Appoint Thumbelina pointing device

Brian Smithson (
Mon, 6 Apr 1992 15:18:10 -0700

I just got a new trackball for the UltraLite. It's the "Thumbelina" from
Appoint. It's pretty cute. Here's a mini-review:

The Thumbelina has got to be the smallest trackball on the market. The
basic device measures roughly 1-3/4" W x 1-3/4" D x 1" H. It has a very
small ball (approximately 3/8" diameter), plus three buttons and one LED,
all on the top surface.

Two of the buttons correspond to the right and left button on a Microsoft mouse.
The third button is a "drag-lock", which when pressed once is equivalent to
holding down the "left" button. Pressing the drag-lock a second time is
equivalent to releasing the "left" button. The LED lights to indicate the
state of the drag-lock, and the LED is powered by the COM port.

Here is a really poor representation of the layout:

| O 1 |
| |
| o 2 ^ |
| - < > 3 O 4 |
| | |5 v |
| - |
| |


1. round "right" button
2. LED for "drag-lock" state
3. trackball (it's really round, not pointed as shown)
4. round "left" button
5. square "drag-lock" button
6. wire protrudes from this edge

It comes with a small plastic device which is supposed to attach it to the
computer. I really didn't like this part and didn't use it the way it was
supposed to be used. The device consists of three plastic pieces hinged
in such a way that you could form a "Z". Imagine, however, that the "Z"
was reversed in a mirror image. The bottom part of the Z is supposed to
attach to the bottom of the laptop using a strip of velcro (supplied with
the device). The top of the Z is a little tray into which the Thumbelina
fits snugly. The middle piece and the hinges are there so that you can
adjust the device to a comfortable location but can also swing it out of the
way in case it is blocking a diskette opening (or on the UltraLite, it would
be the ROMcard opening).

I found two problems with this mounting device: (1) the UltraLite is so thin
that the height of the trackball is too high, and (2) mounting the bottom
part under the UltraLite would require adding some little rubber feet to
the UltraLite case (the feet were supplied) so that it wouldn't sit unevenly.
It would work well on one of those barely luggable thick laptops. The whole
thing was pretty ugly, too.

What I did instead was that I stuck the velcro on the edge of the top of the Z
and stuck the mating velcro to the side of the UltraLite case, and folded up
the Z so that it put the Thumbelina just above the keyboard plane. I may play
around with this some more -- maybe doing away with the Z altogether. Really,
I wish that the Thumbelina had a spring loaded clip like the Logitech Portable
Trackman. Maybe I'll make something like that. Hmmm...

The Thumbelina has an interesting feel. The ball movement is rather stiff,
which gives it a feeling of positive control. You can move the cursor to some
particular position and then remove your finger from the ball and it will stay
in place. I considered this to be an advantage over the Logitech Trackman,
but only for occasional pointing (like for selecting icons or menus) and not
for applications where you really need to move the cursor around a lot (like
for a draw program).

Since the buttons are on the same plane as the ball, I found it easiest to
either use my index finger to move the ball and my middle finger to push
the buttons, or to use my thumb for the ball and then move my thumb over
to push the buttons. The Logitech had its "left" button on the far edge so
that you could comfortably use your thumb on the ball and your index finger
for the "left" button.

The Thumbelina literature indicates that it can be used as a handheld device,
but frankly, I don't see how that could be done comfortably. Fortunately,
I don't care!

One other thing I don't like about the Thumbelina is that the wire protrudes
from the wrong side! It comes out on the near side and has to be looped back
around to get to the back of the UltraLite. I opened it up and it does not
appear to be easily (if at all) reversible.

Even with its faults, the Thumbelina is very small and I really like that.
The Logitech was roughly the size of my hand (minus fingers and wrist), and
it seemed way to big when it was clipped to the side of the UltraLite.
The Thumbelina is a much more appropriate size. Also, that drag lock
is a really great feature. It's a joy to push the drag-lock at the
top of a pull-down menu, and then leisurely move the cursor down the menu,
and then push the drag-lock again to select a sub-item.

I'm still evaluating it, but I think that I'll probably end up keeping the
Thumbelina and getting rid of the Logitech.

-Brian Smithson
 Motorola Inc., Computer Group, Commercial Systems Division
 2001 Logic Drive, M/S 1-E10, San Jose, CA 95124 USA, (408)369-4104, {apple | pyramid}!motcsd!brian