Sunday, 15 August 2010

Apple Magic Trackpad - Simply the Best

Despite having subscriptions to all the UK Mac magazines, access to all the gossip and rumour mongers on Twitter and other internet sites, and tuning in to the live coverage of the most recent WWDC, the first I heard of the Apple Magic Trackpad was when it appeared in the Apple Store website a couple of weeks ago. I honestly wasn't sure quite what to make of it initially. I think my first reaction was "what the ... is this, and why does it cost £59.00?".

So I went round to my local Apple Store (one benefit of living in one of the most expensive capital cities in the world is that I have an Apple Store on the doorstep) and bought one. It was a bit of a "comfort" buy to be honest. Women buy shoes, nerds buy gadgets and everyone buys chocolate when they feel a bit sorry for themselves (I actually bought shoes and chocolate as well, but for different reasons).

After two weeks of use I have now dispensed with the Magic Mouse completely and even carry the Magic Trackpad around with me. But more about that later...

The Magic Trackpad is a near 5 inch square of Mac standard metallic finish which connects to your Mac via Bluetooth. The catch is that you must be using Snow Leopard 10.6.4 and you need to download an additional supporting piece of software from Apple to make it work. In fact, it seemed to work in a limited capacity right out of the box, but there was very limited functionality. Once the software update had downloaded and installed, a whole new rafter of functionality was available. There have been some reports of problems with the installation, but I found everything worked smoothly without any issues.

The trackpad performs all the functions currently available on the most recently multi-gesture trackpads across the MacBook range. My own MBP is a 2007 model and doesn't have this capability so this is a way of accessing it. Clearly the iMac and MacPro ranges have no trackpad at all, and while these are probably the target machines for the trackpad, it works brilliantly with the laptop as well.

The "glass" surface is very similar to the Magic Mouse surface - very smooth and cool to the touch, and forgiving of even the sweatiest fingers. It is possible to track very accurately with the pad as it has very fine precision. The big difference between this and the Magic Mouse is that the trackpad doesn't run out of room! While I think the Magic Mouse is the best mouse I've ever used, I do get frustrated with it occasionally when it fails to respond properly to my instructions. So far the only similar problem I've had with the Trackpad is that it can be too responsive, but I think I may still need to tweak some of the sensitivity settings.

The Apple software installs into the System Preferences and is fine as it stands, but to really take advantage of the Magic Trackpad you really need to install one of the third party applications available for the Magic Mouse. I use BetterTouchTool which is much more configurable and allows me to set up gesture recognition for many more things. I have set up Tap to Click for everyday use as it seems more natural than to use the slightly stiff physical click of the Trackpad, although this works fine on a hard surface like a desk. Two finger scrolling through web pages is also very natural, and I find that I'm able to use different fingers for the same gestures which is less onerous on the index digit in particular. With BetterTouchTool I have gestures set up to access the Dashboard, Spaces, Expose, System Preferences and I can even put the laptop to Sleep with a five finger click.

Because it is so light, even with the two AA batteries installed the Magic Trackpad is easy to slip into my work bag and the design allows me to keep it upright next to the laptop. It's actually easier to carry around than a mouse. Since installing the Magic Trackpad my Magic Mouse has been consigned to the cupboard. To be honest, there are one or two things that are probably easier with a mouse - multiple item selection being the most notable - but I think that may be because I've been doing them for such a long time with a mouse. I'm not sure that I'm ready to lose the mouse completely, but the trackpad has really become an integral part of my computing activity.

Battery life is pretty good too. After two weeks of constant use the battery level is down to 86% - far better than the Magic Mouse.

The worst thing is that I occasionally find myself reaching out for the MacBook Pro trackpad by mistake, and since it's an older model (late 2007) far from being a smooth tracking experience, it feels like I'm running my fingers over a cat's tongue.

Check out the Trackpad. You won't regret it, and you may well reconsider the way you work with your current input device.

The biggest surprise of all for me was that the Magic Trackpad was about £10 cheaper in Zurich than in the UK. In fact all Apple prices are lower than in the UK. So I can stock up on some extra chocolate!

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