some that would break if you looked at them funny. Your Mileage May Vary so make your own assessment on any ‘ball before you buy it.
Now with all that out of the way lets take a closer look at the MX Ergo and MX Ergo Plus by Logitech. As many of you are reading this to figure out exactly what the difference between these two models are… it is simple. The Plus comes with an extra an accessory, in the form of a wedge, that allows for 30 degrees of tilt instead of just 20 degrees. That is it. The packaging is basically same, albeit with a ‘Plus’ added to the name, the trackballs is the same, even the software is the same.
Basically the Plus was originally a Best Buy exclusive, but is now being sold directly to consumers via Logitech’s own store. In an interesting move, Logitech sells both models for the same price. Needless to say, if you are even thinking about this ‘ball get the Plus model. You may like the wedge or you may not but you will not be paying any more for finding out! If the price is different then it becomes tricky. Hopefully by the end of this review you will know if the wedge is worth anything or not to you. To us it is nice bonus but not essential. You may feel differently.
To explain how this wedge works lets first take a close look at the base of the MX Ergo series. This is where most of the innovation in these new models of trackballs come from. Comparing this base to the base of the M570 the very first difference that comes into focus is the new MX Ergo series does not haver a flat base. On the surface a flat base is critical the overall stability of a trackball. Remember, a trackball does not move around like a mouse. It is supposed to be solid as rock – so much so you rest your hand on it with no fear of it tipping over. This radical departure from previous designs is how the MX Ergo’s side to side tilt – or cant – is possible.
Located on the bases chassis are two extremely strong magnets. These magnets allow a metal, with rubber coating on the base, to ‘pair’ to the MX Ergo. This metal base is the actual base of the MX Ergo series and when it comes close to the MX Ergo is ‘snaps’ into position.
Running along nearly the entire edge of the plastic chassis is a ridge that secures this metal plate in place and keeps it from sliding around. So much so that in the 0-degree orientation no one would ever guess that the MX Ergo is a two-piece affair. It is rock solid and introduces no noticeable instability. However, this is only half the ingenious design of the MX Ergo. In the center of the metal base and the plastic bottom of the trackball itself is another ridge & groove.
This ridge allows the MX Ergo to rock from one side to another when a rather large amount of force is applied. Once again, this trackball series is rock solid and unless you knew you could tilt it you probably would never accidentally do so. Even under the most stressful of gaming scenarios this trackball never tilted on its own – and we are not exactly gentle on our ‘balls when the virtual shooting gets hot and heavy.
When you do tilt the plastic chassis of the MX Ergo what is happening is you are overcoming a large magnet that locks it into the 0-degrre orientation, and then as it starts to tilt another magnet located in the ‘cut away’ section starts to attract the base and then lock it into a new twenty-degree position. To put it back into the zero-degree tilt orientation the same process is occurring – just in reverse. Basically, what this means is that while it does take a noticeable amount of effort to start the process it does finish it all on its own. To imagine this, think of an ‘assisted opening’ folding knife. The blade is closed and you start to open it, but once a certain point is reached it takes over and flips the blade out all on its own. That basically is what is happening here. You are telling the trackball you want to change orientation and once you confirm that is what you want to do, via starting the process, it finishes the job for you.
The downside to this semi-automatic mechanical process is there is no fine grain adjustment. The MX Ergo series is either in the zero-degree position or the 20-degree position. There are no 5/10/15-degree positions. As such this is a relatively new idea and design for Logitech and one in which they have not fully refined beyond ‘its adjustable!’. This opinion of ours is further confirmed when you look at that ten-degree wedge the MX Ergo Plus comes with. It can only be used in conjunction with the metal plate and not its own as such its only job is to increase the range of tilt from 20 degrees to 30. Logitech really should have made it so that it could have been used on its own – thus giving four customizable positions of 0/10/20/30 instead of 0/20/30. This is not possible because both the Plus wedge and the base of the MX Ergo itself have that ridge along their edges that locks the metal base plate into position and requires the metal plate to act as intermediary adapter/locking mechanism for each other.
It is our personal opinion that 10 -15 degrees is the most comfortable range for our particular desk and wrist. You however may find that 20 is perfect. We doubt many beyond those with severe carpal tunnel will really want to use 30-degrees as the top of the MX Ergo series is not overly comfortable for extended usage when tilted so much.
On the positive side the degree of tilt of the MX Ergo does translate nearly perfectly to the degree of tilt of your wrist. In the zero degree tilt you hand, your wrist, and your forearm will be pretty darn close to being horizontal. This is a big deal as both the M570’s and the ELECOM M-XT3 series tops are inclined. To be a bit more precise the M570’s setup means your wrist is at about fifteen degrees while the ELECOM M-XT3 ‘s means your wrist is twisted about ten degrees. For M570 users this means that the MX Ergo will feel ‘wrong’ in both its horizontal and tilted positions. As we are experienced trackball users who use a M570 on a daily basis, along with Kensington ‘balls of various designs, it could be why we really want even more tilt option the MX Ergo. As such novices may indeed find the included tilt options more than enough. Also noteworthy is while the MX Ergo does twist your wrist more than the M570 the difference is minor. Few will notice the difference, but everyone will notice the difference in price.
This brings us to the next change – the MX Ergo is bloody huge… like GHINA huge. Unless you have hands that are big enough to palm a basketball it will not full envelope the top of this trackball like it will with either a M570 or ELECOM M-XT3. Thankfully Logitech has finally opted for a rubber coated plastic chassis instead of the slippery plastic used in the M570. While we do have concerns over how this rubberized plastic will wear over the years, it does provide enough grip that even at 20 degrees your hand will not slip and slide. Only at 30 degrees will you notice you are subconsciously repositioning your hand from time to time – 30 degrees really is a significant slope!
The change in base design and material used for the MX Ergo chassis are not the only thing that have been improved. Along with these changes comes two more substantial improvements. The first is how it is powered. The M570 uses two AA batteries. We are of the firm opinion that if Logitech had included a NiMH charger so that we could have used Sanyo Enloop batteries relying upon AAs would not have been an issue. They did not and instead users were expected to monitor battery life and manually replace them. This is not overly annoying as AA battery life was about two months (with Enloop 3000mAH batteries which we would remove, charge and then reinstall after being topped up), but was still a bit of a chore. There were times in the early days that we would be stuck with a dead trackball and forced to go out and buy AA batteries (thus the change to rechargeable AAs!). That was not a good day.
With the MX Ergo series Logitech finally got the message and switched over to an end user replaceable LiPo battery pack about the same size as what is used in a cell phone. This battery pack is also good for about 2 or so months (Logitech claims 3 to 4 months but we use our ‘balls more a per day than what that calculation is based on) but when it gets low all you need do is plug in the included micro USB cable and recharge the sucker. No need to remove, no need to wait until it is recharged before using the trackball again. Simply plug it in, go about your PC business, and when the small LED on top glows a solid green… unplug the cable. While we do wish Logitech had opted for a USB 3.1 gen 2 Type C connector for faster charging this is nitpicking. Micro-USB does provide enough power for a fairly fast (couple hours) charge and is good enough. This really is a case of the battery life being good enough for the charging speed to not matter. We doubt many will consider this change from AA to rechargeable battery pack all that controversial – as it is replaceable when it no longer holds a charge in a few years.
The next change is a bit more controversial and sure to annoy as many as it impresses. We doubt anyone will complain about having more buttons but their location, size, and even shape are less than optimal. This is because Logitech has done away with those nice big forward and back buttons and replaced them with ones about half the size and shape. This alone is not all that bad as in return for this Logitech has included a precision speed button (aka ‘sniper button’) and another button that allows the MX Ergo to be paired to two systems at the same time – via the ‘Flow’ option. This latter button does require a bit of explaining. Basically, this trackball can be used on two systems instead of one (like every other trackball we are aware of) but one needs to press this button to switch between which system’s USB receiver is sent the signal. Unfortunately, Logitech only includes one of their Unifying receivers with each trackball and they have done away with the small storage space on the base of the unit. These two issues are indeed suboptimal as the first means spending even more to get this feature to work, and the latter means that when traveling there is nowhere to easily, yet securely, store this critical piece of equipment.
The sniper button or precision button is certainly a nice addition and one long overdue. Many trackballs, including the ELECOM M-XT3 series, have included this feature for a long, long time now. Its location however leaves a lot to be desired. By placing so close to the ball it does have a tendency to be randomly depressed by your thumb. This is especially true when not in the zero-degree orientation. In all likelihood this design was a carryover from an early beta design that did not include the tilt abilities the MX Ergo is now best known for. A much more optimal location would have been place it next to the fwd/bkwd buttons or even next to the scroll wheel like ELECOM does. Thankfully Logitech does include software that allows for customization on what each button does – and it was the first thing we change… and turned it ‘off’.
In either case, Logitech is still behind the curve when it comes to the number of buttons they include. Removing the multi-system button from the equation the MX Ergo has four main customizable buttons (DPI, fwd, bkwd, scroll click/center button) compared to three that the cheaper M570 has, and even cheaper ELECOM M-XT3’s five (fwd/bkwd/dpi/center click/pinky finger). As such if you are PC gaming enthusiast that uses a lot of mouse buttons for customized actions (e.g. shoot, look down side, melee, throw grenade, taunt, etc.) then the MX Ergo may feel like a bit of a downgrade compared to your existing mouse. So much so that while Logitech has improved things somewhat in this department the ELECOM M-XT3 series may be a wiser introduction to trackballs. This goes double when you consider the ELECOM M-XT3 chassis looks and feels the most ‘mouse like’. On the positive side the MX Ergo is an improvement as Logitech did finally included horizontal scrolling via tilting the scroll wheel side to side. Not having this basic feature was actually one of the M570’s greatest annoyances.
While very little details are available on the specific switches that Logitech are using they are a much improved, dare we say ‘gaming grade’, mechanical switch that should not suffer from ‘early death syndrome’ that M570s have been known to be afflicted with. We personally have killed many a left or right button on a M570 over the years and it was one of the main reasons for having to replace them. What is known is that the switches used are at best only as good as what the ELECOM M-XT3 comes equipped with. High grade mechanical switches are one of the ELECOM M-XT3 main claims to fame. But it is good to see Logitech stepping up their game and at matching what the Japanese have been offering for years now.
Moving on Logitech may not have opted to change the size of the ball used in this trackball input device, but they have changed the color. In testing it appears to be as accurate as the M570s but we do have some concerns. The M570 ball was easily one of the best available. So much so an easy upgrade to the ELECOM M-XT3, which uses a ball that is eerily similar to the MX Ergo series, was to pull the ball out of an old and dead M570 (usually for right or left mouse button switch failure) and get an instant precision upgrade. This issue is actually one of the largest downsides to using the ELECOM M-XT3 over a Logitech – it sucks balls… err… it’s ball sucks. Thankfully when we did swap out the new MX Ergo ball for a M570’s there was no noticeable difference in tracking precision so in all likelihood it may look like a ELECOM M-XT3 but it acts like the older M570 ball – and that is a good thing.
One thing that is certainly not an improvement is how you remove the MX Ergo ball. As with the M570 there is a small hole on the underside of the chassis which allows you to push it up and out of its cradle. But unlike the M570 you first have to remove the metal plate before you can access it. Taking a close look Logitech has once again gone with a three (most likely PTFE plastic based) ball bearing configuration. Three certainly gets the job done, but compared to the six the noticeably less expensive ELECOM M-XT3 uses it still is inferior – as the more points of contact the less overall friction there is on any one ball bearing. This is actually one of the greatest strengths of the ELECOM M-XT3 as it is one of the smoothest thumb trackballs available today – and it is only when you move up to Kensington models that you will find a smoother movement.
Overall the MX Ergo series is at the same time both a good step in the right direction for Logitech and a giant leap forward for trackball design. Remember this is an entirely new way of thinking about trackball design so while obviously Logitech still can improve upon these first-generation features (button layout, button numbers, etc.) it still is the future of trackballs. It really is leaps and bounds better than the rest. The next few years are certainly going to be exciting times for trackball users.