How I switched from mouse to Chinese trackball ProtoArc EM01
I didn't have any aching hands or tunnel syndrome, and there was plenty of space on my desktop, but I had an inordinate longing that I had been working at computers all my life, and I hadn't tried trackball. I was always stopped by their inadequately high price, or I was just too lazy to change something in my life, but when the Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Mouse died after a year of work, I seem to have completely lost faith in people and mice, and decided to find something that would be radically different from my previous mice. I already had vertical ones, gaming ones don't cling because of their wires, and I've been working and playing only on wireless peripherals for many, many years… In general, I got on Aliexpress... and first I chose some Chinese Logitech MX clone for myself, and then my eyes fell on the ProtoArc EM01 trackball, which was offered at the same price. After running through similar products and choosing "what is more expensive, yes with RGB backlight", I decided for myself: "now or never" and ordered a trackball from an unknown company ProtoArc.
I will say right away that if I had read all those reviews and user opinions before I clicked the "pay" button, I would have chosen something else. Not because this model was scolded - no, on the contrary, there was an ominous silence about it on the Internet... but because I would choose a model for my index and middle finger, because for me these fingers are more familiar when sliding on a laptop touchpad. But, it was a 100% sudden, ill-considered purchase, followed by weeks of waiting for the parcel.
I was afraid of addiction: they wrote everywhere that after a mouse, and especially a good mouse, it is quite difficult to get used to a ball, and many people just try to work with both a mouse and a trackball at the same time, and then, without noticing it, they stay on the mouse, and the new animal goes into a long box or on eBay. I'm not like that: in my life I stopped drinking, smoking and swearing, refused meat and sweets, coffee and tea, learned to go to bed late and get up early, so I was sure for sure: no matter how painful the addiction was, I would starve this bastard.
I was intrigued by such a moment that it turns out that many users of trackballs change suspension balls in their design... yes, this is a mechanical device in which the main ball hangs in the air, relying on 3 microscopic balls with a diameter of 3 mm. These balls are considered bearings, and even in branded expensive devices there are not perfect sliding smoothness, so enthusiasts order zirconium balls on the same Aliexpress and change them, achieving high smoothness and softness of starting from a place. I contacted the manufacturer ProtoArc EM01, and I was assured that this trackball already has zirconium oxide suspension balls, so no improvements are required.
Yes, actually, the trackball, unlike the mouse, has not got rid of the ball over decades of evolution (otherwise it would not be a trackball), but on the contrary increased its size and positioning accuracy. It would seem that now, that 20 years ago, a ball is a ball, and there is little that can be done with it, but this is not the case. The first prehistoric trackballs controlled the cursor by rotating two rollers, forming a horizontal and vertical component of movement. This technology died along with mechanical mice, and then, along with the transition to optical technology, a modern design appeared in which the ball rests on three movable supports (ball bearings), and the movements are removed from it by an optical sensor.
For better accuracy, the surface of the ball was first made spotted, resembling the texture of polished marble, but now there is no need for this. It is much more important that the ball does not "stick" on the suspension, then the first movement will not require additional effort. Here, ProtoArc EM01 uses a polymer ball with a diameter of 34 mm, gray color. If the soul requires tuning, you can buy a ball of a different color on the same Aliexpress.
But neither a modern sensor nor a fashionable suspension will save you from the need to periodically take out the ball and clean it together with the bearings from dirt stuck to your hands. Moreover, the trackball also needs to be lubricated, and do you know what the best trackball players recommend doing? Do not read further if you are squeamish, but they recommend smearing the suspension balls with oil from the skin of the face, directly passing your finger near the nose and eyes and then wiping the sebaceous discharge on the balls. Now that you know it - NEVER TOUCH SOMEONE ELSE'S TRACKBALL! Who knows what the owner greased it with.
"Why all these problems?" - the reader will ask - and he will be absolutely right. Hundreds of millions of people have never picked up a trackball and do not know about its existence, but is this a reason to deny yourself the pleasure of experiencing something new? OK, let's go get the goods by mail.
Exterior and ergonomics
Chinese manufacturers, of course, have a real problem with marketing: the same model is sold under different brands, but comes in the same box, there is no software, and "guess yourself" about the pros and cons. Visually, we have a Logitech MX Ergo clone, slightly less "slick" in design, with a built-in 900 mAh lithium battery, with a radio module that supports Bluetooth and Wireless 2.4 GHz, with three DPI levels: 1000/1600/2400, with silent buttons and an RGB ring around the ball. The highlight of the model, purely copied from the Logitech MX Ergo, is a built-in stand with a tilt angle of 0 or 20 degrees for different hand positions, only Logitech has it metal, and here it is plastic.
Let's start with the bad: I bought this manipulator precisely for the sake of Bluetooth, ProtoArc EM01 has the ability to connect to two devices at once and switch with a button on the hump, for example, between a computer and a laptop. But damn it! Bluetooth periodically freezes, and I had to use a complete 2.4GHz receiver, which, in general, upset me. But these are today's realities: even famous brands have forgotten how to do reliable things, and the Bluetooth disconnections reported by people at both Logitech and Elecom trackballs.
Now for the good: yes, now is the time when I can put Chinese manufacturers as an example of the highest build quality. I will say that the materials, the fit of the parts, the coating of the ProtoArc EM01 are somewhere at the level of the best Microsoft models of the 2010s, it is useless for modern Logitech, Razer and Microsoft mice to compete with this beast: according to tactile sensations, the ProtoArc have gone far ahead, honor and praise to them. Of course, I compare it with gaming and ergonomic mice, of which I had plenty.
The main thing that strikes is a completely silent, but at the same time tangible click on the left and right mouse buttons, and a distinct, soft step-by-step scroll with silent rotation. Show me the second such mouse on Aliexpress - and I will buy it in reserve, because for me it is an indicator of quality. The mouse clicks so quietly that I can't hear it myself, let alone the household or neighbors in the office.
The coating of the case is matte, but not "soft-touch", and for me this is a plus, because I know how quickly the "soft-touch" gets salted and peels off. Here on the mouse, of course, there are traces of sweat from the palm, but dirt is not collected, as on glossy plastic, and I hope that the scratches will not be visible.
The stability is ideal: the manipulator does not swing on the table (and sometimes it happens), the built-in stand from below is completely glued with an anti-slip sole. The stand is not removable, and is fixed either in a semi-elevated state, lifting the ball higher, or in a flat position, more familiar to the hands. In the second case, the ball turns a little easier and with less effort. Apparently, the bulk falls on one lower bearing, and when turning 20 degrees up, it is already distributed by three, increasing the friction force. If the trackball lies on the table like a mouse, then the little finger when controlling the device hangs in the air, and it is more convenient to put it under the arm, between the body and the stand. The scroll wheel is placed with a slight slope, so it is convenient to use it in both tilt positions.
The standard buttons for the index and middle finger duplicate the left and right mouse buttons, the scrollwheel is pressed down, but not left/right. The "forward/backward" functions are placed on two small buttons on the left side of the LMB, and this solution is strongly for the amateur. I don't like it when the index finger has to be bent to move between the buttons, but it's a matter of habit. More importantly, these keys are as silent as the rest.
A connection type switch is installed at the very top of the housing: by pressing it, we select modes 1), 2), 3), highlighted by the corresponding indicators on the housing. 1 means a 2.4GHz radio connection, and 2 and 3 are a Bluetooth pair with the first and second device, respectively.
There are two buttons under the thumb (Logitech MX Ergo has one). The front switches the RGB glow mode of the rim around the ball, and the back changes the DPI level. There is no sensitivity indicator here, so which one is on now - the devil knows. I generally adjust the DPI once when buying a mouse, and never touch it again, but trackball users say that they sometimes need such a switch.
The sensor has a nominal resolution of 380 dpi (like the Logitech MX Ergo), with a maximum value of 2400 DPI (higher than the MX Ergo). Adjustment implies only 3 values from 1000 to 2400 DPI, and here the trackball is inferior to MX Ergo, which has a change step of 100 DPI. This is an optical, not laser, sensor, and in complete darkness you can see how its red light makes its way around the wheel a little. And at the same time, you can see that the gray ball no longer has the same spotty marble color as the old trackballs.
The RGB ring around the ball can be called a stumbling block. The fact is that the backlight is not adjusted in any way (there is no software), and the switching mode simply changes how exactly this ring flashes. In the dark, when you run your finger over the ball, it feels like the ring is constantly blinking in your right eye, so after playing around, I turned it off by long pressing the backlight color selection button.
I want to say a little about energy saving: like any wireless manipulator, the trackball turns off when there is no movement, but then it turns on instantly, once you move the ball. After the computer comes out of sleep, you need to click the button to turn on the mouse. In modern manipulators, there has long been no delay from the first movement after falling asleep for a short time, and this trackball is no exception. When he wakes up from sleep, he works out the first movement in the same way as a wired mouse, without brakes.
When connected via Bluetooth, Windows displays the battery charge level, which can be replenished via a USB Type-C cable. By the way, a trackball can't work on a wire.
To facilitate cleaning with the removal of the ball, there is a hole on the bottom of its pallet into which you need to push a pen or pencil and push it out. According to the advice of experienced, trackball balls are easily scratched, so it's better to press them with an eraser on a pencil. If you have spoiled the ball, then choose any with a diameter of 34 mm, there should be no problems. According to the advice on the forums, Logitech balls are less prone to "sticking" and slide more smoothly.
The ball has a small backlash in the landing niche in the forward/backward direction. In general, this is normal for trackballs, and in some models the balls are not attached at all, you can take them out and take them out.
ProtoArc EM01 does not have any bundled software, and if for a mouse it still went nowhere, then for a trackball it is comparable to a disaster. But, as they said in the films of the 90s: "not on my shift," because I had time to study the match while the parcel was looking for its way out of China.
The first and most important step that will determine your future life with a trackball is to adjust the speed/ sensitivity and acceleration. In Windows 10/11, this can be done by turning on the high precision mode in the mouse settings, but there is a better way. Download a good program InterAccel by Kovaak, install its driver instead of the standard Windows driver and configure the parameters that form the acceleration curve. Do not skimp on spending a couple of evenings on this process, because unlike mice, in trackballs, cursor acceleration is the key to long and comfortable work. With a quick movement of your finger from left to right or from top to bottom, the cursor should pass from edge to edge of the screen, while a small movement should allow you to highlight one point in a large paragraph of text.
If everything was successful with the previous step, then you can configure the buttons using third-party software like X-Mouse Button Control, but I don't see the point in this: the mouse does not have additional buttons that I would like to reprogram.
In general, I do not know how you can produce such a great product without software… This is a serious disadvantage for the manufacturer.
My own impressions
I finally got rid of the mouse pad! Of course, the previous rodent worked perfectly on a glass table without a mousepad, but I did not enjoy crawling plastic on the glass, and only after removing the "rat pad" in the drawer, I felt how much space it took up. A good, expensive, gaming one - I have never in my life put a cup of coffee on it, spilled tea, or even made a mess with thermal paste. It was only when he was gone that I realized how he had disfigured my desk, and how cool it was when all the peripherals were wireless.
According to my feelings, the trackball is inferior to the mouse in positioning speed. For example, with the mouse I can put the cursor in the right place in one movement, and with a trackball it's almost always several movements, like on a small touchpad. This makes, of course, its own adjustments to the work, but for example, with the correct sensitivity setting, it is more convenient to select and transfer pieces of text than on a mouse. Web surfing, yes, is probably the same: the "mouse" form factor with two buttons and a scroll wheel sometimes makes you forget that you have some kind of outlandish beast with a ball.
But trackball also has the reverse side of its mechanical essence - its inertia. Once you get used to it, you can put the cursor where you want with one push of the ball: no need to move the mouse on the mat, no need to drag your finger on the trackpad: one lightning-fast movement - and the cursor is in place. This requires training in choosing the push force on the ball, but the result will be the same as if you learned to kick the mouse so that it gets to the right place on the mat. This greatly speeds up the work at the computer, introduces some new colors.
As for games, I can definitely say that it is better to use a mouse or a gamepad. With the modern availability of good gaming mice, both wired and wireless, you can just keep a second manipulator for toys, and not make a problem out of it.
Time passed, and something in my trackball began to rotate the ball too noisily. Cleaning the suspension did not help, and I decided to disassemble it. This is done easily: first we pull the stand on ourselves - it comes out of the grooves, and we see two powerful neodymium magnets at the bottom, fixing it in extreme positions. Then we unscrew the five screws with a phillips screwdriver and carefully split the case with a plastic card.
What did I see inside? The suspension balls are soldered in the housing, they do not rotate and do not change. If desired, you can easily replace the switches, but in principle it is useless to modify something inside the device. I cleaned the balls again, put them in reverse order - and the noise disappeared.
I deliberately avoided everything in the article that concerns the health and position of the hand, because the Internet is teeming with all sorts of speculation on this topic, and I do not share them. I believe that expensive ergonomic mice are devoid of all the disadvantages that are attributed to them.
As for me, I have achieved my goal: I switched from a mouse to a trackball, and since I rarely play, and mostly on a gamepad, for me the absence of a mouse is not a problem at all. I can't say that I got any advantages from trackball, but a carload of new sensations and a baggage of new knowledge from a world I've never encountered is provided for me.
The ProtoArc EM01 itself surprised on the good side. Only two things spoil the impression - it's falling off Bluetooth and the lack of software. If you do not take them into account, then this is an ideal device, on the example of which other eminent companies should learn how to do. The device is definitely worth your money, and if you want new sensations from the computer - do not hesitate, order while cheap.
Michael Degtjarev (aka LIKE OFF)