Review: Apple Magic Trackpad a Futile Gesture

A sleek representation in aluminum, plastic, and glass, plus 80 percent more multitouch by area than a MacBook trackpad; what’s not to like about the Magic Trackpad? Everything that really matters.

Removed from its minimalistic packaging, a press of the power button and the Magic Trackpad is recognized as a generic mouse by any Bluetooth-enabled Mac, even one running Windows. An update for Boot Camp provides basic mouse actions, but the “magic” of gestures is currently available via software update only for OS X 10.6.4 on Intel Macs—sorry, PowerPC users.

As for hardware, Apple’s industrial design superhero Jonathan Ive no doubt intended for form to follow function. The device is the surface, approximately five by four inches of tactile-pleasing glass.

Flipped upside down, the two rubber feet at the bottom are, in effect, right and left mouse buttons. “Clicking” the corners when the trackpad rests on any hard surface provides tactile feedback. Brilliant.

On its side, the Magic Trackpad is far less than an inch thin, excluding the cylindrical housing for two AA batteries. One end unscrews for battery access, and the other end holds the power button.

If this design seems familiar, it is. The Magic Trackpad is a perfect fit for the Apple Wireless Keyboard, except for one thing. It’s not a mouse.

From Photoshop to StarCraft to Pages, the lack of precision compared to a $5-off mouse a close-out table at Best Buy was constantly irritating. Even when precision was not an issue, like scrolling in a web browser, the Magic Trackpad–any trackpad–will simply not be as smooth as a mouse.

If the comparison seems unfair, it is because the mouse is the device the Magic Trackpad is meant to replace. On a MacBook, the multitouch trackpad is a portability compromise–the best portable input device ever made–but still a compromise. Unfortunately, the Magic Trackpad doesn’t even compare well against a MacBook trackpad.

It’s not the size of the trackpad, but how you use it that matters. The MacBook trackpad is well-integrated in front of the keyboard and as part of the palm rest, allowing for thumb or finger movement, and more importantly two-handed usage.

Who drags a file by clicking with a finger on one hand and dragging with a finger on the other? Not someone using a Magic Trackpad. While you could use a three-finger swipe via preferences, you’d lose the fabulous navigation swipe. As for placing the Magic Trackpad in front of the keyboard, I found the larger size and lack of palm rest integration hindering more than helping. So, what’s the solution?

Besides being the ultimate keyboard in conjunction with a Home Theater Mac, the as-yet-non-existent Magic Keyboard would eliminate the last difference between the laptop and desktop Mac experience in terms of input device. And make no mistake, with seven of 10 Macs sold last quarter being laptops, portability is the future.

“Just as you would on a MacBook,” asserts the blurb on the back of the box regarding the multitouch experience of the Magic Trackpad; however, that’s wrong. While the Magic Trackpad is the next step towards a multitouch future, it’s not there yet, and therefore I cannot recommend it.

But just wait till the Magic Keyboard gets here.