Comparison of Pointing Devices

Relaxed arm

We nerds tend to spend lots of time working with computers. Although it is common knowledge that the usual tools are bad for our bodies only few of us act on that knowledge. Headaches, cramps, tight shoulders and necks or even serious illnesses induced by wrong postures appear to be quite common. The most often used input devices for PCs are certainly keyboard and mouse so it is natural to start optimizing there. In this post I want to share what experiences I have had with different pointing devices lately. Note that you invariably have to configure your device properly regardless of what kind you use. Sensitivity respectively cursor speed is probably the most important setting.


Everybody who can access this blog has used a mouse so I will skip the ramblings.

Holding a standard mouse

  • High pointing precision
  • Potentially many buttons
  • Thumb is free to use buttons
  • Variety of models
  • Unnatural arm and wrist posture
  • Lots of arm movements
  • Need a fair amount of flat, solid space
  • Might be tiring to use

An alternative I have not tried myself is the VerticalMouse. The name tells you really all you need to know and people claim it is great.


Due to space restrictions on my desk I switched to a Logitech TrackMan Wheel some years ago. I was very sceptical at first and was rewarded with lots of pain. But once I found a comfortable position I liked using the trackball a lot. Especially on big or with multiple screens it helps that you can let the ball spin and move around quickly; getting it right needs some training, though. My biggest problem has been the lack of precision.

Using Trackball

  • Ball spinning cuts distances
  • Arm stays still
  • Space efficient
  • Can be used on any surface
  • Unnatural arm and wrist posture
  • Strains thumb joint exclusively
  • Few models, especially for lefties
  • Precision is harder to achieve
  • Have to keep ball clean

Graphics Tablet

Only some months ago, I purchased a Wacom Bamboo Pen because I wanted to use image editing software and online whiteboards more. Graphics tablets are unrivaled for this task; you just cannot draw or write properly with a mouse let alone a trackball. I tried using it as main pointing device then and have not stopped since; I feel very comfortable navigating my computer with a stylus and miss it every time I cannot use it. Note that I prefer tablet over touch screen because I do not like my hand interfering with the screen. Note also that you appearently have to buy a certain level of quality; in particular, stay clear of tablets whose styli have batteries. The weight of a Wacom stylus is about the same as for any pen, as it should be. The main problem with stylus input in general is maybe the lack of easily accessible buttons. If you are quick with keyboard shortcuts you should be fine, though. I also installed a FireGestures which inreases navigation effiency in Firefox a lot.

Holding Wacom Stylus

  • High drawing precision
  • Natural arm and wrist posture
  • Enables use of drawing and gesture software
  • Pressure, tilt and rotation sensors possible
  • Absolute positioning possible
  • Tablet might double as touchpad
  • Few buttons, maybe awkwardly placed
  • Lack of pointing precision
  • Lots of wrist movements
  • Need a fair amount of flat, solid space
  • Stylus can be fragile, pin wears off

Finally I want to point out that none of the three device types is generally more expensive than the others. You can get quality products of any kind for 50€ to 70€, especially if you buy second-hand. I have been using all with Linux. Drivers are not a problem for standard mice and trackballs, but you certainly have to make sure that there is a working driver for the graphics tablet you want to buy. Wacom seems to be well supported, but better check.

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