Let’s face it: if you use a computer, you use a pointing device. And if you use desktop music notation software (or just about any other type of software), you’re using that accessory a lot. While it is possible to develop a workflow in any of the major programs that is keyboard-centric, the pointing device remains essential to a fully-enabled setup.
I’ve been using Logitech’s newest device, the MX ERGO trackball, for a couple of weeks. It’s a standout accessory and I highly recommend it if you’re looking for an ergonomic, customizable pointing device. The $99 price may seem steep, but if you’re among those that spend all day in front of your desktop, it’s a worthwhile investment that you’ll be glad you made.
I’ll review the ERGO’s features in a moment. (A note that Logitech provided the unit reviewed in this article, but did not sponsor or direct this review in any way.) First, though, a bit of background about why and how I’ve come to use a trackball.
The first draft: The M570
Pointing devices basically come in three varieties: mouse, trackpad, and trackball. Devices like Apple’s Magic Mouse combine elements of both a mouse and a trackpad, but most devices fall squarely into one category, though there are many variations.
Until March 2014 I had always used a mouse. Like so many of us, I had started to develop hand and wrist pain from heavy use. It’s just not natural to move your hand side to side and up and down all day. If you think about all the reaching you do with your arm to re-position a mouse, it adds up to a lot of repetitive stress. Although trackpads such as Apple’s Magic Trackpad were starting to improve and add features, I didn’t find them as easy to use when working on music scores in Sibelius or Finale.
At that time, I was at a recording session, and I noticed the engineer flying on the Kensington Expert Trackball. That led me to explore the trackball as a replacement for the mouse. The Kensington was (and is) beloved among its devotees, but it seemed like too radical a departure from a mouse, and it also takes up a lot of space.
Then I found Logitech’s M570 wireless trackball. I liked that it had the look and familiar shape of a mouse, but instead of moving your hand to control the pointer, you use your thumb on a ball that’s positioned on the left side. The buttons and scroll wheel are where you’d expect them to be on a mouse, so the learning curve was basically limited to sorting out the feel of a trackball.
After a few days of getting used to the way the trackball worked, I was hooked. The M570 stayed completely stationary, and so did my hand — only the thumb moves to control the pointer. It was accurate and responsive; with one flick I could move the pointer across multiple screens, yet the tiniest movements were also possible just with the thumb. I immediately bought another M570 to use while traveling.
Although I loved the M570, there were a few things that bothered me. The scroll wheel was kind of lame and didn’t support side-scrolling. There was no Bluetooth connectivity, instead relying on a USB wireless receiver, which took up a valuable USB port and was prone to being lost. Customizability was limited and relied on Logitech’s Control Center, which leaves a lot to be desired in that department.
The next generation: MX ERGO
The MX ERGO addresses all of the M570’s shortcomings and much more, besides.
Browsing for holiday gifts last month, I took a detour into gadgets and was pleasantly surprised to learn that Logitech had released the ERGO — its first new trackball in a decade. It’s clear that Logitech envisions the MX ERGO as a successor to the M570, as the basic concept hasn’t changed. It’s also proof that the popularity of the M570 made it worth it to Logitech to design another product around the form factor of a mouse-shaped trackball.
Let’s start with the similarities to the M570. There’s still the same sized trackball on the left. There are still the four major buttons (five, if you include the scroll wheel button): left, right, forward, and back. The device stays stationary on your desk and you only move your thumb to control the pointer. So if you’re coming from the M570, there’s no additional learning curve; you’ll be flying from day one.
Fixing the shortcomings of the M570
All of the shortcomings that I mentioned have been addressed in the ERGO.
The scroll wheel is substantial, has a better grip (compared the the non-existent one on the M570) and, most importantly, supports side-scrolling (tilt) — key to navigating around large music scores or a DAW project without relying on the use of the keyboard. There is no free-scrolling mode like in some other mice — the scroll wheel is “notched” — but that’s not a concern to me; I did have that feature on another mouse and found that I hardly ever used it.
Bluetooth — yes, thankfully, it’s there on the ERGO. Pairing it with your computer is as easy as pairing any other Bluetooth device, no extra dongle required. The ERGO still includes the 2.4 GHz Unifying USB wireless receiver, should you prefer to use it to connect (such as if you control multiple Logitech devices) but it’s no longer necessary.
Most significantly, the ERGO is highly customizable thanks to the new Logitech Options software, which allows for a great deal of control over the mouse’s functions, including on a per-application basis.
In Finale and Sibelius, for instance, I’ve set the forward and back buttons to the application-specific shortcuts for next page and previous page (or screen), respectively: Cmd-PgDn/Up in Finale and End/Home in Sibelius.
Power users may still opt for something even more tweakable. In that case, I recommend SteerMouse from Plentycom, a $20 utility that I’ve relied on for years. It detected the ERGO easily and worked well with it. If you do use SteerMouse or a similar app to control the ERGO, you’ll want to uninstall Logitech Options so that the two apps don’t conflict.
Even more to like
Rest your hands on a table, as if you were seated at a restaurant conversing with friends. Don’t think about it — just do it. Did you place your palms totally flat on the table? Or did you rest the sides of your hands on the table? Most likely, it was the latter — the most natural position. So why do so many mice force us to flatten our hand more than we naturally would?
A designer at Logitech probably asked (or was asked) that same question, and so the MX ERGO’s signature feature is a magnetic base upon which the mouse can be optionally tilted 20 degrees.
It’s a pretty simple application: you apply pressure on the left or right side of the ERGO, and it snaps into the flat or angled position, respectively.
It’s all or nothing — if for some reason you think 17.3 degrees is the optimal position, you’re out of luck — but for me, 20 degrees is perfectly natural. I’m so pleased with this option that going back to the alternative — a flat angle that I’ve used my entire computing life — seems awkward now. The ERGO rightfully earns its name here.
Another nice new feature is the precision mode button, located near the trackball. When activated, this markedly slows the tracking speed of the pointer so that you can make finely tuned adjustments to whatever you’re working on. An LED illuminates to indicate that it’s active.
This can be adjusted further in Logitech Options; if you find that you never need this feature, you can reconfigure the button to do something else entirely.
The ERGO can be paired with two computers without needing to go through an unpairing and re-pairing process for each. There’s an “Easy-Switch” button that switches between the two computers.
Taking this even further, the ERGO also works with Logitech Flow, the technology that allows the user to control two computers at once, even if one is a Mac and the other one is a PC. Flow includes file-sharing technology here as well. This is not something that I tested, but if your workflow routinely involves controlling two computers at once, this may well be a godsend for you.
Overall, the MX ERGO is very sturdy, comfortable, and easy to use. The trackball moves well and I did not experience any lag using it or the various buttons. The base is heavy and is coated with an anti-slip substance. Keep in mind that the ERGO is much heavier than your average mouse, but that’s an advantage — you’re not going to be moving it to use it, so you want it to stay put. It’s ever-so-slightly larger than the M570 but it is still economical with its footprint.
It’s self-evident, but the MX ERGO is designed for the right hand. There is no left-handed model. In making this design ergonomic, it meant choosing to suit a particular hand, and Logitech chose the right hand here.
The ERGO is wireless, which means it relies on battery power. The ERGO’s battery is a built-in rechargeable one. In order to recharge the battery, one must connect a micro-USB cable (included) to the mouse and plug it in to an ordinary USB port. Logitech says that a full charge yields four months of use, but of course that will vary depending on the user. Further, a minimum of charging for one minute gives you enough power for a full day of use, according to Logitech. I didn’t verify these claims, but in the past I have found Logitech’s battery claims to be accurate.
The reliance on a rechargeable battery is a change from the M570 (which relies on one AA battery), and in my opinion it’s unwelcome. The reason is the micro-USB cable, which could easily be misplaced. Sure, a replacement can be found for $5, but not at every corner store. If I’m traveling and caught somewhere without juice, a AA battery is far easier to locate than a micro-USB cable. Logitech was so good with battery optimization on the M570 that I can’t recall the last time I replaced the battery. It’s not a deal-breaker, but it does mean one more cable to keep track of.
What’s in the box / final thoughts
The MX ERGO comes with the aforementioned micro-USB cable and the Unifying receiver. There’s also a small setup card and the usual regulatory documents. Other than that, you’ll need to visit the product web site to learn more about the unit and download Logitech Options.
If you’ve only ever used a mouse or a trackpad, or even if you’ve used another type of trackball, the MX ERGO (like the M570) will take a few days of adjustment. Don’t be scared of the change — once you grow accustomed to it, your body will thank you in the form of increased comfort and reduced strain.
If the ERGO’s $99 price tag — currently slightly discounted at $92 on Amazon — is too much of a barrier for you, try the M570 at a much more affordable $24. It will allow you to experiment with the form without breaking the bank. But the extra $70 or so is totally justified for the impressive improvements found in the ERGO. Whether you’re using it primarily with music software or with other apps, the Logitech MX ERGO is a valuable tool for daily use.