Those who lived through the ‘90s may as well be caught in a time loop. In the past year alone, we've suffered through a Power Rangers reboot, a Hulk Hogan legal battle and a Clinton presidential campaign. However, not everything from the age of MTV and campy Batman movies has aged badly. Logitech's MX Ergo mouse ($100) brings the trackball back for a second chance at mainstream mouse manipulation, and it's pretty much as good (or as bad) as you remember it.
While trackball mice haven't exactly been absent these past few decades, major manufacturers haven't been pumping them out, much less at reasonable prices. With a comfortable grip, a few innovative features and just enough extra buttons to keep things interesting, the MX Ergo delivers a consumer-grade trackball mouse for the modern era. On the other hand, convoluted wireless connectivity and imprecise software can make it a tough sell for the price.
The MX Ergo is one of the biggest mice I've ever used. At 5.2 x 3.9 x 2.0 inches, it's not only incredibly wide, but also unusually tall. The width is so that your two outermost fingers have a place to rest -- after all, you're not going to be moving your hand around, so two dangling fingers would get tired fast. The increased height is to accommodate the big, silver trackball just under a user's thumb.
Whether or not you want to use the MX Ergo will come down entirely to how much you want a trackball. Despite not having useda trackball mouse since about 1995, the skills came back to me almost immediately.
For the young'uns in the audience who have never tried a trackball mouse, its operation is pretty simple. Rather than moving the mouse all around and having it track your movements, you simply use your thumb to rotate a sphere, which translates your movements into your cursor on-screen. There's no huge advantage for everyday computing, although some graphic designers and artists maintain that trackballs are superior for fine details in creative work.
Either way, the MX Ergo's trackball was both comfortable and accurate. The rest of the mouse isn't bad, either. In addition to a left and right button, you get a clickable scroll wheel, and a button to switch between inputs (more on that later). Near the top are two small buttons that, by default, go forward and back in a web browser, and on the side, there's a thumb button that reduces the dots-per-inch (DPI) sensitivity for when you need precise, rather than fast, scrolling.
While there's no denying that the MX Ergo is a strange-looking mouse, there's something to be said for putting the trackball on the side rather than dead center. My thumb and fingers never had to compete for real estate, and my entire hand fit comfortably on the mouse. There's even an option to tilt the mouse 20 degrees, in case you'd prefer to have your thumb upright instead.
While I don't think the entire computing populace needs to embrace the trackball (it makes very little sense for gaming, for example), the MX Ergo makes a pretty successful stab at bringing it back into the mainstream, both aesthetically and functionally.
While the trackball is probably the MX Ergo's most distinctive feature, it also attempts a few neat tricks with its wireless connectivity. The mouse runs on the Logitech Options software (think the Logitech Gaming Software, but for productivity gadgets), which allows users to tweak the mouse's parameters -- to some extent. You can tweak the sensitivity, but you can't assign actual DPI numbers. You can, however, reassign just about any button to perform any feature you'd like, so that's a plus.
The bigger draw of the Logitech Options software is Logitech Flow: one of the first major innovations I've seen in mouse software in years. The MX Ergo can connect wirelessly to two different devices at once. Since it's Bluetooth-compatible, you can connect it to a phone, tablet, streaming box or game console, but if you connect it to two computers, Logitech Flow lets you do some extremely cool stuff. You can scroll between computers at will, copying and pasting text and documents as you go. If you own both a desktop and a laptop, or need to transfer files to your co-workers at a moment's notice, the functionality speaks for itself.
While the MX Ergo's wireless connection is rock solid once you get it up and running, I did have a considerable amount of trouble connecting it to two different laptops. Connecting the device via USB dongle -- especially if you've already connected it via Bluetooth to another system -- is unintuitive and haphazard.
Likewise, even its Bluetooth connection can be finicky. I eventually found that I had to painstakingly "Forget" the device on each system before moving it to a new one, or else the device would just hang in pairing mode. Some systems flat-out preferred the "1" or "2" channel, even though there doesn't appear to be any difference between the two. Since connecting the mouse to multiple systems is a necessity for Logitech Flow, it's an annoying issue that crops up on a regular basis.
Gauging performance on productivity mice is always difficult, since there's no one particular task they're designed for. The only reliable way to put one through its paces is to use it every day and see if you notice a difference in your computing habits. Having used the MX Ergo at my work computer for about a week, I can safely say it's a worthy replacement for an optical mouse, with only one noticeable drawback.
A trackball can be a boon for very fine work, but unless you're used to dealing with one -- and turn the sensitivity down quite a bit -- it's easy to overshoot your destination. Whether I was trying to highlight a specific bit of text or minimize a window, I sometimes found myself clicking at empty air. The sensitivity- adjustment button on the side helps with this issue, as does just generally getting the hang of a trackball again, but optical-mouse users may find it a bit less precise than what they've come to expect, at least at first.
I'm not sure why the trackball went away -- or if it really needed to come back -- but Logitech has provided just about as good an argument as any with the MX Ergo. The mouse is big and comfortable, and the trackball is nearly flawless. The Logitech Flow functionality is both clever and useful, and the wireless connectivity is stable -- provided you can get it connected, at any rate. Regarding ‘90s revivals, the MX Ergo may not reach the soaring heights of the DuckTales reboot, but at least we were spared another Fuller House-style flop.