Possessed Magic Trackpad

I received Apple’s Magic Trackpad as a gift a few months ago. Since I usually have my MacBook Pro hooked up to a huge monitor and my Model M-style buckling-spring keyboard on top of the closed screen, the internal “magic” multitouch trackpad is unusable. I was looking forward to using all the nifty gestures I missed out on most of the time, such as inertial scrolling and 4-finger-swipe “show desktop”. I also figured I could reclaim some desk space.

Well, wouldn’t you know it. I took it out of the box, did the Apple-style simple setup, and it didn’t work. OK, well it sometimes worked. Basically, I would move the cursor – and it would freeze for a few seconds. Very frustrating. Depending, it seems, on the surface I was using, close to 50% of the time would be frozen. Clearly unacceptable. I checked the batteries as my first guess, but they were new and fully charged – the battery display agreed. So Google to the rescue. Nothing… the best I could do was see that there’d been a number of mechanical faults and people just replaced them. Doing some fiddling around, it seems there was a grounding issue or a short between the touchpad and its surface, of the sort that would overload and reset the capacitance sensors. Metal contact, for example, would usually freeze it.

I had to get to an Apple store. Too late! Back to school, and I had no chance of getting to Center City, Philadelphia for a few hours. Two months passed before I could get to a store. Finally, I managed to – last weekend. I made the Genius Bar appointment and went to the (packed, as always) Apple store – and waited for 20 minutes after my appointment time until the called me

By now, I was pretty annoyed. I think Apple makes fantastic products with real thought put into usability, but I’m no “fanboi” and less than likely to excuse them for a 20-minute wait just because I’m in the Church of Jobs. But they earned my forgiveness, when I left the store less than 60 seconds later with a brand-new trackpad – they just replaced it on spec, no testing performed and no receipt needed. I guess being only able to buy a Magic Trackpad from Apple comes in handy – the trackpad itself is proof that you bought it from them. I must say I was impressed by the service, though when the stores average $4500/sq. ft/yr it’s cheaper, I suppose, to just replace the $60 device than spend even a few minutes prodding it.

Now that I have a working trackpad, on to the review proper. I’d used a cheap Microsoft optical scroll mouse with shoulder buttons (about $15 on Newegg) for the last year and a half, and I still have it for gaming. But the trackpad is, somewhat surprisingly to me, a big upgrade. Lots of things are just more pleasant on a trackpad, particularly one this large. I can fit my whole enormous hand on there with about an inch to spare, the tactile response is as flawless as the in-built one, and the gestures are really useful. With a regular mouse, it’s pretty hard (in retrospect) to navigate the OSX interface, since you don’t have windows in a taskbar ala Windows or Linux. The “application exposé on click-and-hold the icon” from Snow Leopard is basically essential. But with the gesture-supporting trackpad. you can do the four-finger Exposé swipe. I’m not used to it yet, but it’ll surely be faster.

All in all, I’m not sure I would’ve bought it for myself – but as a gift, or if I could use a $20 gift card or something on it, I’d jump all over it. But $60 is a non-trivial amount of money for something that’s basically not necessary. That sums up Apple in a nutshell – you don’t need it, and can do just fine with more standard products, but if you can spend an extra 15%, you get something significantly more pleasant to use that lasts longer.

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