When Logitech’s MX Ergo was announced a few weeks ago, I was the kid in the classroom with their hand in the air shouting, “pick me, pick me!” to do the review. Most of the other kids in the room were just yawning. As of this review going live, I’m still not sure the teacher of our figurative classroom even acknowledged me before I jumped out of my seat and started writing on the chalkboard. That’s OK, though—not everyone gets trackballs.
The Logitech MX Ergo
I, however, do get trackballs. Both literally and figuratively. As I mentioned in my Steam controller review, I grew up using them. I haven’t used them exclusively by any means, but I’ve certainly used one as my primary pointing device for the couple decades that computers have been a daily part of my life. When Logitech releases a new trackball, it’s kind of a big deal to me, like a sequel to a favorite game or a new movie by my favorite director.
Therein lies the rub, though. Sometimes, while you’re waiting for someone familiar to release something new, you stumble across an alternative. A similar game with some fresh ideas, or a surprise hit from a director you’ve never heard of. Not to mention that sequels aren’t always better, and directors can be famously inconsistent.
The Elecom EX-G
Enter the Elecom EX-G, the high-water mark for trackballs that I’ll be measuring the MX Ergo against. I picked up an EX-G nearly a year ago as an alternative to the Logitech M570s that I love. The MX570s keep failing me due to well-known problems with the switches under their primary buttons. It pains me to say that I’ve bought eight M570s since 2010 because of that flaw. Enough was enough. I never got around to reviewing the Elecom, but that’ll make this review all the more interesting.
The Logitech M570
Features and changes
Enough context, let’s talk about the hardware. A handful of features set the MX Ergo apart from its predecessor M570. Its “Ergo” namesake surely comes from the most obvious change: the ability to tilt up to 20° thanks to a magnetic base plate. Before I saw it in person, I was picturing a mechanism not unlike the hinges on a Microsoft Surface’s kickstand. In reality, it’s vastly simpler than that: just a pivot point and strong magnets to hold it in one position or the other. Curiously, Logitech is also offering a Best Buy-exclusive MX Ergo Plus that affords 30° of tilt. If you need even more verticality, the Plus could be worth a look.
Next up in the change log, so to speak, is the addition of Bluetooth connectivity alongside the traditional Logitech Unifying Receiver option. This is a very welcome upgrade, and one I wish more peripherals included. Nobody wants to use a dongle if they don’t have to. The inclusion of Bluetooth is complimented by a button beneath the scroll wheel that allows for toggling connectivity between multiple computers.
Speaking of buttons, the MX Ergo has a couple other new ones that the M570 does not. The scroll wheel now offers tilt functionality, a feature that I appreciate but almost always forget to use (the Elecom EX-G has it, as well). Personally, I’d prefer a thumb-driven scroll wheel for horizonal scrolling, but I can’t very well complain about that on a thumb-driven trackball, can I? The last new button is a “precision mode” button that toggles cursor speed way down. It’s located above and behind the ball. Logically, it’s not a momentary switch like a thumb-actuated sniper button, since that would make it impossible use while still moving the ball with your thumb (unless the ball was the button, hmmm). It does have its uses, though, and it lights up to let you know what it’s activated.
Rounding out the big changes are some creature comforts. The MX Ergo swaps out the AA juice packs of the M570 for an integrated 500 mAh Li-Po battery that’s purported to last for four months of use between charges. I didn’t have any complaints with the previous AA solution, since I have a good charger stocked with my trusty Panasonic Eneloops at all times, but I can’t complain about the switch to an integrated battery either. After all, that battery is probably going to last a long time if it only needs to be charged a few times each year. Last, and probably least, the MX Ergo comes coated in a soft-touch finish instead of the bare plastic of the M570.
Let’s talk about some under-the-hood changes next. The single biggest question I wanted answered was if Logitech made a change to the all-important choice of primary button switches. Thankfully, the reply I got was a firm “yes.” It turns out that the MX Ergo uses the same switches as in the MX Master mouse. These switches are rated for 10 million clicks as compared to the M570’s three-million-click switches. I’m pretty sure that none of my M570s made it to three million clicks before getting squirrely, but I am content to know that the Ergo’s switches are at least a different part number and that I didn’t find forum threads full of people complaining about them while researching for this review. Hopefully, I won’t ever find myself soldering in replacements like this guy taught me to do with the M570.
Out of the box, my reaction to the MX Ergo was immediately positive. The metal base plate rightly adds heft to a device meant to be stationary and feel solid. The entire bottom of the plate is covered in rubbery grip material, so this thing isn’t going anywhere unless you intentionally move it. As always, the wireless performance with the Unifying Receiver was as good as it gets.
The MX Ergo’s tracking of a ball itself is also extremely consistent. I suppose that’s a natural advantage of getting to choose both the sensor and the tracking “surface” built into the product. When I first got my Elecom EX-G the tracking was miserable. I thought it was because of the mystery wireless solution until I dropped the ball from one of my retired M570s into the EX-G. That solved 90% of my problems, and moving the dongle closer to the trackball solved the rest. I’ve rolled with an M570 ball in the Elecom ever since. Our own Zak Killian also had problems with one of his Elecom’s balls, so this is a thing that’s possible to goof up.
Another thing I like about the MX Ergo is that there are 6 points of contact with the ball instead of the traditional three. I’m not 100% sure of Logitech’s reasoning for this, but my theory is that the extra points are there to reduce ball jiggle or lift during intense use (don’t laugh, this is serious). Coupled with the optional 20° angle, the ball reliably stays in the pocket and tight against the sensor at all times. Admittedly, most people probably wouldn’t even notice that this could be a problem in the first place, but since my trackball isn’t used on a perfectly level surface, it’s something I recognize as a welcome improvement over both the Elecom EX-G and the M570.
Let’s briefly discuss gaming on a trackball. I actually used to swear by trackballs for gaming, even for faster-paced games like Team Fortress 2. Nowadays, with gaming mice evolved so far, I no longer peddle trackball gaming with much fervor. I really don’t want to get deep into the weeds of DPI settings, cursor speed, or sensor-related nuances, though. This isn’t the place for an advanced class on free-spinning either (360 no-scope, pfft). Suffice it to say that you can game quite proficiently with a trackball, but you have to be pretty darn comfortable with them already for it to go well. That said, the extremely low sensor DPI of the MX Ergo makes it even less suited for gaming than either the M570 or Elecom, especially for twitchy shooters. They’re great for strategy games though. The more your title of choice looks like a spreadsheet, the better.
Now, before we turn to my list of complaints about the MX Ergo, I’ve got a small public service announcement to share. If you’re not familiar with trackballs, one of their quirks is that, when they are brand new, the ball doesn’t move quite as smoothly as it will after a little use. It’s a little gross, but let’s just say you need a bit of a “slick” to build up on the ball for optimal performance. Think of it as seasoning a cast-iron skillet, or how a too-clean touchscreen can impact your swiping. Yeah.
Anyway, this break-in process usually takes somewhere between a couple hours to a day or so of use in my experience. In addition to this normal trackball idiosyncrasy, the MX Ergo occasionally made a subtle grinding noise and felt noticeably gritty while moving the ball around. I was pretty concerned about this at first, but fortunately it resolved itself after a few additional days of use.
You many have noticed that I didn’t so much as give the time of day to Logitech’s software suite. You’re right, I didn’t. Chances are, you can guess what it does and already know if you’re going to use it or not.
Almost everything is awesome
Want to hear about that list of complaints? Let’s not waste any time. None of these are deal breakers, but they will ultimately stop me short of giving the MX Ergo an unreserved recommendation.
First up are the new back and forward buttons. Since your thumb will be otherwise occupied, the buttons on the MX Ergo are designed to be pressed by your index finger. Compared to the buttons on the M570 and the Elecom, they are, in my opinion, too short, too narrow, and not close enough together. I feel like it takes me more time to press them effectively, while the buttons on the other trackballs are always a twitch and a flick away. It doesn’t help matters that the back button is a bit further down on the MX Ergo either. On both the M570 and EX-G, I can position my finger between the buttons and rock back or forward as needed. The MX Ergo requires me to make a more targeted motion that is just plain slower. That may not be a problem for your hand, though.
Just look at the big beautiful buttons on the M570 and EX-G.
One complaint I hear leveled against trackballs is that, unlike optical mice, they need to be cleaned. I’ve always found that to be a silly thing to hold against them, because it takes just a few seconds to de-gunk them. Plus, it only needs to be done a few times a month at most in my experience. I’d say that complaining about cleaning a trackball before you’ve tried one is like getting squeamish about changing a diaper before you become a parent. You’ll get over it quickly. But I digress.
The MX Ergo is no exception to the trackballs-get-nasty rule. Unfortunately, cleaning it is more hassle than it should be. Every trackball I’ve used since the turn of the millennium has allowed me to remove the ball without requiring any tools. You can usually just poke your pinky finger though a hole in the bottom of the chassis and pop out the ball to get at the detritus. With the MX Ergo, though, unless you have very small fingers, you are going to need to find a pen or other instrument in order to reach the ball. That changes the prospect of cleaning it from “let me just take care of this in a sec” to “oh crud, I forgot to clean this stupid thing before I sat down again.” It’s pretty annoying to me, but maybe not so much for someone with a stash of right-sized prodding devices at their desk.
Just a couple more nits to pick. The flat orientation of the MX Ergo is essentially useless to me. That’s because, when the trackball is flat, the right edge is about one inch above the desk. My pinky naturally rests off the edge of the trackball, leaving it hanging in space without the desk itself to comfortably rest on like it can when the Ergo is in its 20º orientation. I suppose I could craft up some kind of “pinky pillow” with materials I have around the house for some reason, but that seems a bit silly. As with my other complaints, your mileage may vary.
Mind the gap. Also, it kinda looks like a calzone.
Finally, unless I’m missing a secret compartment somewhere, the MX Ergo is the first wireless input device I’ve seen in a long time that doesn’t include a built-in space to stash its receiver while it’s not in use. Especially considering that many of these will be used over Bluetooth, it seems silly to me not to give the user somewhere to keep the receiver tucked away for safe-keeping. Maybe you’ve already got a drawer full of Unifying Receivers and don’t care about a spare, though.
A lot of headlines claimed Logitech was “bringing back” the trackball with the release of the MX Ergo. For many of us, though, the trackball never left—Logitech did. The MX Ergo is coming back to a landscape where other fresh and increasingly popular options exist.
The Elecom EX-G is one of them. It cost less than half the $100 price of the MX Ergo and has an extra button for your ring finger (with Omron switches backing them that haven’t failed me yet). Unlike the Ergo, it’s also available in wired and left-handed versions. Did I mention that I like the Elecom’s back and forward buttons significantly better, too? Spec wise, the 750 to 1500 DPI range on the EX-G is also preferable to me as an out of the box configuration versus the Ergo’s 320 to 440 DPI range (but don’t worry about that too much on a trackball). The only complaints I have about the EX-G are that you may want to replace the ball with an alternative and that the wireless is flakey in an RF-heavy household beyond a few-foot range. For my main PC, I’d buy the wired EX-G if I had to do it again, as its trackball doesn’t need to move around much. My wireless EX-G is working perfectly at the office, though.
On the other hand, Logitech’s own M570 typically sells for about half of its own suggested price, making it one-quarter the cost of the MX Ergo. At that price, even with bad switches (which I’ve heard are better in new stock), it’s still a compelling offering compared to the Ergo. The original design of the back and forward buttons alone make a solid case for it and the robust wireless performance makes it better for HTPC duty than the Elecom. I’m afraid I can’t point at the MX Ergo and explain away the $75 price difference. Frankly, I think the M570 is selling for cheaper than it should right now.
I blame accidentally saying ‘MX570’ on only being awake for 20 minutes before recording.
That’s great and all fish, but why would I ever want to use a trackball in the first place? First of all, thank you for reading this far if you’re exclusively a mouse user. That’s a fair question. Since this is a review, and not a sales pitch, I’ll keep this part short. For mobile and HTPC use, nothing beats having your mousing surface integrated into your pointing device. Nearly as significantly, I’ve found that my hand and wrist feel better if I switch up the hardware I’m using to push my cursor around. That said, if you’re not already sold on trackballs in general, I can’t in good conscience recommend you shell out $100 for the MX Ergo. It would just be too big of a gamble.
So, if you aren’t sure about this whole trackball business, but you’re willing to give it a chance, pick up a cheap Logitech M570 and take it for a spin. If you hate it, good news: it was cheap and it’s potentially not long for this world anyway. If you like it, that’s also good news, because if its switches start to die, you can transplant the ball into an Elecom EX-G and still come out ahead compared to the cost of the MX Ergo. Or, you know, buy the MX Ergo. It’s terrific if you don’t expect the things I complained about to bother you.
Personally, I’m going to keep using the MX Ergo as my daily driver at home. There are a handful of problems to debate about, but the biggest one is the price compared to other comparable offerings. I’ve already cleared that hurdle to bring you this review, though. As long as the buttons keep working, I’m perfectly willing to accept that, like the new Logitech logo, a few things about the MX Ergo come up a little short.