UPDATE (16 October 2010): Kensington released their TrackballWorks in June of this year, which release enables users to customize the Slimblade Trackball's four buttons, adjust pointer speed/acceleration/function, and other features. The pointer sensitivity is much improved, though still not as good as the pointer sensitivity module found in the venerable MouseWorks software.
On the other hand, the ability to customize the four buttons of the Slimblade Trackball is a welcome (and much needed) improvement. This device should have shipped with this software.
The advent of programmable buttons places the Slimblade Trackball in a category of its own. It surpasses by a wide margin the ergonomics and aesthetics of the Expert Mouse. The scrolling function is superb, a perfect complement to a trackpad device. I am surprised by how much the Slimblade Trackball just "disappears" while I am working with it.
My only complaint is that the buttons are sometimes too sensitive, something that can be avoided by adjusting how much resting pressure one places on the device's surface.
Those of us looking for an attractive and elegant multifunction pointing device need look no further. The Slimblade Trackball now has software worthy of its stunning good looks.
(The previous version of this review rated the Slimblade Trackball at 2 stars, was found helpful by 190 of 201 people, and was titled "Missed Opportunity".)
(Amazon's system was not properly updating my review, so I deleted and reposted. At the time I did this, only 1 of 4 people found my review helpful. Even so.)
UPDATE (9 March 2009): After 4 days of continuous use. I am packing it in and reverting back to the Expert Mouse. If one needs either precise cursor control, programmable buttons or application-sensitive behavior, the Slimblade Trackball is unusable with the supplied software.
I've been using trackballs (mainly Kensington) since 1993 and am no stranger to change. This trackball simply was not designed with an expert user in mind, and I hope those who read my review will consider that it is written from this perspective. It is meant to inform professionals and expert users whose software and hardware demands are unusually high.
If you are an expert user who needs a pointing device to be application-aware, or if you need high-precision cursor control, this device is not one you should consider.
Tempting as this device may be for people frustrated with the terrible hardware design of the Expert Mouse, the Slimblade Trackball cannot replace the Expert Mouse.
The Slimblade Trackball is really a missed opportunity for Kensington. This device has so much potential but the software limitations make this device just barely usable.
The two major components of the Slimblade Trackball are the hardware design and the software affordances. Let's start with the good.
In order to understand what is amazing about the Kensington Slimblade Trackball, one should be aware of the last redesign of the Expert Mouse. That design is quite horrendous. The steep angle of the plastic housing strained the wrist tendons so badly that the device shipped with a faux leather pad that attached to the trackball to elevate the wrist. Besides being ugly, the pad kludge didn't work very well. Strained wrists are a common symptom among users of the Expert Mouse Trackball.
The Slimblade Trackball rectifies this situation. Big Time.
The low profile of the trackball housing is not only aesthetically pleasing, it also allows users to use the device with hand and wrist only moderately angled. The ball rolls smoothly (though it is an ugly color) and the buttons are very sleek as they are cut out of the housing. Clicks are unfortunately hollow-sounding, but the tactile response is superb, the buttons requiring a firm but shallow press for activation. The new device is a pleasure to handle physically.
The engineering of the trackball well is clever. Plastic bearings similar to those in the Expert Mouse Trackball keep the ball gliding smoothly, with the difference that these bearings are sealed in their sockets with only a portion of the bearing visible. The holes which contain the electronics that register ball movement do not appear to emit light. When the ball is rotated around its Y-axis (running through the top and bottom of the device), the electronics make an audible clicking noise. Think iPod scrollwheel sound. The faint sound could be a problem in quiet office environments, especially for users who do quite a bit of scrolling or zooming.
In all, the hardware of the device is excellent. The thought and care which went into the engineering shows, and if look and feel were all that mattered, Kensington would have produced a pointing device worthy of admiration and celebration.
Unfortunately for Kensington, there's also the bad and the ugly. Namely . . .
(I'm testing the Slimblade Trackball software on a PowerMac G5 2 x 2.5 GHz running Mac OS X v. 10.5.6. Windows users may have an experience different than mine.)
First off, I want to say that the software seems also to have received quite a bit of attention from the designers at Kensington. Unfortunately, what those designers produced seems to be the victim of poor market analysis.
Some Slimblade Trackball users have forgiven Kensington for omitting the ability to program the buttons. I am not one of these users. The inability to reprogram the buttons is arrogance at its worst. When Steve Jobs and Jon Ives give users an extra-strength dose of designerly arrogance, they often succeed in curing ailments users didn't even realize they had (hockey puck mouse excepted). I'm here to assure you that the software designers at Kensington are neither Steve Jobs nor Jon Ives.
First, the drivers for the Slimblade Trackball do not have any user-accessible interface. Period. OK, that's not entirely true. The installer places a pointer-shaped item in the menubar. Clicking on that item reveals two items. 1) A dimmed line reporting that the Kensington Slimblade Trackball is active, and 2) a link to Kensington's online tutorial. As we all know (as of 5 March 2009), that online tutorial is not yet available. So, the link sends users to the promotional microsite for the Slimblade Trackball as if advertising will convince them that nothing's wrong. I suppose one can navigate one's way to the sparse FAQ which contains 8 items as of this writing.
If you can't read the sign that says Things are Not Good(tm) then look over yonder. Yup. That's the milestone for Here Comes Ugly(tm)
Users not only cannot program the device's buttons, but they also cannot customize the speed and acceleration of the device outside of the operating system software provided by Apple or a piece of third-party software.* This is a problem of gargantuan proportions and has been documented at length in this TidBITS article: [...].
I have a 23" Cinema Display and a 17" Studio Display hooked together in a single extended desktop. I need my pointing device tracking to be set high. Setting the mouse tracking to high is possible with Apple's "Keyboard & Mouse" System Preference. The problem comes when moving the device slowly, as one might do when selecting text. The differences in slow and fast cursor tracking in Apple's Keyboard & Mouse System Preference settings render the Slimblade trackball practically unusable on medium-to-large desktops.
By removing the ability of users to customize slow and fast tracking speed--something that the Expert Mouse Trackball software does provide--Kensington has effectively turned what should have been a magnificent product into something only a mother could love, or at least a committee of marketroids who got their way over the tearful objections of old-skool Kensington software devs. Don't worry devs, having bought this device I feel your pain and then some.
At present, Kensington has no plans to offer programmable buttons for this device. One can only hope future software releases will enable users to customize the acceleration settings for the Slimblade Trackball just as users of the Expert Mouse Trackball are able to customize their settings.
The hardware engineers at Kensington deserve raises and your first-born. This is a beautiful device.
On the other hand, the managers of the software design team should have their computers confiscated and other really awful things like getting raisins for dessert.
The Kensington Slimblade Trackball is like a gorgeous date with a bland personality. You don't mind hanging out awhile but you hope something better will come along soon.
* My limited testing of USB Overdrive as a third-party driver has been unable to access the media buttons (the upper ones) at all, suggesting to me that the upper buttons are not regular mouse buttons at all.