Review it – If using your traditional mouse for eight hours a day is starting to hurt you, or if you are limited at the desk, a trackball mouse can make your computer better. These devices are stationary and allow you to move your cursor by activating the trackball. Think ‘Golden Tee’ but on a smaller scale. ProtoArc is adding to their line of ergonomics with the EM01 and EM03 trackball mice, let’s see what they have to offer.
What is it?
The EM01 and EM03 are trackball mice from ProtoArc, which offer a variety of customization options depending on your needs. While the EM01 trackball is controlled by the thumb, the EM03 is controlled by the index and/or middle finger. Both trackballs are designed for right-handed use. At a low price of $50, these are budget trackball options that are worth checking out. These mice are sold individually, although this review will cover both.
Why are there different types of trackball actuation? It depends on what you need. For some people, a trackball can provide relief from RSI pain – but we’re not all cut the same. Where a thumb-operated ball can be your golden ticket to ergonomic paradise, it can be miserable for someone else. The options are good here, and as always – please consult your doctor if you are in pain.
Besides mice, ProtoArc has keyboards and other ergonomic devices such as keyboards. See my review of ProtoArc EKM01 mouse and keyboard combo.
What’s in the box?
Both ProtoArc EM01 and EM03 have the same package.
- Wireless trackball mouse
- USB-A 2.4ghz receiver
- USB-A to USB-C charging cable
- User manual
|Battery Type||Internal only||Internal only|
|Dimensions||5.2″ x 3.9″ x 2.0″||6.6″ x 4.2″ x 2.2″|
|Communication||2.4GHz dongle, Bluetooth||2.4GHz dongle, Bluetooth|
Design and appearance
There are quite a few similarities in the setup of the ProtoArc EM01 and EM03, so we’ll start there and share what makes them unique. Both mice have five buttons – left, right, forward, back, and a scroll wheel (clickable). ProtoArc uses ‘light click’ switches in their mouse’s left/right buttons that fine-tune audio output and response. The click is not loud, nor does it sound mushy.
Mouse settings are changed via dedicated buttons – DPI, RGB and connection profile. The lack of software customization means that your DPI settings and RGB colors are pretty much locked to what ProtoArc has specified. Sensitivity can also be changed on the OS side, but you have four default options (or, off) as your lighting options.
On the subject of RGB… I can see why they did it, but at the same time, I don’t understand it. I can appreciate that it’s a beautiful feature, but the lack of customization or the ability to sync with the RGB system you might already be going for is a bummer. The lighting on the EM01 is a little less than the EM03, and it’s not too bright either. RGB just feels like a product concept that doesn’t need it yet. I think it’s nice to have options there, along with the option to turn it off.
The EM01 is a thumb-controlled trackball, and it allows you to tilt the body of the mouse twenty degrees to provide options for how the palm rests on the device. There is no ability to dial in tilt mode, either zero or twenty degrees. I found that the tilt has been very comfortable, putting my hand in a natural position.
I have to say that thumb-operated trackball mice are usually not my thing, but I was surprised at how comfortable the ProtoArc EM01 was in the hand. The mouse pad is a hard plastic, and the ridges help keep the hand in place. The placement of the front and back buttons took a bit of getting used to as I got used to these being on the thumb, but their placement on the left side of the left button isn’t bad.
The scroll wheel is molded rubber, surrounded by metal spokes for a sleek look.
If I had one gripe, it would be the lack of storage space for the dongle. The tilting base is the reason this was omitted, although I can imagine there would be an opportunity on the top shell to have a way to store the dongle somewhere. I’m reminded of Dell mice I’ve seen where the entire top shell is removed. This can make traveling with this model very difficult.
The ProtoArc EM03 is a finger-controlled trackball. This design is the larger of the two – the long, sculpted palm rest is capped by a large trackball for the pointer and middle finger to navigate if desired. I found the design to be very comfortable for me, and the body composition felt natural. I found the right button activation a little odd as it relies on the ring finger, but it was easy to adjust to.
The EM03 is a little different in terms of hardware – a different plastic is found in the upper shell with a rubberized texture, although it is not. It remains smooth to the touch but has a slight grip. It takes on a premium feel.
The scroll wheel is ribbed, though it doesn’t have the EM01’s polish. It’s fine, but I like the EM01 wheel better.
The ProtoArc EM01 and EM03 are easy to set up, and include a 2.4ghz dongle or Bluetooth.
Plugging the dongle into a free USB-A port, powering up the mouse and making sure it’s on ‘Profile 1’ is all it takes to get it connected there. Profile 1 is reserved for the 2.4ghz dongle, and cannot be used for Bluetooth communication.
Bluetooth is just as straightforward – switch to connect profile 2 or 3 with the dedicated connection button, press and hold until it lights up, and connect from your computer. For better or for worse there are no drivers or customization software for the EM01 or EM03.
A trackball mouse is nothing without a trackball, and I’m a little surprised at how smooth the EM01 and EM03 are – especially at this price point. In comparison, I would put this on par with my Kensington Expert and Kensington Slim Blade. For pixel-based tasks I still reach for my regular mouse, but you can easily get through a workday with the EM01 and EM03 without frustration.
Battery-wise, both trackball options are doing well – although I suspect they’ll fall short of 90+ days. On EM03 I’m down to about 55% after a month. The real use in the world, and RGB, put it close to two months.
Otherwise, all mice work as described on the tin, and for their price they punch above their weight.
Which I like
- Soft start buttons
- Easy setup, plug and play with dongle
- Solid construction, and comfort
What I would change
- Default buttons, DPI color, or RGB
- Lack of storage dongle on EM01
I was disappointed with the mouse on the excellent EKM01 set by ProtoArc, so I went into this review with caution. The fit and finish of the EM01 and EM03 immediately set aside those reservations, and I’m impressed with these mice. ProtoArc has got the best features and performance for this price – and they work well to boot. If the ability to customize buttons and settings is very important, this may not be the best option for you. Otherwise, I would have no hesitation in recommending any trackball.