Apple Magic Trackpad mini-review

The Apple Magic Trackpad has been out a few weeks now. During a visit today to the local Apple Store, to shop for a new iMac for the Missus, I bought one ($69) after trying it out for a while. Jury’s still out after an hour or two of using it, but I think it’s gonna be a winner.

Over my 18-plus-year history of owning and using personal computers, I’ve been a devoted user of trackballs. They take up less operating room on the desktop, and I find them more precise to use than mice. While I don’t presently own a laptop, I have used trackpads on previous computers. But I hadn’t thought of using a trackpad with a desktop computer until the Apple Marketing Dreadnought fired its salvo across my bows.

The last several years, I’ve also used a succession of Wacom tablets for photographic editing and retouching. I frequently find myself also using the pen+tablet combo to do work in my other apps, those more traditionally interfaced via the mouse. The thing is, once you get the hang of a pen, it’s really quick and intuitive for controlling everything, not just retouching photographs. Only niggle is having to put down the pen (or put it in your mouth!) while you use the keyboard.

Enter the Magic Trackpad. It’s a functional hybrid of trackball and pen+tablet. At about 13 cm (about 5.25 inches) square, it’s larger than a laptop trackpad but very manageable on my cluttered mess of a desk. It connects via Bluetooth, and runs off 2 included AA batteries. (I can’t throw a rock around here without hitting a battery charger full of NiMH AA’s, so I did not spring for Apple’s precious, pricey AA charger and batteries.) Setup was easy; I downloaded and installed the driver software needed to support it under Snow Leopard 10.6.4, which is apparently the earliest version of Mac OSX that will support it. After a reboot, I opened the new Trackpad application within System Preferences and, making sure the pad was powered on (blinking green LED at its upper right) ran the setup function. My 2-1/2 year old MacPro tower quickly recognized and connected to the device. I adjusted the tracking and scrolling speeds, checked and tweaked the few other configurable settings, and I was up and running in under two minutes.

After an hour of use I’ve already pretty much gotten the hang of the various controls accessible via single-, dual-, triple-, or quadruple-finger contact with the pad. Page scrolling, navigating through your browser page history, and switching applications are particularly easy and useful. The only thing I’m not so fond of is that clicking is actual, physical CLICK-ing; you have to press down pretty hard on the thing to click, double-click, click-and-drag, etc. I’d imagined that tapping alone would function as clicking, as it does on laptop trackpads—not so. [UPDATED—SEE BELOW] This means that for precise click-and-drag operations, which are common within image-editing software such as Lightroom or Photoshop, I don’t see this pad supplanting my Wacom tablet/pen.

But I do think I’ll be retiring my old Logitech trackball.

**Update (thanks to reader James): the Magic Pad will indeed click and drag with a soft tap. I figured this out after using it more; evidently the one in the store was not configured to do this. Just select “Tap to click” in Trackpad setup in System Preferences. Thank you James!


2 thoughts on “Apple Magic Trackpad mini-review

  1. Let me save you endless frustration and sore fingers. Check the preferences, tap to click is the first option on the list (tap to drag is second). There’s also a three finger drag option, no clicking necessary!


    1. James, thanks. I based my review mostly on my experience with the pad in the Apple store. After I got home and used mine a while, I figured out just what you’ve advised here. It’s a lot easier—thanks for reminding me that I need to update my review accordingly.

      Thanks for reading, and responding.


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