The Best BlackBerry Controller: Trackball or Scroll Wheel?

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The original BlackBerrys featured a scroll wheel on the right side, which enabled users to navigate menus and scroll through e-mails and Web pages. With the advent of the 8000 series, that wheel was replaced with a trackball located just underneath the screen. While a new generation of users have embraced the new navigation device, many old-school BlackBerry addicts wish RIM would bring back the scroll wheel. Here at LAPTOP, we found two passion push-partisans on the staff and let them duke it out. Read their arguments below, then post your own comments. Do you want the wheel back? Point: Why a BlackBerry Trackball is the Only Way to Go By Joanna Stern I never wanted a BlackBerry until they came out with the Pearl, which sported a pearl-esque trackball. Why? Because the scroll wheel found on the right edge of BlackBerrys prior was more awkward than a 12-year-old boy heading into puberty. Those who use BlackBerrys with scroll wheels seem to look like they have some sort of deformity; their right index finger is always unnaturally extended to the right of the device. Mr. Jeffrey Wilson will try and convince you otherwise, but putting a wheel on the side of a BlackBerry has never made sense. It almost seemed like an outgrowth of older technology, like beepers. For those that don't remember beepers, you would hold this ancient contraption and use a side wheel to scroll through the numbers. There is no doubt that the advent of the trackball pushed RIM's BlackBerry into the forefront. Here is why I could never imagine using a BlackBerry with a scroll wheel and why I'll never give up on my precious little gem. Ergonomics Trump All: The scroll wheel design is not conducive to thumb-typing and does not make for comfortable hand positioning on the device. With the scroll wheel, using your phone with your left hand was never really possible. If you were holding your BlackBerry in your left hand, you would have to constantly adjust your positioning: To type, you must put your thumb on the keys, but then to toggle the menu, you have to move your hand around to the right side of the device to scroll using the wheel. With the trackball positioned front and center on the device, you can type with one hand; you simply move your thumb from the keyboard slightly up to maneuver the trackball. Sure using a wheel device with two hands is tolerable, but you can never have a firm grip on the device since you have to keep your index finger on the right side to control the wheel. With the ball you can firmly and comfortably hold the device in the palm of your hand and that ball is always within thumb's reach. The Need for Speed: How do people move within menus with a scroll wheel? There is no doubt that you can navigate faster with the ball, because you gain four-way directional controls for moving through applications or navigating a Web page. You also gain much more precision with the trackball; you can accurately navigate to the application you need in the main menu with short ball rolls. Even better, when you are writing up an e-mail or SMS message you can easily move the cursor to the right or left by horizontally rotating the ball. Far from Fugly: The Face it, the trackball is way more attractive. This illuminated pinball has made the BlackBerry more visually appealing since it first lit up the device. Even better, select Pearl models have a feature that allows the ball to change colors. Have you ever seen a mesmerizing scroll wheel? Plain and simple, the ball rock and rolls. But listen to Jeff Wilson's wheel counterpoint and decide for yourself. CounterPoint: The Wheel Still Turns By Jeffery Wilson Ms. Stern, I hate to say this, as you’re a swell lass, but this verbal lashing I’m about to deliver is for your own good: You’re one of the reasons why I despise this new generation of BlackBerry users. You admittedly hopped on the wagon with the introduction of the Pearl; you “ballers” didn’t endure the early BlackBerry hell. We “wheelers” endured the chunky bodies that you practically needed to grease up in order to slide into a pocket; we wheelers made due with the dull displays in the early models; we had to cough up the heavy coin to bring those puppies home. Yet you have the audacity to chastise one of the most defining BlackBerry elements. The nerve! We scroll wheelers were able to appreciate the excellence of the device, even when it was in full Ugly Betty mode. The Scroll Wheel is King: You want to talk ergonomics? Stretching your thumb across the face of the handset to fiddle with a wheel isn’t exactly the most comfortable position for my strong (yet sensitive) hands. The scroll wheel, however, just feels right. When my thumb is aligned along the side of the scroll wheel, I have a solid grip that harkens back to my Little League years when I would choke up on my Slugger. Besides, who controls their scroll wheel with their index finger except Ballers with little wheelin’ experience? While it's true that you can type and manipulate the trackball with one hand, who types one-handed? The bottom line is that BlackBerry users spend the bulk of their time reading e-mails and surfing Web pages. A scroll wheel is more practical for skimming through long messages and online articles. Superior Control: I’ve tried to like the trackball. I really have. But the little orb lacks one vital function: pinpoint control. When I scroll through menus with the trackball, I feel like I’m playing a game of Centipede. That setup works fine for slaying giant bugs, but when I want to quickly access menus, I want the steady control that comes with the scroll wheel’s grooves. I’ll take accurate control over four-way directional movement any day. Wrapping It Up: All in all, your trackball is a fine device for BlackBerry novices, but we traditionalists prefer the purity, the sweetness, that is the scroll wheel. Prove me wrong.
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  • Carmen Says:

    If your holding your phone, your fingers are naturally on the sides of the phone. Putting the wheel and buttons on the side makes more sense, that's where your you have your fingers. Maybe if RIM puts the ball on the side where my thumb is, I might like the ball better, but I have my doubts. Having the ball in the middle of the phone is like putting a trackball mouse at the base of your monitor. And getting "use to it," is not an option. They should offer at least one blackberry with no silly cameras, no mp3 players and no track balls. New technology is not always better, sometimes it's just more financially undemanding. As for the mouse on my laptop, I hate that too! It's always disabled.

  • bbcurve Says: can't brush off the trackball as being less precise than the wheel if you haven't used it as long as you've used the wheel..i've been using a trackball for over 2 years and i'm more accurate with it than my uncle who's been using the wheel for over 5 years.
    i've tried the wheel sucks..absolutely sucks..
    when you're on a webpage, the trackball is definitely more efficient..imagine if your computer mouse can only move up or down....

    using the wheel as a comparison to choking up on a bat? haha..i play baseball and it's nothing like using the wheel..

    typing wise, it's also a lot more efficient..
    if you're a laptop user, imagine if your laptop's mouse was a wheel on the side of your laptop..would that be more accurate or efficient than the mouse you have on the laptop already?

    wheel lovers, learn to use the trackball, then you'd love it.
    i know new technology can be hard sometimes but there's a reason that companies chose to continue production of the trackball rather than bringing back the wheel..

  • weewilly Says:

    Anybody know if RIM ever reads all these posts? It would be nice to know if they've considered all the good suggestions found herein.

  • jp Says:

    TRACK WHEEL ALL THE WAY- The ergonomics are perfect with the wheel, and like Mr. Wilson stated, cranking my thumb to the middle of the device doesn't hold a candle to the speed, comfort and natural movement the wheel offers. I got my first Blackberry 900 series in 2001, before they made phones!!! I love your new devices and bought one, but after a week of the track ball I went back to my old device for the wheel. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE BLACKBERRY, MAKE A DEVICE THAT OFFERS BOTH THE WHEEL AND THE BALL- PLEASE!!!

  • PaerlUser Says:

    I hate the trackball. I absolutely, positively, hate it more than I've ever hated any aspect of any phone I've ever owned. It's quirky, sometimes it's hyper sensitive, sometimes you have to roll it all day to get it to move. Sometimes the cursor just hovers in place. It's a good idea, but the implementation is absolutely abysmal. Not a day goes by that I don't curse it. I will never buy another blackberry so long as the scroll wheel endures... unless it's SERIOUSLY redesigned. Give me the click wheel any day. OR... make the volume buttons work for scrolling. They sit idle as it is.

  • Christina Says:

    Mine broke also - they definitely have an issue with the trackball. T-Mobile wouldn't help me with anything!

    But I ordered a new one on and it came instructions on how to fix it really easily. I ordered FedEx so it arrived so quickly and was shipped the same day I ordered. I totally recommend it.

  • Nathan Says:

    Although I like the trackball better the track ball has its down fall I am leaveing this comment with a crippled trackball this morning I was useing my pearl and I was not able to select with the trackball I have to use the enter botton which works but is slowing me down luckily. Tmobile if they can't talk me through fixing it they are going to replace it but I wish they could do something about keeping dust out of the track ball since that is the problem

  • BrianL Says:

    I can not believe that RIMM doesn't just come out with a device that has a scroll wheel and a scroll ball. I have not bought the pearl or curve because it doesn't have a scroll wheel. I demo'd the pearl hoping I would like it, but I lost productivity that the scroll wheel gives me. Reading emails and news articles is way more efficient with the scroll wheel. That's my primary purpose of the device.

  • Chon Says:

    Why not add both? I´m a BIG fan of the scroll wheel, for accuracy, etc...
    Also, I´m not interested in a smaller form factor that a scroll-wheel can impede. I use my BB for writing, websurfing, keeping track of appointments, etc... not looking sexy.

  • JEF Says:

    The wheel was also a lot better if you needed to scroll deep into a long email or webpage.

  • H4MM3R Says:

    Love the trackball it is a lot better than the wheel. I have used the 7250, 8703e, 8830 and now have the 8330.

  • Jia Says:

    i Like the trackball infact...its easy to use..Dont know about the wheeler thing.When you get used to the trackball, you dont feel a thing

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