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.