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Apple Magic Trackpad Review

by The Review CrewSeptember 2, 2010

For those keeping score, Apple had only one computing product left in its lineup that wasn’t multitouch-oriented: its desktop Macs. Not anymore. With the introduction of the Magic Trackpad, Apple has brought its multitouch-enabled clickpad from the MacBook Pro over to the desktop world in the form of a large, square, aluminum-and-glass Bluetooth peripheral. At $69, the Magic Trackpad isn’t cheap, nor is it a solution for professional artists, like Wacom tablets are. It works as intended on the desktop, as an easy-to-use large multitouch trackpad, providing a viable alternative or companion device to the ever-reliable mouse. For those of you who’ve connected your Mac Mini to a TV, the Trackpad could also be compelling as a living-room controller. However, in neither case is the Magic Trackpad a revolutionary input solution. We recommend it primarily to those interested in experimenting with touch-based desktop input.

At first sight, the Magic Trackpad’s minimalism can almost be off-putting. You’ll find no icons, logos, or buttons–just a smooth, edge-to-edge pad with a thin seam at the top delineating the end of the glass trackpad surface. The Magic Trackpad rests simply at an elevated angle, just like Apple’s Bluetooth keyboard that is prepackaged with all iMacs. Side by side, the keyboard and trackpad line up flush to look like a single keyboard-and-trackpad unit. There’s also plenty of room for anyone’s fingers; it’s 80 percent larger than the already-spacious MacBook Pro trackpad. Laid out on a desk, the Trackpad cuts a very attractive and clean profile.

The Magic Trackpad pairs the same way that other Bluetooth Apple devices do, although a trackpad-specific software update is required to enable full multitouch support and customization. Though the wording on the box claims a Mac is necessary, we successfully paired the Magic Trackpad with a Windows PC. Unfortunately, Windows functionality is limited to single-touch and click functions only–we couldn’t get multitouch settings such as pinch-to-zoom and tap-to-click to work on the Magic Trackpad. A Windows support download from Apple wouldn’t install on a Windows PC, and is intended for Boot Camp users running Windows on their Macs.

Like the Bluetooth keyboard, a cylindrical AA-battery compartment is tucked into the top edge, accessible through the side. The Magic Trackpad comes with a pair of standard AAs, but can also use rechargeable batteries. A recessed silver button on one side powers on the Trackpad and initiates Bluetooth pairing, also identical to the keyboard.

You can customize multitouch on the Magic Trackpad via a software update available to all Macs running 10.6.4 or later. A new Trackpad control panel toggles and tweaks features including tap-to-click and scroll speed, although the features cleave closely to ones already familiar to the touch language of MacBooks and MacBook Pros. Beyond shifting the secondary click from left to right and turning on/off inertial scrolling, there aren’t really any ways of customizing other click zones or custom multitouch commands.

If there’s one hardware drawback to the Magic Trackpad, it’s that the physical click function, enabled by seamless buttons concealed on the two near-side corners, only works when you use the device on a hard surface, such as on the top of a desk. Because the click travels through the bottom two rubber feet, not via the pad itself, holding the Magic Trackpad in your lap renders it clickless. There is a solution: enabling tap-to-click on the Magic Trackpad software preferences takes care of this, and we frankly like using tap-to-click better than physical clicking anyway.

The feel of the Magic Trackpad as a desktop tool is comfortable and ergonomic. Our hand rested comfortably on the Trackpad’s incline, and its size made touch control easy without causing hand cramps. Sliding your finger across the pad sometimes takes more motion than we’d prefer, not unlike on a laptop touch pad, but you can tweak the scroll speed in the software preferences to fit your taste.

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The Review Crew
The Review Crew is a group of beat editors, writers, and consultants that have been working together for years. They know just about everything about everything collectively and have published their collective work under the Review Crew brand moniker for almost 20 years.
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