Why do PC trackpads suck?

Summary:Apple set the bar for laptop trackpads with the outstanding ones on the MacBook line. There has yet been one on the PC side that comes close to them.

I have been using laptops since they weighed 30 pounds. They have varied in size from tiny to mammoth, with all types of hardware inside to cover every need. The one common feature found on almost all of these laptops over the years is a trackpad that sucks.

Until the unibody MacBook came along, the first thing I did with a new laptop is plug in a wireless mouse. It's been like that for years, and I don't understand why, out of all the companies making laptops, Apple is the only one that makes a decent trackpad.

When I get a new laptop to test I dutifully use the trackpad in the hopes that someone has finally produced one that rivals those found on Mac laptops. I test the standard mousing features and the multi-touch capability now found on all trackpads. That exercise always ends in futility, as none of them ever live up to the potential. They are either too sensitive, not sensitive enough, or even worse interfere with typing by sending the cursor all over the screen when my palms hit the trackpad.

However you feel about Apple and MacBooks, you have to admit they have nailed the multi-touch trackpad down cold. Apple trackpads work exactly as they should, with no ill effects. The sensitivity is just right, the integrated mouse buttons work just right, and the palm rejection is just right.

The closest to an Apple trackpad I've seen so far on the PC side is the Lenovo IdeaPad U300s Ultrabook. Lenovo did a great job with the over-sized trackpad, and it's the only one to date I use without plugging in a mouse. Even so, it sometimes does the cursor flinging thing when I am typing, but not as much as every other non-Apple trackpad I have tried.

I am beginning to think making a trackpad that works properly must be incredibly difficult, or everyone would be doing so. Heck, even though Lenovo almost nailed it with the U300s, it totally blew it on the U400. This trackpad looks like the one on the U300s, but it is a horrible one to use. It's a good thing the U400 has a setting to turn off the trackpad when a USB mouse is plugged in. At least it stops flinging the cursor all over the screen.

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Topics: Hardware, Laptops, Mobility

About

James Kendrick has been using mobile devices since they weighed 30 pounds, and has been sharing his insights on mobile technology for almost that long. Prior to joining ZDNet, James was the Founding Editor of jkOnTheRun, a CNET Top 100 Tech Blog that was acquired by GigaOM in 2008 and is now part of that prestigious tech network. James' w... Full Bio

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