Over the last year, I've been using Windows 8 in various pre-release versions and since late summer, the release code of Microsoft's latest PC operating system.
Like many people who will be experiencing the product for the first time, I've installed Windows 8 on existing PCs that previously run Windows 7.
One of the first things that you notice is the vast difference in the way you interact with the two different user interfaces -- the traditional "Desktop" which we've come to know quite well over the last 20 years, and the new Start Screen (formerly referred to as "Metro") which runs Windows 8 Store applications.
To be effective in using Windows 8, you have to be able to quickly switch back and forth between these two different types of apps, and easily navigate the user interface elements. On a brand new Windows 8 PC such as Microsoft's Surface, you've got a touchscreen, so this is quite natural and very easy to do.
Some current-generation ultrabooks and laptop computers may also come with multi-touch enabled trackpads, which also make interacting with Windows 8 much easier.
But most people using Windows 7-based systems only have traditional pointing devices that aren't touch enabled, so the context switching between the two UIs after upgrading to Windows 8 can be quite jarring as well as confusing.
It's only been very recently that peripheral manufacturers have released pointer devices that are specifically Windows 8-optimized. Over the last couple of weeks, I've been playing with Logitech's T400 touch mouse and T650 touchpad, both of which are excellent solutions for those looking to upgrade their PC to Windows 8 and have a more natural experience with the new OS.
All three of Logitech's new pointing devices for Windows 8 are wireless and come with a tiny 2.4Ghz USB adapter, called the Unifying Receiver, which allows up to 6 wireless Logitech devices (such as the new Illuminated Keyboard) to be connected to your PC simultaneously.
Once this device is connected to your USB port, Windows 8 automatically recognizes it and automatically downloads (and will automatically update) Logitech's Unifying and Setpoint software, which allows you to alter your pointer device settings and customize the touch gesture controls.
While both of the devices I tested, the T400 and the T650 both use Setpoint, the options which they have differ greatly.
As you can see, the Navigation options for the T400 mouse are limited to toggling back and forth to the Start Screen, application switching and zooming.
The T650 touchpad, on the other hand, has a much wider range of gestures that can be configured.
Not shown here for both the T400 and T650 are the menu options for Point and Click and Scrolling. As per above, the Touchpad has a wider range of touch enablement, simply because the entire device is touch whereas the mouse only has the center button/scroll area as a touch-sensitive surface.
So what did we think about the devices in general?
If you're a desktop user, I believe the T650 ($79.99 street) is truly the device you want to own because it has the widest array of touch gestures that it can work with and also it feels more "natural" with the UI of Windows 8. The construction is solid and the surface area of the touchpad is extremely smooth (it's made of glass) and has a pleasing feel to it.
Scrolling on windowed and full-screen Chrome and IE 10 is a breeze, and is absolutely fluid, like using an iPad.
In fact, the T650 has the exact dimensions and texture of Apple's Magic Trackpad for Mac systems, except that the touch-sensitive area is actually a bit larger. Like Apple's product, the T650 is "haptic" in that if you depress the touchpad it "clicks" to represent the depression of a mouse button, and you can also just tap without depressing to accomplish the same action.
Unlike Apple's Magic Trackpad, however, Logitech's T650 also happens to have a built-in rechargeable battery, which is charged using a supplied MicroUSB cable.
I was able to get about a week of usage time out of the T650 with heavy use, after which I needed to hook in the charger cable and was ready for wireless use again after a few hours (I didn't actually notice how long it took to charge).
Apple's Magic Trackpad, by comparison, uses two standard AA batteries which have to be replaced every few months, or requires NiMH rechargeables that have to be charged externally.
I'd actually like to see how well this device fares on a Mac, but that wasn't the focus of this product evaluation.
Once you learn the basic gestures, navigation on the T650 is a breeze. The only issue I had with it, and this may just be my own learned behavior of working with desktop OSes on laptops and other trackpads over the years, is that I found myself doing the "swipe from left" application task switch gesture accidentally way too often, because I use my index finger to point and I have a natural tendancy to slide in from the left when touching the pad. So I eventually simply turned that gesture off.
The T400 mouse ($49.99) on the other hand is fairly straightforward and there isn't a ton to learn because it only has a few gestures and actions. Like every other mouse for Windows that has come before it, it has regular left and right mouse buttons, but what we've come to recognize as the scroll wheel is now a touch-sensitive center button.
When the center button is depressed on the upper two thirds of its surface area, it flips you back and forth between the Desktop and the Windows 8 Start Screen, which is extremely handy.
In a web browser or on a application, sliding your finger up and down scrolls the app. By default, the middle click action is accomplished by clicking the rear third of the center button. Double-clicking the either the front or rear third of the center button is used for zoom actions in Windows 8 Store apps.
By default, sliding left and right across the surface of the center button allows you to horizontally scroll quickly back and forth through the applications listed on the Start Screen, or it can be used for quick paging when you are in a Windows 8 Store ("Metro") application. The up and down scroll action also acts in a similar fashion, but is more granular in its level of sensitivity.
Because I have large hands, the T400 feels a bit cramped, and I found myself trying to position it between my thumb and index finger as the natural "mousing" position. I think it's more appropriate for laptop users who are upgrading their systems to Windows 8, or for people with smaller hands in general, such as women. In my opinion, Logitech should consider making a "big hands" version of this device.
Logitech also sells the T620 ($69.99) which is their mid-range wireless mouse that sits in functionality between the T400 and the T650. I haven't had a chance to use one of these yet, but the entire surface of this device is touch-sensitive, so that might be another option if you are looking for something different than T650 Touchpad or want a hybridized pointer experience.
Overall, I think both of the new Logitech devices I looked at are excellent products, and are good options if you are looking to enhance your Windows 8 experience.