Blue Sun Innovations GameBall R38-15631F

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Archie
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Blue Sun Innovations GameBall R38-15631F

Post by Archie » 14 Sep 2021 08:03

https://www.gamingtrackball.com/product ... -ball-base

Ball size: 11/2" (38.12mm)
Interface: USB
P/N: R38-15631F
USB ID: VID_0782&PID_001B
Product Name: GameBall
Year: 2021

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Newly released and long awaited trackball from Blue Sun Innovations, LLC: their first (and currently, the only) product, intended primarily for the computer gamers. Despite of that, device uses 3000cpi PixArt PAW3805EK Track-On-Glass sensor designed for ordinary wireless mice. I expected to see some gaming-grade sensor in GameBall, although it was never officially promised. Personally I'm fine with that as I myself is not a gamer, but hardcore players may be slightly disappointed. Controller is Microchip PIC32MM0256GPM048 with 256kb memory: plenty of resources for firmware. All the switches are surface-mounted Omron D2LS-11 rated for 5M clicks. Interconnections between main board, scrollpad and sensor made with single ribbon cable - kind of "system bus": quite elegant solution. Switch assembly boards use 8-pin row connectors. 6-pole edge contacts are probably for firmware flashing/diagnostic. Buttons are mounted in plastic "hinges", so travel is very smooth and consistent in force. Most parts are easy to disassemble, except for circular touchpad glued to the top cover with double-sided tape.

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There's two well-established standard ball sizes for the compact trackballs: 34mm and 40mm, but GameBall uses 38mm - so, finding a replacement would be difficult. Formerly, old Microsoft Trackball Optical and Macally Qball used that size. Obvious reason for that decision is a selected vendor: the author mentioned that actual manufacturer is a British company that makes trackballs and touchpads - in other words, Cursor Controls Ltd. (formerly Marconi), what is confirmed by USB identification: Vendor ID 0782 was assigned to The Trackerball Company Ltd. (name used by that maker between Marconi and Cursor Controls ownership transition; now CCL trademark). They still have 38mm balls in the production lines, and offer custom colors. Blue Sun is planning to sell the replacement balls separately.

The ball is supported by 1.8mm white ceramic beads, easily replaceable if the need arises. Upper cover have unpainted white translucent plastic sections, button assembly frames and central LED funnel are also white - so, RGB backlight emitted by 15 LEDs scattered all over the boards is neatly distributed across device's slits and logo. Ball cup is made of IR-transparent plastic, with flat window instead of traditional hole. Such design is used in Cursor Controls industrial trackballs to provide full protection of internals from the elements, and probably was inherited as-is to simplify engineering efforts. View of ball cavity under normal light and in infrared spectrum:

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There's nothing new in GameBall from technical point of view, but "the devil is in the details" - particular set of features and the level of workmanship is the key. Device looks like a compilation of different ingredients from many vendors. Touch-sensitive scrollring from Kensington Orbit Mobile, 1kHz polling rate from CST L-Trac, bilaterally exposed ball from Logitech Marble, customizable RGB backlight from Adesso iMouse, two pairs of curved elongated buttons on each side of symmetric case from Kensington TurboBall, indication of DPI setting by number of LED pulses from Elecom Deft, sticky autoscrolling from Elecom software (but implemented in firmware instead), flattened fin-shaped palm rest from Logitech Marble FX (this time, symmetrical), sensor from Kensington Pro Fit Ergo, precision/sniper mode toggled by little dedicated button from ITAC MouseTrak, small raised auxiliary buttons placed in between of large primary ones from Kensington Fusion, and even famous Logitech Cordless Optical TrackMan color scheme (black soft-touch case with red base and ball) was reused for first batches of GameBall. Unlike Adesso trackballs, the color of RGB backlight does not have any functional meaning and used just for fun, though.

Apparently the creator did tremendous job studying & evaluating broad range of various existing models, purposefully selecting desired properties to combine into this device. During development, Eric Andrus actively participated in discussions on Reddit community, demonstrating prototypes and listening to suggestions.


The beginning of story:
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The history of GameBall is relatively old. Initially advertised in 2016 version looked like a hybrid of Microsoft Trackball Explorer and Logitech TrackMan Vista:

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That project failed to get enough interest on crowdfunding campaign and was dropped, but development of completely different device started. Five years later, it was finally released under same name.

Overall impression is very positive: splendid modern device with balanced combination of properties. Ball movement is butter-smooth, inline with best samples of Kensington, Logitech or Elecom models. Fine engineering with truly professional internal design, high-grade parts used, and flawless assembly. All the boards are perfectly soldered and cleaned. In terms of hardware quality, perhaps the only comparable device is a high-end Sony DMW-C4 professional trackball. Manufacturing level is excellent, while retail price is fairly reasonable. Ergonomics is outstanding: it feels quite comfortable, especially for ambidextrous device where it's extremely difficult to achieve a perfect fit. Spectacular design work was done: the device looks attractive and futuristic. In most aspects, the GameBall is gorgeous: it does have some minor flaws, but none of them are really significant.

Most noticeable problem is a ball wobbling: on rapid movements (especially when moving the cursor up) it pops out, hit the retaining front limiter, then bounce back. A bit unexpected from device targeted specifically for gamers. This is caused by configuration of supporting beads, located too low relative to the ball equator - probably, a consequence of intention to make ball movement as easy as possible, overdone to a small degree. Inclination of ball support plane increases that effect. The issue could be alleviated by gluing some low-friction material to the inside of retainer, as in this example.

Both scrolling modes are working fine, but if you'll keep the finger resting on the scrollpad, chaotic back-forth scrolling occurs. Seems like touch/swipe detection algorithm needs to be refined. Unlike Kensington scrollpad, just one half is used for vertical scrolling, while another one is dedicated exclusively to the horizontal. Placement of configuration "buttons" (actually, touch sensors) on the scrollpad seems unusual, as they aren't used often and typically located on the bottom in most trackballs. But zones they're placed in are not used for anything else anyway, so no problems with that. Having the sticky mode activated by default is probably wrong idea: most people don't read the manual, and (as many reviews from others confirmed) are surprised by "unexpected" behaviour.

Arrangement of buttons does not feels ideal to me: I'd prefer left click to be moved a bit forward, as currently its flat zone is too close to wrist base, and actual clicking occurs on angled part of button. Default button assignment also looks questionable, as the button opposite to the Left click is not Right-click but Back instead. Buttons are too stiff for my personal taste, especially one on the right side (default Right-click, referred to as #7 in the manual) that needs to be pressed inwards: fine for the thumb-side, but unnatural and inconvenient for pinkie. Lower button #8 is much easier to click, as its travel direction is diagonal. Buttons could be reassigned in the software, but it isn't the best solution: utility like XMBC works system-wide, so that reassignment will affect e.g. notebook's touchpad buttons as well, rendering embedded right-click unusable. Also, booting in safe mode or connection to the another PC will use default mapping anyway.


Some minor improvements and fixes I've made:

1. Ball wobbling eliminated by adding the limiter to the upper ball retainer. I've used sticky low-friction pad (left after Kensington Fusion modding), about 0.6mm thick. Narrow ~1.5mm strip was attached to the retainer just below the "hook". Normally it isn't touching the ball, coming into the contact only when it jumps out. Effectively it does not allow the ball to lift from the central ceramic bead, thus suppressing the rattling - but does not affect normal ball movement, unlike above-mentioned frontal retainer mod in the example from Reddit.

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2. Buttons made easier to click by replacement of factory-installed Omron D2LS-11 switches with D2LS-21: identical, but two times less actuation force (60g instead of 120g). I've replaced four switches under primary buttons (numbered 2, 3, 7 and 8 in the manual ), leaving default stiff ones under additional buttons (#1 and #9) intact. Lighter switches have blue pin, original ones white.

3. To have the right-click function on the button symmetrical to the left click, I've rewired buttons #7 and #8, swapping their signal lines. It's simple to do near pin-row connector on switch PCB, using test points for soldering. Also, it's easy to revert the changes back when (or if?) updated firmware with custom mapping will be made available:

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Now the device is extremely pleasant to use: no any wobbling, and right-clicking with pinkie is effortless. Probably, it will be my "daily driver" for quite a while. As usually, it was used to prepare this article.

GameBall have all chances to become highly successful, If Blue Sun will fix ball rattling problem in next releases (actually, not so difficult to do). Default button assignment and swipe misdetection are far less pronounced issues, but worth to be dealt with as well. Button stiffness is, straightly speaking, a matter of personal preference, and some users actually like that - but I've seen reports of right-click fatigue on prolonged use of GameBall from others. Perhaps BSI could make the "light click" and "hard click" versions available? Reportedly there are plans to release version of firmware that allows to change button assignment and scrolling logic, QMK support, etc. Also, the company announced development of "Pro" model - wireless and with bigger ball, and mentioned the possibility to make thumb-operated device in the future.

Factory package box:
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Enclosed Quick Start leaflet:
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Blue Sun and GameBall logos:

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