Apple Magic Trackpad review: Apple Magic Trackpad

Used on a desktop, the Magic Trackpad has a comfortable size and angle of elevation.

As an input device, the Magic Trackpad actually works quite well. It's easy to scroll and click, and there's an undeniable comfort to not having to move a device around underneath. The multitouch controls also work as advertised. For those unfamiliar with using a MacBook, double-touch clicking operates as a right-click function, whereas two-finger scrolling zips through documents with an inertial effect familiar to users of the Magic Mouse. Pinch-to-zoom and two-finger rotation, gestures common to both Windows and Mac laptop users, work particularly well and could be the "killer gestures" that a Magic Mouse doesn't already offer. Triple-finger swipes will flip back and forth through browser pages or pictures in iPhoto. There's even a four-finger swipe, which either hot-switches applications, clears all open windows to show the desktop, or shrinks an application's open windows down for a casual overview. It's all elegantly executed and useful, but we could have used even more gestures--particularly in the case of adding new custom gestures or hot-clicking application shortcuts. With a nearby keyboard also in use, the Magic Trackpad works well to provide for nearly all normal user needs. That's not surprising, since it's replicating the MacBook Pro's touchpad experience, which we already find to be excellent.

However, if Apple's goal for the Magic Trackpad is to replace the traditional mouse, we can't say that we're ready to make that switch with this generation of the product. Admittedly, the Trackpad's multitouch shortcuts and inertial scrolling on Web pages and documents are faster tools than most mice can offer. On the other hand, at least a few buttons would have been helpful. Many advanced mice have a plethora of customizable shortcuts and wheels that make for efficient navigation. Apple's own multitouch vocabulary is sizable, but still limited. In lieu of more buttons, we'd even accept zone-specific controls or more advanced click commands, but these are largely absent as well.

We also tried connecting the Magic Trackpad to a Mac Mini connected to a TV, thinking that this device could possibly be a killer alternative to a mouse when couch surfing. As a living-room accessory, the Magic Trackpad feels comfortable enough. Some of its commands worked well--in fact, using pinch-to-zoom to expand text on the Safari browser, along with two-finger inertial scrolling, we were able to expand text to large, easily readable sizes and scroll articles effortlessly. It's also easy enough to use the Magic Trackpad to interact with iTunes. We can imagine Apple improving the experience by adding dedicated video-shuffle, track-skip, or volume-control gestures. And, Front Row--Apple's hidden Media Center-esque solution for playing video and music on a big screen--was strangely incompatible with the Magic Trackpad. Like Windows 7, Apple's OS X includes a virtual keyboard program, which means that as long as you don't mind typing slowly, you won't need to keep a keyboard handy to enter passwords or Web addresses. We can imagine improvements to the Magic Trackpad that would improve it as a living-room controller, and we'd still recommend a device like the Logitech diNovo Mini or another purpose-built device for couch-based computer control. It might not be ideal for the task, but the Trackpad is a reasonable and attractive alternative.

Finally, though the Magic Trackpad does resemble a mini tablet in the vein of Wacom's touch-enabled models, it has no software support for a stylus or painting programs. We were able to do some rudimentary finger-painting in Photoshop, and could see this trackpad being used for digital signatures, but right now the Magic Trackpad functions primarily as a mouse replacement. It's not an artist's pad.

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