Magic Trackpad Review - Simply the Best Trackpad For Your Mac

Apple's Magic Trackpad Brings Gestures to Desktop Macs

Magic Trackpad
The original Magic Trackpad. Courtesy of Ntay | Creative Commons 3.0

Apple's Magic Trackpad brings the wonderful glass trackpad that MacBook Pro users have been enjoying to desktop Mac users. Now laptop users can be envious of desktop users because, along the way, the tracking surface was magically enlarged to 5-1/8 x 4-1/4, an 80% increase over the trackpad surface in MacBook Pros.

The larger surface area uses the same glass finish for a silky smooth touch that allows your fingers to effortlessly glide across the surface.

The Magic Trackpad is a winner in my book. It also has some unusual uses you may not have thought of; more on that later.

Update: Apple has replaced the Magic Trackpad with a newer model that provides many of the same features along with additional improvements. Find out more in the guide First Look: Magic Trackpad 2.

With that update out of the way, let's continue our look at the original Magic Trackpad.

Apple Magic Trackpad: Introduction

If you have ever used the silky smooth glass trackpad in a MacBook Pro, you were probably delighted at how easily your fingers glided across the surface. You no doubt also enjoyed the ability to use multi-finger gestures (we're talking trackpad gestures here; keep it clean).

But while the MacBook Pro trackpad is nice, it's small. It has to be, to fit in a portable Mac. Ever wondered what Apple would do if it could build a Multi-Touch trackpad without a size constraint?

The answer is the Magic Trackpad. At more than 80% larger than the MacBook Pro trackpad, the Magic Trackpad provides a huge surface area for performing gestures and controlling Mac's mouse pointer.

Apple housed the Magic Trackpad in a sleek aluminum frame that mimics the look of the wireless keyboard included with desktop Macs.

It even sits at the same angle and can be placed adjacent to the Mac keyboard. They almost look like a single product, rather than two separate ones.

The Magic Trackpad is wireless and uses Bluetooth to communicate with any Mac that has built-in Bluetooth (all current Macs), or Bluetooth added via a USB dongle. Apple claims a range of 33 feet for effective communication. This range allows the Magic Trackpad to be put to some interesting uses, besides being a pointing device for your Mac.

A pair of AA batteries (included in the package) provides power. I haven't had the Magic Trackpad for very long, so I can't tell how long the supplied batteries will last, but starting with a fresh set, six months would seem to be a reasonable assumption.

Apple Magic Trackpad: Installation

The Magic Trackpad requires OS X 10.6.4 or later. If you need to update your Mac's software, you can use the Software Update feature, located under the Apple menu. With that out of the way, it's time to install the Magic Trackpad.

Magic Trackpad Pairing

The first step is to pair the Magic Trackpad with your Mac. You do this by turning the Magic Trackpad on, then opening the Bluetooth system preferences. Clicking the + (plus) button will start the Bluetooth Setup Assistant, which will guide you through the pairing process.

Magic Trackpad Software Update

Once the Magic Trackpad and your Mac are paired, you're ready to start using the trackpad. The first thing you'll notice is that the Magic Trackpad appears to only function as a mouse pointer; there's no gesture support and no right-click capabilities. That's because you don't yet have the Trackpad preference pane that controls how the trackpad is configured. Without the Trackpad preference pane, your brand new Magic Trackpad is missing most of its magic, although it will operate as a basic pointing device.

You need to grab the Trackpad preference pane by making another trip to the Software Update menu, located under the Apple menu.

This time, with the Magic Trackpad connected, the update service will realize you need the trackpad software and offer to download and install the necessary preference pane.

Chances are the above steps won't be needed after the next OS X update, since in all likelihood Apple will include the trackpad preference pane as a default for all Mac models.

Apple Magic Trackpad: Configuring the Magic Trackpad Preferences

With the Trackpad preference pane installed, it's time to configure your Mac to interpret gestures and configure basic trackpad button clicks or taps.

Trackpad Preference Pane

Gestures are organized as one-, two-, three-, or four-finger gestures. Apple incorporated a video help system in the Trackpad preference pane. Let the mouse hover over one of the gestures and a short video will describe the gesture and show you how to perform it with the Magic Trackpad.

As it originally shipped, the Magic Trackpad supports twelve types of gestures.

One-Finger Gestures

  • Tap to Click: Finger tap performs the primary click.
  • Dragging: Drags windows around.
  • Drag Lock: An alternate method of dragging windows.
  • Secondary Click: Assigns either the left or right bottom corner of the Magic Trackpad as the secondary click location.

Two-Finger Gestures

  • Scroll: Scroll horizontally and vertically.
  • Rotate: Rotate an image.
  • Pinch Open & Close: Zoom in or out on an image or the contents of a window.
  • Screen Zoom: Zoom in or out on the entire screen.
  • Secondary Tap: Use a two-finger tap for the secondary click.

Three-Finger Gestures

  • Swipe to Navigate: Move between document pages; move to previous or next images or web pages.
  • Swipe to Drag: An alternative way to drag windows.

Four-Finger Gestures

  • Swipe Up/Down: Swipe up to show just the desktop (using Expose); swipe down to show all open windows (using Expose).
  • Swipe Left/Right: Swipe left or right to display the Application Switcher.

Each gesture can be enabled or disabled, and many gestures include options that can be set.

Apple Magic Trackpad: Ergonomics

The Magic Trackpad is not only fun to use, all the gestures are easy to perform. The large trackpad surface provides a more precise feeling to moving the pointer around the screen, and the large surface area makes it easier to perform large gestures.

Another important consideration that just can't be overlooked is that unlike Mac portables, which incorporate the trackpad into their body, the Magic Trackpad gives you the freedom to place it anywhere you wish - to the left or right of the keyboard, or anywhere else - as long as it's within range of the Bluetooth transceivers. I placed the Magic Trackpad above my keyboard, just under the display. It's out of the way, yet right within easy reach when I need it.

Mouse or Trackpad?

I confess I plan to use both a mouse and the trackpad. It seems Apple may agree that for desktop users, the Magic Trackpad isn't a mouse replacement. If you look at Apple's online store, you'll see that when purchasing a desktop Mac, Apple offers the Magic Trackpad as a complement to the mouse, not a direct replacement.

It may just be that I'm so used to using a mouse that the trackpad doesn't seem as easy for pointer movement. But it's much better than the Magic Mouse, which has a cramped surface for performing gestures, forcing me to resort to some convoluted positions to hold and use it.

Manufacturer's Site

Magic Trackpad Review: Primary Usage

 

A pointing device must be easy to use. Sure, gestures are important, but if you don't enjoy the Magic Trackpad in day-to-day usage, such as making menu selections, accessing secondary menus, or just moving around the desktop, then it won't get much use and you'll have wasted your money.

I'm pleased to report that the Magic Trackpad is a joy to use for its primary purpose.

You can decide how the primary and secondary clicks are performed, you can decide whether to use delicate finger taps anywhere on the trackpad's surface, and you can press down and hear the click of the Magic Trackpad's feet. Did I mention that the trackpad has two buttons within the little rubber feet located under its bottom edge? Pretty clever, and it explains why you can assign the left or right bottom corner, where the feet are located, as the spots for emulating a primary or secondary click.

The adjustable tracking speed let me set the Magic Trackpad up so that a full sweep across the surface moves the cursor completely across my display. I like the one-to-to movement; you may prefer slower tracking, which provides more precision. Luckily, it's your choice.

Gestures

Gestures are easy to perform. Remembering which gesture does what takes a little bit longer, but overall, gestures are a great shortcut for repetitive tasks.

Some gestures are more useful than others, and I can imagine eventually turning a few of them off and only using a handful on a daily basis. But right now, I'm having fun using all of them.

 

Magic Trackpad Review: Secondary Uses

 

The Magic Trackpad intrigued me from the moment I saw it. I immediately imagined a couple of alternate uses for this wireless device.

Home Theater Controller

The Magic Trackpad is a Bluetooth wireless device with a range of 33 feet. I can easily imagine it sitting on a coffee table in a home theater setting, and serving as the main system controller. Unlike a mouse, you can use the Magic Trackpad in your lap while you're sitting in your comfy chair; you can also leave it on the table if you prefer. With no complex buttons to memorize, you can build the entire home theater user interface around an interface such as Front Row or Plex. Of course, these types of user interfaces will need to be updated to work with trackpad interfaces. In the meantime, Elgato's EyeTV works just fine with the Magic Trackpad.

Graphics Tablet

If you need just basic tablet capabilities, such as creating signatures or doing a bit of doodling, the Magic Trackpad works nicely. I noticed that Autograph from Ten One Design already works with the Magic Trackpad, and I suspect other trackpad drawing applications will be getting updates soon.

 

Magic Trackpad Review: Final Thoughts

 

The Magic Trackpad has found a home here in our house, and that's saying a lot. I've never been fond of laptops, and I usually find the trackpads built into them to be tolerable at best.

But the Magic Trackpad's glass surface and large size overcame my misgivings. I liked how easily my fingers glided about its surface, and how smoothly the mouse pointer moved across the display. The larger surface area not only makes moving around the display more precise, it also makes it very easy to use gestures.

The option to place the Magic Trackpad wherever you want it, to the left or right of your keyboard, or anywhere else, can't be overstated. It allows you to fit the Magic Trackpad into your workspace and make it conform to how you like to work, rather than you conforming to it.

What's missing is a basic gesture editor and the ability to create your own gestures.

For instance, I like using the single- and two-finger tap for primary and secondary clicks. But that leaves the two mechanical bumper buttons on the bottom corners of the Magic Trackpad unused. I'd like to assign them as front and back buttons for web browsers and the Finder, but I'm currently unable to do so. Other gestures I would like to see are ones for multimedia, volume up/down, and iTunes controls.

One last bit of information. The Magic Trackpad will work in Boot Camp for Windows XP, Vista, and Windows 7, but you will need to download drivers from Apple's web site.

 

Manufacturer's Site