Apple Magic Trackpad Review

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  • Pros

    • Beautiful
    • Solid gesture support in OS X
    • Very smooth experience
  • Cons

    • Expensive for what it does
    • Nonexistent Windows support

Quick Take

A gorgeous piece of hardware that Mac desktop users and fans will no doubt enjoy; Windows users, however, would do well to steer clear.


Apple introduced their new Magic Trackpad today to significant buzz; the product’s concept had been leaked as early as late 2009 and FCC documents recently confirmed its existence. The Magic Trackpad is cheap enough for most Apple customers to consider but expensive enough to make you think twice. Is $69 too much for what is essentially a huge notebook touchpad? Read on for our full review.

 

Be sure to check out our complete coverage of everything Apple that’s happened this summer here!

Desktop users, your time has come.
At least, that’s what Apple is saying. Literally. Apple introduced the original glass substrate multitouch trackpads upon which the Magic Trackpad is based into their notebook lineup a couple of years ago. Unlike many multitouch PC options, Apple went to a lot of trouble to fully integrate the multitouch capabilities of these trackpads into OS X – the support isn’t just hacked on top. That’s great news for buyers of the Magic Trackpad since it means that there are a number of gestures already built into the operating system.

 

Listed on the back of the box, new gestures include:

  • Pointing (dragging a finger across the trackpad to move the cursor)
  • Click (press down on the trackpad)
  • Double-click (press down twice in rapid succession)
  • Right-click (tap two fingers simultaneously)
  • Click and drag (press and drag a finger)
  • Two-finger scroll (drag two fingers across the trackpad to scroll vertically or horizontally)
  • Rotate (twist two fingers around in a circle)
  • Pinch/zoom (the most famous multitouch gesture, p/z involves pinching the surface back and forth)
  • Screen zoom (hold down control and move two fingers up to magnify the entire screen, irrespective of content)
  • Page back/forward in Safari/photos (three fingers moved horizontally move Back and Forward)
  • Switch applications (four fingers moved horizontally)
  • Activate Exposé (four fingers moved vertically)

Build and Design
The Magic Trackpad is built using the same design themes and materials that the rest of Apple’s desktops and accessories have used for the past several years. That basically means aluminum, and lots of it. The end result is a gorgeous piece of hardware that’s pretty sturdy to boot.

In the above pictures, an HTC EVO is sitting next to the Magic Trackpad in order to provide a perspective on size.

Aside from the battery comparment, which houses two AA batteries (just Energizers, unfortunately, and not the new NiMH rechargeables that Apple also introduced today), the trackpad is just a few millimeters thick. Almost the entire top surface is taken up by the actual multitouch region.

Apple claims a roughly 80% increase in surface area over the touchpads found in its latest generation of Macbook and Macbook Pro laptops, and those were already fairly large. All said, the design, like most of Apple’s recent offerings, follows a very minimalist aesthetic. It looks very similar, at least from the side, as the current wireless Apple Keyboard, and even follows the exact same angle and slope as the keyboard. It makes switching between the two very easy.

There’s only one apparent button – to power it on – and one horizontal line that’s used to unscrew the battery compartment (speaking of which, the lid for the battery compartment is equally impressive – Apple made it out of the same weighty metal as the rest of the trackpad when they could have made it out of plastic or rubber).

The bottom of the Magic Trackpad is mostly covered with a glossy white plastic reminiscent of the last-generation Mac Mini desktops. Emblazoned with a matte Apple logo, there are four grey rubber bumpers: two thin lines at the bottom of the battery compartment and two small circles at the bottom of the trackpad itself.

 

It’s the two small rubber hemispheres that are interesting. In addition to acting as support and non-skid pads for the device, they’re actually the buttons responsible for the left and right clicks when a user presses down. It’s a pretty ingenious engineering innovation, but it also makes clicking the trackpad almost impossible on any surface that isn’t a flat, hard desk. Even a thick tablecloth managed to get in the way a bit. Fortunately, that issue can be mitigated by turning on the tap-to-click functionality in System Preferences.

Software
Aimed primarily at users of the iMac, Mac Mini and Mac Pro, the driver update (it’s not included in the diminutive box – the 75MB download can be found at http://support.apple.com/downloads) for the Magic Trackpad includes a few new quirks that non-Macbook users might not be used to.

After installing the Trackpad pane in System Preferences, customers can configure the trackpad to a degree not normally found in Apple products. Just about every gesture can be turned on and off, whether it requires one, two, three or four fingers.

Apple Magic Trackpad Apple Magic Trackpad

The three-finger navigation gesture can also be configured to act as a dragging motion instead – basically, swiping three fingers acts as if one finger was instead depressed and dragged. It’s an extremely useful gesture for multitouch devices like the Magic Trackpad – clicking and dragging on touchpads is often a chore, even on Apple’s class-leading devices. The three-finger drag feels far more useful than the three-finger navigation function, especially when using it with applications like mapping software or Google Earth.

There is both good news and bad news for users who either prefer or are forced to use Microsoft Windows instead of Apple’s own OS X. The good news: the new Magic Trackpad will work with Windows. The bad news: it’ll work about as well as Apple’s current notebook touchpads do – which, thanks to poor software support on the part of Apple, don’t work as well in Windows as in OS X.

Moreover, that’s only applicable if the Magic Trackpad is being used in Windows with Boot Camp on an Apple desktop of some sort. The new trackpad can be used with non-Apple machines running Windows, but functionality will be extremely limited. There’s no multitouch support and only left-click (no tap-to-click). Since the trackpad just uses Bluetooth to negotiate its wireless connectivity, that part, at least, works fine within Windows.

Conclusion
It cannot be overstated just how much better Apple’s trackpads are than just about every other option on the market, regardless of notebook manufacturer. So the Magic Trackpad already starts off with high expectations.  In terms of actual use, well, there’s no surprise: it works just like the touchpads found in a Macbook. Gestures are solid, the trackpad is responsive, the build quality is stellar and the whole thing looks very elegant.

The problem, really, is that the Magic Trackpad is a solution to a problem that didn’t exist. Unlike the iPad, which posed the same question but seems to have successfully carved a niche, the Magic Trackpad is fighting against something that already does the job very well: the standard computer mouse.  If there’s a need to incorporate multitouch into the experience, then Apple has that base covered, too, with the Magic Mouse.  All this is not to say that customers shouldn’t buy the Magic Trackpad; after all, it’s a very neat experience if someone is already a Mac user. The experience, though, is just neat; it’s not revolutionary.

One of the best case usage scenarios for the Magic Trackpad that we can think of is probably using it in a setting where distance is an issue.  Thanks to the Bluetooth connectivity, the trackpad can be used roughly thirty feet away from the computer to which it’s connected.  That makes it ideal for HTPCs or browsing the web from the couch or bed.

At $69, the Magic Trackpad is something of a tough sell. It’s a gorgeous piece of hardware that Mac desktop users and fans will no doubt enjoy. The gestures are well incorporated into OS X and the third-party jitouch suite can expand upon that gesture functionality (to an extent, better support will no doubt be forthcoming). Windows users, however, or those completely happy with using their mouse or Magic Mouse, would do well to steer clear.

Pros:

  • Beautiful
  • Solid gesture support in OS X
  • Very smooth experience

Cons

  • Expensive for what it does
  • Nonexistent Windows support


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