Kensington SlimBlade Trackball Review
SUMMARY: The Kensington SlimBlade could very well be the Ferrari of the trackballs. It looks utterly amazing and is full of cutting edge technology. But, like a Ferrari, it comes at a price. I use it currently as my main trackball, and I love it, but it takes a daredevil to actually buy this as your first trackball. Hold on to your seat, here’s the the review of a beautiful beast.
OUR VERDICT: Read full review below
I was looking forward to reviewing the Kensington SlimBlade trackball, and once it arrived and I opened the solid carton box, I wasn’t disappointed. The SlimBlade is the most beautiful trackball on the market, period. The SlimBlade trackball is made of high quality materials, with a ‘metallic’ dark grey glossy plastic (the same material is even used at the bottom as well), and a shiny ‘chrome’ ring around the huge, ‘metallic’ dark red ball. The chrome ring can be seen in the image below of my trackball, but on the official Kensington images it looks just black or grey. The sides of the trackball are filled with a cream colored rubber, with a little rubber ‘flap’ that sticks out on the left side with the Kensington logo engraved in it. Looking from the top, you can see four large buttons that are part of the body, covering almost the whole surface.
Even the USB cable isn’t just a regular cable. The cable looks and feels, and basically is, a black string, like a mini rope or chord. I would almost compare it to a round shoelace for a dress shoe. At the end of this fancy cable there is an originally shaped, cream-colored USB plug.
After admiring this beautifully shaped trackball for a while, I started thinking slightly more rationally. Why is there a little flap with the Kensington logo sticking out from the side? Quite unnecessary and it takes away from the perfect symmetry of the design. Update: the little flap on the side has a purpose! Thanks to a comment below, I now know that this flap can be used to connect the mouse to a Kensington keyboard. There are magnets behind the rubber and the flap will keep the mouse in place. The wireless keyboard is part of the Kensington SlimBlade Media Notebook Set, and comes with a numpad and usb dongle. You can try to find this Slimblade keyboard set on eBay. See pictures below (thanks to Arnaud Vernay for the tip and photos):
And that beautiful chrome ring, why doesn’t it do anything? It should have been a scrollring! Now it is just decoration. (The SlimBlade does have a very ingenious scroll function though, but we’ll come to that later).
The device is quite large, even slightly bigger than the Expert, but for my large hands it is very comfortable. And since it doesn’t move while you use it (like all trackballs) it doesn’t really matter unless you are running very low on desk space.
Once I carefully put my hand on the beautiful device, I immediately feel at home. As you might have read in my other reviews, I have used a Kensington Expert most of my professional life and this SlimBlade has very similar setup. The ball of the Expert is exactly the same size as the one on the SlimBlade (it’s large!), and both trackballs have four large buttons around the ball. (If you own an old Expert, and you buy this SlimBlade to replace it, you can exchange the red ball of the SlimBlade with the dark grey ball of the Expert, to make your SlimBlade look even more unique.) The design of the SlimBlade and Expert is ambidextrous which means both left-handed and right-handed people can use it.
Plug and play
The SlimBlade trackball works immediately when you connect the beautiful and unique USB chord to your computer, but I would recommended installing Kensington’s TrackballWorks and SlimBlade software to really take advantage of all the features of this trackball. The software enables you to customize each button and the scrolling speed. The software can be found on the Kensington website and can be installed very quickly (TrackballWorks does require a restart of your computer though).
The Kensington SlimBlade has four buttons, which are uniquely integrated in (basically a part of) the body. The buttons are very large and cover almost the complete top of the body around the ball. The bottom left button is the left-click, the bottom right button is usually best for right-click. The top two buttons can be set to for example Back/Forward. Each of the four buttons can be customized with the TrackballWorks control center to almost anything you want them to do: automatic double click, copy/paste, media player functions, launching applications and webpages, and dozens of other functions you never even thought were possible.
You can even set custom actions for clicking the two top buttons or two bottom buttons at the same time, giving this trackball in a way 6 buttons.
The bottom buttons (click and right-click) are very easy to click and make a nice feedback sound. The two top buttons require a little stretch of your finger to reach and click.
On several websites, especially on Amazon.com, many reviews are very negative about this trackball because when it was first released, the buttons couldn’t be programmed. Currently the fantastic new Kensington TrackballWorks software has solved this problem, so don’t get put off of this terrific trackball by old reviews mentioning the lack of customizable buttons. Today, you can fully customize and program your SlimBlade buttons.
At first, you might think the chrome ring around the ball works as a scrollring, similar to the Kensington Expert, but alas, this is not the case. The chrome ring is pure decoration. The secret of scrolling on the SlimBlade can be found in the 3rd dimension! You have to turn the ball around its vertical axis to scroll. This might sound difficult, but it’s really not. It is very natural to turn the ball sideways with your fingers. Turn it to the right to scroll down, and turn it to the left to scroll up (although you can change this in the TrackballWorks settings if you like). Your fingers hardly have to move from their usual trackballing position, so scrolling is very fast and easy to control. The scroll speed can be adjusted with the TrackballWorks software, anywhere from very slow to very fast. When you scroll, you can hear subtle ‘click’ sounds. This is a nice feedback and really only happens when you turn the ball sideways to scroll. Very cool.
That said, there are some small downsides of this way of scrolling. First of all it takes a bit more effort of the fingers to scroll this way, compared to a scrollwheel or scrollring, because you have to use two fingers moving in opposite direction, or use one finger to hold the axis and the other to turn it. And secondly, it is almost impossible to make the scrolling movement without also moving the pointer a bit. Since you use the same ball to control the scrolling and moving the pointer, this is almost inevitable. The fact that the pointer moves a bit on your screen while scrolling doesn’t really matter usually for your computing experience, but I would say scrolling with a separate ring, as on the Kensington Expert or Kensington Orbit with Scroll ring, is superior to (although not as cool as) the SlimBlade ball-scrolling.
Navigation Mode and Media Mode
The SlimBlade offers also two unique mode for PC users. Choose Navigation Mode to control cursor and scrolling. Media Mode controls volume, play/pause, stop, and track forward/backward of your music and videos. This functionality can be set from the TrackballWorks software.
|4.5 / 5|
Overall the Kensington SlimBlade is a winner in many ways. Kensington really went out of its way to make something special. It looks fantastic, feels great while working with it and is very accurate and solid. Definitely recommended for professional or heavy users, but also for anyone who wants the best trackball experience.
Very cool and easy way of scrolling, but because your pointer moves slightly during scrolling one could say it is not as perfect as the large scrollring found on the Kensington Expert or Kensington Orbit with Scrolwheel.
The Kensington SlimBlade is the most expensive trackball available (not counting the high prices that are currently being asked for the ‘vintage’ Microsoft Optical trackballs) but in my opinion worth every cent and together with the Kensington Expert my favorite trackball ever made.
[update March 2016: currently the SlimBlade can be found much cheaper on Amazon, see store list below]