Magic Trackpad: gestures for the rest of us

Summary:I do a lot of writing and video editing. So I wasn't sure Apple's new Magic Trackpad would work for me. It isn't for every workload, but the advantages are real and useful if you need them. Here's why.

I do a lot of writing and video editing. So I wasn't sure Apple's new Magic Trackpad would work for me. It isn't for every workload, but the advantages are real and useful if you need them. Here's my review.

Why bother? I work on 2 1920 screens, side by side. Moving the cursor across 3800 pixels takes some mad fast swiping. I don't use a mouse because it requires too much desktop real estate and repetitive wrist motion.

Instead I use the fine Logitech Trackman Wheel: intuitive, ergonomic; sturdy; and easy to clean. Balling all day is no problem. But it isn't perfect.

The wheel gives vertical scrolling, not horizontal. When inside a web page, spreadsheet, timeline or mindmap, the trackball doesn't help.

Not a huge problem, but it's nice to be able to use gestures to move between web pages and applications as well as scrolling.

MT set-up The MT arrived Friday. It requires the latest version of the Mac OS (update: 32 & 64 bit XP, Vista & W7 drivers are available too), and needs a driver and preferences software for full function - software you have to download. A few minutes to download, install and restart, plus a painless pairing, and I was good to go.

I have experience with gestures from my MacBook and iPhone. But the MacBook is my travel machine. Using a trackpad all day, every day is a big change.

Experience As I'd hoped the MT has replaced my trackball because the gestures allow me to do more: pinch webpages and pdf's; move between webpages with a 3 finger swipe; scroll vertically & horizontally through documents and Final Cut Pro timelines. Cool.

The biggest problem is physical clicking. The MT doesn't float on a frame the way it does on a notebook. Instead, 2 feet on the base are switches: press the pad and they click. But the feet are on the low edge of the pad, so the pressure required to click them varies from the top of the pad to the bottom. After a few hundred clicks you notice the difference.

Also, the buttons are stiff. It takes much more force to click the MT than on a MacBook. You won't notice it at first, but after a few hours your wrist will.

Fortunately, you can select tap-to-click in the preferences and ignore the stiff switches. Tapping is much easier and I found it easy to learn.

The Storage Bits take All in all, a fine product and a modest but real advance in desktop man-machine interaction. If you like the gesture interface on an iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad or MacBook you'll like the Magic Trackpad. If not, save your money.

But it isn't for everyone. Gamers won't dump their controllers for it. It supports multiple ways to perform right and left clicks and select and drag, but dedicated buttons work better when you're moving fast.

The same can be said for hard working video, audio and photo pros. If you've got a fast mouse/keyboard workflow, the learning curve and loss of hardware buttons may not work for you. I like it for Final Cut Pro, but I'm not pounding FCP all day either.

Magical? No. Useful? Yes. That's good enough for me.

Comments welcome, of course. FWIW, I bought the MT with my money.

Topics: Apple, Hardware, Laptops, Mobility


Robin Harris is Chief Analyst at TechnoQWAN LLC, a storage research and consulting firm he founded in 2005. Based in Sedona, Arizona, TechnoQWAN focuses on emerging technologies, products, companies and markets. Robin has over 35 years experience in the IT industry and earned degrees from Yale and the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton... Full Bio

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