Hands on with Apple's Force Touch trackpad

The new 12-inch MacBook is still weeks away, but you can get the Force Touch trackpad right now in this updated 13-inch MacBook Pro.

One of the most talked-about new features in the upcoming 12-inch Apple MacBook is its new touchpad. Apple calls its versions trackpads, and this new type is the Force Touch trackpad, a new approach to the traditional hinged click-down design found on most laptops.

But you don't have to wait until April 10 to try it. The new trackpad has already made its way into one currently available MacBook, the just-updated 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display, which also features a new fifth-generation Intel Core i-series processor and faster internal flash memory.

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The moving trackpad on an older MacBook Pro. Sarah Tew/CNET

We've just received one of the new 13-inch Pro models, and have spent the morning playing with the Force Touch trackpad, test-driving it with several users of traditional Mac pads.

The Force Touch trackpad eliminates the top hinge that previously required you to physically depress the glass top of the pad, usually from somewhere on the lower half to register properly. Instead, the new pad places four sensors under the pad, one under each corner. This replaces a design some describe as a "diving board" with one that's a simple, flat surface.

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The pad on the new MacBook doesn't click down. Sarah Tew/CNET

The four sensors allow you to click anywhere on the pad's surface with identical results, and the Force Click effect, which combines the sensors with haptic (or taptic) feedback, allow you to have two levels of perceived clicking within an app or task. That deep click feels to the finger and brain like the trackpad has a stepped physical mechanism, but in fact, the movement you feel is a small tactile haptic tap, which, even when fully explained, still feels like you're depressing the trackpad two levels.

Apple describes it like this: "With the Force Touch trackpad, force sensors detect your click anywhere on the surface and move the trackpad laterally toward you, although the feel is the same familiar downward motion you're accustomed to in a trackpad."

We've already gone over what the new trackpad can do, and most of the time, it'll be used to bring up context-sensitive content when you use the firmer, double-level click on files or individual words and terms. We gave the updated MacBook Pro to several people around the CNET offices, as seen in the accompanying video, and each professed to being fooled by the tactile illusion that they were clicking down on a physical touchpad.

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Contextual information from a deep click. Sarah Tew/CNET

While the Force Touch trackpad doesn't click down, I did notice the glass bending a tiny bit under my fingers then pressing on it. iFixit has a detailed teardown that explains why this may be because of the thicker body in the MacBook Pro, and why the upcoming 12-inch MacBook may not have even this tiny level of give.

We're currently benchmarking the 2015 version of the 13-inch MacBook Pro, so stay tuned for our full review.

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