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Summary:

The Magic Trackpad takes all of the good things about the trackpad on the MacBook and incorporates them into a standalone peripheral designed to replace the mouse that many folks have used for so long. Does it succeed in knocking the mouse off the desk? Mostly.

Magic Trackpad keyboard

A week ago, the FedEx guy brought a Magic Trackpad from Apple. The Magic Trackpad takes all the good things about the trackpads on the MacBook Pros and incorporates them into a large, standalone peripheral designed to replace the mouse that many folks (like me) have used for so long. Does the Magic Trackpad succeed in knocking the mouse off the desk? Mostly.

I’m a big fan of both the lowly computer mouse and the MacBook trackpad. I carried a mouse in my gear bag to use with notebooks for years, until getting the unibody MacBook with its large trackpad. I liked that trackpad so much I stopped carrying a mouse in my bag, although I kept one on my desk in the home office. The MacBook sits on an elevated stand on my desk, which makes using the trackpad not impractical. When Apple announced the Magic Trackpad, I ordered one right away to give it a try.

I work at my computer at least eight hours a day, and I’m trying to provide an ergonomic setting for that prolonged usage. My Bluetooth keyboard sits on a tray designed for that purpose, and is a good height for proper ergonomics. The mouse I used until the Magic Trackpad arrived sat next to the keyboard. As good a setting as this is for prolonged work, at the end of the day, my right wrist would often feel a little pained, and sometimes a bit numb. My only reason for getting the Magic Trackpad was to see if it would alleviate this discomfort at the end of the day.

 

Now that I’ve used the Magic Trackpad for a full week, I can state it achieved my goal. The discomfort in my wrist has disappeared; it did so in just a few days. The angle of the Trackpad and the method of working with it have improved the ergonomics nicely.

The Magic Trackpad was easy to set up; I unboxed it, hit the power button,and then paired it with the MacBook. It’s designed to sit next to the Apple wireless keyboard. The Trackpad is a full multi-touch device that’s large by trackpad standards — 5.17 x 5.12 inches. There are no mouse buttons; the entire Trackpad clicks when you press it as the sensors are integrated in the feet.

The Trackpad is configured by default to move the cursor with one finger, with two fingers used for zooming and right-clicking. You have to click the Trackpad to trigger a left-click, but there is an option to allow simply tapping the Trackpad for the click. I tried this for a while, but kept accidentally triggering clicks I didn’t want, so I went back to enforced push clicking.

One of the most useful settings of the Magic Trackpad isn’t active by default –the three finger dragging. Dragging items on the screen normally requires pushing the Trackpad down while moving the finger. It’s not that hard, but it’s much easier to enable this setting and drag things using three fingers on the pad. Don’t overlook this setting if you think it would be useful.

The Magic Trackpad has handled all aspects of my work very well. I can use it all day and never miss the old mouse; my wrist is happier with the mouse in the drawer. I find the Trackpad to be worth the rather expensive $69.

The only area where the Trackpad hasn’t done a good job is one I didn’t expect it to do well. Using it for gaming has been a mixed bag, and downright frustrating at times. I’ve recently started playing Starcraft 2, and when things get hectic in interstellar war, there’s no room for mousing error. I find the Magic Trackpad makes it too hard to jump around and click things very quickly. I’m now in the habit of turning on the Magic Mouse when it’s time to play some games.

I’m pleased with the Magic Trackpad, but some folks who’ve tried it haven’t felt the same. Our buddies at TheAppleBlog, normally happy Apple fans, did not see the magic in the Magic Trackpad. I would recommend if you are curious about how your reaction might be, visit an Apple Store and play with one if possible. After all, there’s magic, and there is Magic. For the high price of the Magic Trackpad, you want to get the capital “M”.

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  1. Those constant hand movements made me dump my mouse 5 years ago – been using a trackball ever since. The ergonomics alone are well worth it, not to mention the added precision it gives me for both work and gaming. Best accessory purchase for my notebook.

    I actually wrote about trackballs a while ago on my blog:
    http://lgponthemove.blogspot.com/2009/11/tech-tips-6-trackballs.html

    My only complaint – there’s no bluetooth version available.

  2. Except for the bluetooth bit, can’t you do this cheaper with the new Wacom Bamboo tablet and get touch and stylus input? I see nothing special here except a way to add more batteries to landfill.

    Gordon

    1. No. I have both devices and the trackpad is far superior to the Bamboo (large). Now if you want to work in Photoshop that is a different matter.

      Thanks for the post James, you hit the nail on the head for my experience. After the mediocre articles around, I was beginning to think people missedmthe value of the MT.

      1. I have both as well and second Paul’s opinion. The problem with both my Wacom devices (the Bamboo and the Intuous) is that the drivers are pretty lousy. My Bamboo works pretty well with Apple apps, but not that well with 3rd party apps. E.g., when scrolling in Firefox, I can never scroll through an entire page on my Bamboo. It would hang and I’d have to drag the scrollbar to “re-enable” two-finger scrolling. That is a sign of a badly tested driver.

    2. I want to like my Bamboo, but as a trackpad, it’s responsiveness is really lousy, and it’s actually a bit large to fit into a desktop. I might get one of these in a bit.

  3. goestoeleven Monday, August 9, 2010

    The TrackPad is awesome!!! Blows the doors off the Magic Mouse (now turned off and in a box).

    Can’t understand how anybody could be a naysayer about the TrackPad.

    Money well spent!

  4. @luscious: great point. i think the most underrated pointing device is a great trackball. nothing beats it. in terms of ergonomics and overall pointing precision, i’d be surprised if the magic track-pad beats it.

  5. I use a wireless Logitech Trackman Wheel – which is a “thumb” trackball for the same ergonomic reasons. One thing that pads lack in comparison is the ability to middle click – I’m a chronic middle clicker and it drives me nuts to be without it. Can you configure the apple trackpad for a middle click?

    1. I really wish Logitech made a bluetooth version of that trackball – it’s a beauty. I’ve been using the corded one for years, but I’d plunk down cash for a bluetooth trackball any day.

  6. I really like my MT. More than I expected to. I use the mouse every now and then but mostly it sits in a corner. Much less hand/wrist stress. You can’t judge the MT by a cursory use such as in an Apple store. After an hour or so it feels perfect.
    I keep seeing people who obviously haven’t used the MT saying the Wacom trackpad did it first and is just as good. No it isn’t. It’s not as sensitive and has nowhere near the range of gestures. It also uses a cable and the surface is not as touch friendly.

    1. ” After an hour or so it feels perfect.”

      I agree that it takes a small amount of time to get used to. I was a little slow and out of sorts with it for a good 30 minutes of constant use when mine arrived, but now I’m flying around with minimal effort. And my wrist feels better.

  7. No wonder a lot of users are switching to the trackpad and feel less pain in their wrists – Apple mice are ergonomic disasters. I used my Magic Mouse for 10 minutes before retiring it forever. However, if you have a good ergonomic mouse (trackball or otherwise), arguments for a switch are not that clear-cut. Similar to all tablet input devices, it’s a matter of preference. Personally, a trackpad is not as precise as a mouse is, thus I would not give up my mouse for a trackpad. However, my MagicPad is great as a secondary input device for scrolling, zooming and panning. I would not give mine up for anything – but I would not make it my primary input device, either…

  8. Trackpad Done Right Tuesday, August 10, 2010

    Obviously this is without a doubt the best trackpad ever invented by mankind. My wrist thanks you Steve.
    I cannot wait for the liquid metal version!

    Once again the Cupertino Engineers raise the bar….

  9. Fact: this phrase sounds funny

    “….trackpad not impractical.”

  10. I’ve been using the magic trackpad for about, eh, two months. I get some wicked arm pain from it. I think it’s from using my fingers to gesture and my thumb to push down (click). Something about constantly making that motion kind of makes my arm tighten up. Doing pull-ups throughout the day helps (and is good for me, I guess). I’m afraid I may have to give this away, though.

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