AllSpirit The Ball

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Archie
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Joined: 31 Jan 2019 15:27

AllSpirit The Ball

Post by Archie » 06 Jul 2019 17:48

Ball size: 1 9/16" (39.8mm)
FCC ID: MA7THEBALL
Bluetooth name: The Ball
HID ID: VID_0A5C&PID_2002

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First Bluetooth trackball in history. Produced by AllSpirit Co., Ltd. (Taiwan) in 2005 and marketed by MacMice (a divison of DVForge, Inc.) and Chwang Yi companies for Macintosh and Windows computers. Unusual look matched Apple design of that period: transparent layer over white case.

Primary buttons are not formed as a separate parts: clicks are performed by tilting whole upper cover to the left or right, so button chording is physically impossible. Smooth scrollwheel acts as a middle button. Ball is supported by 3 steel 2.38mm bearings mounted in separate plastic cage:

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Sensor is 800 cpi Agilent ADNS-2030, main IC is a Broadcom BCM2040MKFB single-chip Bluetooth HID device with SST 39LF020 flash memory (assembled on Tecom BT3013F module with Bluetooth MAC vendor code 00:16:38). All 3 switches marked DIC are of common 'Omron style', encoder is mechanical. Device is powered by two AAA NiMH batteries; pretty-looking (but impractical) USB charger included in package.

Power management is good: when there's no active connection, ball illumination LED is disabled. When device is not used for several minutes, it goes to sleep mode: click is needed to wake it up.

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In general, this trackball is surprisingly convenient - although some time is required initially to familiarize with method of clicking by rocking the case. But despite of pleasant look and Bluetooth feature it was not especially popular, and got mixed reviews. As it often happens, very minor (and easy to avoid) design flaws accumulated into overall negative picture.

Most significant problem is tracking quality: irregular nacre coating of ball surface looks attractive, but leads to unstable detection of movement. Swapping the ball with fine-patterned red Adesso or grey Kensington one makes tracking 100%-reliable.

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Speckled/checkered balls from Logitech or Microsoft works poorly, with jerky movement, and blue Kensington ball does not work at all.

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Interestingly, AllSpirit FCC certification documents reveal that device was initially equipped with ball coated differently: with sparkling surface:

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Moreover, from the same documents it looks like there was a version with laser sensor in addition to optical:

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Unfortunately, nacre/optical combination was selected for final mass production. Initially it was sold with three balls included: red, gray, & blue. Pictures available on the net confirm at least red one was of sparkling type in first batches:

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Later, just nacre red ball was included in package.

Another bad thing is, design of device base. The idea of making clicks by top cover rocking obviously require the device itself to be completely stable - but it's not the case here. Entire trackball is rocking left and right when "buttons" are clicked by tilting upper cover. The problem is caused by putting rubber feet on the battery cover instead of case. The cover have some play, and worse - there's special spring-loaded pin 'automatically' lifting the cover when latch is unlocked. Result is, in closed state it pushes thin cover from inside, so it's flexing and one edge is protruding more than rest of surface. In addition, rubber feet shape and placement aren't optimal: too far from the sides of device, where most of pressure load is applied.

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One more clicking-related problem is excessive amount of top cover play: pivot points are quite loose, so upper case is wobbling in all directions. This makes click feel and sound really unpleasant, especially on recoil (backstroke). It was also mentioned in 2006 Low End Mac review.

Next issue is firmware related. Any mouse activity (clicking or movement) is accompanied by parasitic 'tilt wheel right' horizontal scrolling signals. Actual wheel can not be tilted, lacking that feature, and IIRC horizontal scrolling was not standardized before Windows Vista (not sure about Macs), so probably at the time of production this flaw wasn't apparent - but on modern systems, it's very annoying: if particular window does have some horizontal scrolling properties, it will be immediately scrolled to the end. Verified on Windows 7, Windows 10, Android 5. Funny enough, modern Macs are fine: on MacBook with macOS 10.13.6 the issue is not reproducible, and Android 7 also doesn't suffer from it. Unable to check with iOS as various iPhones and iPads I've tried simply don't see The Ball at all. Looks like HID data packets generated by device are formatted incorrectly or contain some mismatching values that are filtered out (or corrected) by some operating systems but affect others.

Under modern Windows, this malfunction could be eliminated with XMBC utility by suppressing wheel tilt signals altogether. Not ideal solution (horizontal scrolling will be disabled system-wide for any connected devices), but at least this trackball will become usable.

Steel balls used to support the ball are not even stainless: one of them was heavily rusted in my sample.

Putting device on charger is somewhat inconvenient: there's no any guiding aids except for the contact holes, almost level with rest of bottom surface. Charger detect the connection by blue LED, but not immediately: so, it's s bit difficult to see whether you've placed it correctly or not.

Two simple improvements I've done:

Major issue to deal with was a case instability. First, I've removed spring-loaded pin. Bottom cover was carefully heated with hot air blower and slightly bend into such curved form that provide full contact with trackball body in closed state. Additional pieces of silicone pads glued over existing feet. After that, device became absolutely stable on the desk surface, without any rocking when clicked.

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Steel balls replaced with white ZrO2 ceramic 2.38mm ones: design of retaining cage allows this operation without any drilling. Difference is tremendous: movement is now butter-smooth.

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Archived product pages from introduction year:
https://web.archive.org/web/20050207230 ... ball.shtml
Design goal: To build a Bluetooth optical wireless trackball with the same simple elegance as our USB The Mouse, with Apple-like appearance, multi-button functionality, and a world-class Bluetooth wireless system. Reevaluate the idea of 'trackball' and find the most comfortable size and perfect functionality that a large number of discerning computer users will enjoy using.
https://web.archive.org/web/20051126171 ... _ball.html
The Ball is the result of a three-year research and design effort into the way people use trackballs. Our goal was to find out why such a practical input device has fewer users than should be expected. Then, we wanted to create a product that was more appealing and that could make a larger number of people happy using a trackball. We believe that we succeeded.
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