The Problem with Trackpads

Fellow geek Psorakis Yannis has an issue with cursor control:

I was wondering what’s your best pointing device excluding the mouse. I am totally annoyed by the fact that all laptop companies focus on trackpads. Touch surfaces are not accurate, they are very dependant on the pointing distance, they won’t work if your fingers are sweaty, and they have accidental clicks all the time, especially when you use the keyboard because you wrist often touches them.

I find IBM’s “pointing stick” (the little red dot) as the best mouse alternative. It is accurate, it is has infinite pointing distance, it minimizes the transition time between writing on the keyboard and pointing, and uses a very small portion of the laptop surface. I used it on my old Toshiba with excellent results, even to the point of playing games if I didn’t have a mouse available.

I don’t understand why the laptop manufacturers do not adopt that technology. Maybe because it appears “old fashioned”? Dunno. What’s your opinion? Which do you think is the best mouse alternative for laptops?

Honestly, I used to hate trackpads / touchpads, but quickly got used to them when I was given the choice between them on one particular notebook computer (one of the last IBM-branded ThinkPads). The nub actually caused undue strain on my inner wrist, whereas the trackpad was virtually frictionless. You can always adjust the sensitivity on ’em, too. I do carry a portable USB mouse with me when I travel, but seldom use it.

Everybody seems to have a different favorite; there is no “one size fits all” for input or output devices. The best alternative is the one that you like. I’ve taken heat for being in love with Apple’s Mighty Mouse – it fits my hand, the omnidirectional scroller is a dream come true, and I don’t need much more in a mouse than what it offers. I also love multitouch touchpads on notebooks – to the point where if I use a device that doesn’t have one, I feel limited and frustrated.

What alternative would my friends recommend?

20 thoughts on “The Problem with Trackpads”

  1. Pingback: Matt Smith Tech
  2. I plug a Cirque Track Pad into the USB port of any computer I work on. I’ve tried every imaginable mouse, and this is the only one i don’t hurt my hands, wrists, and shoulder with.

  3. Death to the trackpad. Give us the touchscreen with finger or pointer (for fine access), akin to the great drawing pads I used in 1996! that have pressure sensitivity — drawing with a crayon tool was my favorite way to demonstrate the sensitivity.

  4. I don’t mind the trackpads at all for casual usage, though i keep a mouse in my bag for things like photoshop. I know people that swear by a trackball still.

    I liked the mighty mouse a lot for a while and i think that the scroll ball makes more sense than anything ever put into a mouse. At this point that is about all that i like about the mighty mouse anymore.

  5. I use my laptop for hours and hours, and using the trackpad makes my wrist and fingers tired. I prefer to use the Logitech 600 Cordless Mouse. It’s ergonomic design is combined with customizable buttons makes it a great choice. The only thing I don’t like about it is its size. It is relatively large, and difficult to carry around.

  6. I agree about the multi touch scrolling on the macbooks. Every time i use a different computer i get angry fast.

  7. I agree about the multi touch scrolling on the macbooks. Every time i use a different computer i get angry fast.

  8. I have a mac book that i got in may and im thinking of taking it back as my track pad does not work some times but it will start to work when i hit the apple key so yea thats mesed up but i love the mighty mouse and the lotic mouses

  9. that little red nub mouse on old IBMs was the worse!!! New MBP trackpad beats all.. The four finger show desktop roxors

  10. yea i hate the track pads on more recent HP laptops. the one i have is more of a glossy feel/look. i hate how it only works when my fingers are so dry they can peel haha. so i always use a mouse. on my new MacBook Pro, i love how its a matte (might be correct spelling) finish so my finger just glides right over it beautifully. i’m not doing a mac and pc comparison, but i hate the HP track pads. bad decision to make them glossy

  11. I to feel limited when i use a computer that doesnt have multitouch gestures. Such as two finger scrolling, swiping between windows on my macbook pro. Laptops without two finger scrolling = FAIL

  12. Hello,

    My preference is for the ThinkPad’s TrackPoint pointing stick as it allows me to move the cursor around the screen without having to significantly change the position of my hands on the keyboard. Of course, I have not experienced any inner wrist strain when using one. I suspect that if I did, I would be looking at alternate pointing options, too.


    Aryeh Goretsky

  13. i’m happy with my ibm red dot, seldom use its trackpad area, but im eager to use apple’s multitouch pad ü if santa will give me an apple mac aluminum this Christmas he he

  14. Likely because I use synergy software to link three machines and six monitors at home. (At work, I use two machines and two monitors.)

    My favorite is a Logitech T-BC1 trackball. Setting up which edges of the screens are and are not linked right means that a flick of the track ball will quickly slam the cursor into one of the edges that are not linked and make it easy to find. It also means that I never have to move my input device.

  15. I actually love my MacBook’s trackpad (2.4GHZ White). I do prefer a mouse a lot of the time, but because i am desk-less now for a while due to some stuff around the house, i easily got used to the trackpad and when i have to, i’ll just pop out my iPhone and use Air Mouse, as i think it is accurate enough for when i’m watching like an episode of Heroes on Hulu or something.

  16. I have used many different laptops with many different built-in pointing options. Currently I use a ThinkPad X60 which only has the TrackStik/Nub/”Eraser Head”. I also use a ThinkPad T60p that has both the TrackPad and the TrackStik. I find myself using the TrackPad more than the stick on that system. Most of the time I an using my MacBook Pro which only has the TrackPad. On all three of those systems, I use an external bluetooth optical mouse and use that more than any other pointing interface. I use the Microsoft IntelliMouse Explorer for Bluetooth because it fits my hand very well, and there are no cables. I can even use it on my leg if I have limited desk space. I also have a Wacom bluetooth tablet that I have been known to use from time to time as a replacement for my pointing device, but I tend to use that more for photo editing and just pointing.

  17. Absolutely right Chris:

    I found my old T30 Thinkpad the best pointing device, I even used to play Halo and Half Life 2 and never got carpian tunnel, what about that!!.

  18. I actually completely agree with your solution! I know when I went out testing laptops to purchase a new one, almost every laptop manufacturer had a different feel to their laptops’ trackpads (and there WERE some decent ones, at that … )

    But the solution you worked with in your question is actually really good … I’ve used it with laptops, and it is INFINITELY more accutate that touchpads!

    Thanks for the question!

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