Hot Take: Elecom Bitra Finger TrackballEvan Travers
I've got an Elecom Bitra Finger trackball sitting in front of me. Here's some thoughts after a two weeks of usage:
I've been very happy with my perfect travel mouse. As spring approaches I have found myself at a rustic picnic table and finding that even the best mouse is useless without a relatively flat surface. I'm interested in cutting the mousepad out of my office in a bag and using a trackball also supports unusual working positions… and my hammock is calling my name.
I honestly think the correct answer for most people here is an Apple Magic Trackpad. It's rechargeable, simple, and just works. Much of my daily pointer usage is dragging rectangles. Holding the trackpad tension with my thumb1 and moving my fingers on a trackpad for extended periods of time has been the primary causes of RSI for me. I could attempt a different position or gesture, or I could buy a new toy! 🤷
The Bitra is the smallest of Elecom's trackball offerings and marketed as a travel device. It comes in both a finger and thumb trackball version, I chose the finger one to try and avoid aggravating the thumb injury1. It's about 60% of the size of the Steelseries Prime Mini. It's not a primo device but it doesn't feel cheap, and it comes with a nice soft case.
The first copy that arrived from Amazon I used for a week. I could see moments of greatness… but the tracking was awful and the ball was scratchy. I returned it for another after reading Elecom's quality can be hit or miss… and the second was much smoother and had that "inertia" feeling to it. I still have this one in front of me.
It's powered by a single AAA battery that seems to drain about 10% a day. There are USB-C batteries out there, but I wish it had a built in battery pack that lasted for longer.
The Bitra comes as both a Bluetooth only and a model with a USB-A dongle. In the name of simplicity (and no more USB-A!) I chose Bluetooth. It works well enough with the slight lag that BT introduces.
That's all well and good… but what is it like to use?
I have medium hands, so the Bitra falls into a various "claw-style" grabs. The primary click has several planes for your thumb to rest so it is very friendly to holding in different styles.
The layout weirdly makes sense to me, but it basically takes every element of a normal mouse and moves the responsibility to a different part of your hand.
- LMB -> thumb
- RMB -> pinky
- Scrollwheel -> thumb
- pointing -> fingers
I find it relatively natural. (I have been 100% on the trackball for work, but switching to a mouse for games.) I especially like scrolling with my thumb rather than the weird wrist twerk usually required to get your fingers to scroll a wheel.
I have found that I need to be careful to relax my fourth and fifth fingers. I typically run a "claw" grip on mice, so I am accustomed to applying pressure to the outside edge of the mouse with those fingers. Because the Bitra is so small, that habit can cause some hand strain as my hand holds onto something it's not moving at all. I am retraining my hand to use fourth finger on top and dangle the fifth with no pressure.
I haven't been able to get any of the Elecom software to run on my M1 Mac, although there are reports on Reddit of it working. The default buttons solve everything I want to do.
I'll likely keep this Bitra as a cheap and useful option. It's a great tool to have: RSI can be avoided by changing up inputs to avoid the titular repetitive stress. It's something I can grab headed out the door to have an ergonomic environment on the go, and most likely will be stationed semi-permanently in the Mobile Office. At home, I don't see myself going all in on the trackball. Mousing doesn't seem to be a source of RSI for me… and while I have to be intentional about manipulating the trackball I don't even think about using a mouse. Things just happen.
For fun I ran mouseaccuracy.com on my mouse2, my trackpad3, and the trackball4. The results are pretty much as you would expect, although I was impressed at how quickly I was able to pick up the trackball.
If someone wants to make a small USB-C chargeable travel5 trackball… lemme know. 😄
2023-03-08 15:45:38 -0600Add details about my grip
2023-03-06 20:13:23 -0600Add some details about the button layout
2023-03-06 15:44:20 -0600Quick Post: Elecom