Magic Trackpad review

UPDATE, 21 October 2015: Apple has released the Magic Trackpad 2. Read our Magic Trackpad 2 review for more information.

Apple’s £59 Magic Trackpad is a standalone, Bluetooth trackpad that uses the same painted glass surface as the trackpad on Apple’s MacBook Pro laptops. It’s designed to complement Apple’s Wireless Keyboard with the same aluminium-body design and almost identical height, depth and inclination. The Magic Trackpad is also a good match for Apple’s current wired keyboards. One place the Magic Trackpad doesn’t sit especially well is on your lap with a keyboard, however.

Apple states the Magic Trackpad is almost 80 per cent larger than the largest MacBook Pro trackpad. The actual trackpad surface is just over 13cm wide by about 11cm deep; the entire device, including the battery compartment, is roughly 11cm deep. While the Magic Trackpad may not appear to support physical ‘clicking’, it does. The two rubber feet on the bottom, along the front edge, actually have a button built into them. When you press down on the trackpad surface, the feet ‘click’, giving you the same tactile sensation you get with Apple’s current MacBook trackpads.

The Magic Trackpad ships with two AA alkaline batteries. Apple hasn’t published an official battery life for the Magic Trackpad – the company has said only that the Magic Trackpad goes into a power-saving mode when not being used in order to extend battery life – but after two days of solid use, the battery indicator in Trackpad preferences still read 100 per cent.

If you’ve used a recent MacBook or MacBook Pro, the Magic Trackpad’s operation is instantly familiar – the trackpad feel and functions are practically identical to its laptop counterparts. Which is both good and bad: you get Apple’s Multi-Touch technology, but a trackpad generally isn’t as precise as a mouse, or even a good tablet or trackball, so if you’re doing detail work, you may still want to keep a mouse. (Apple told Macworld that many Apple employees use both.)

It’s also worth noting that if your Mac has an exceptionally large screen, or if you have multiple displays connected, the Magic Trackpad requires a bit more effort than a mouse, and especially a trackball, when moving the cursor across that expanse. With a mouse or trackball, you can fling the cursor across the screen to access items that aren’t near the cursor. But a trackpad moves the cursor only when you’re actually sliding your finger across the trackpad’s surface, so the Magic Trackpad often requires multiple drags to get from one side of a large desktop to the other.

New gestures

The new trackpad software adds a couple of new gesture options. The first is that you can now opt for scrolling with inertia, which gives your scrolling documents and windows a bit of virtual momentum – when you lift your fingers off the trackpad while swiping, instead of the scrolling movement coming immediately to a halt, it gradually slows down until it eventually stops. We’d love to see similar inertia when moving the cursor.

The other new option is that the three-finger gesture, which previously could be used only to navigate – to turn pages, flip through photos, or switch Safari tabs, for example – can now be used as a substitute for click-drag. Using this new gesture takes some practice, but we often found it to be more convenient than the traditional click-drag approach. However, the three-finger click-drag is not very useful for moving an item across a large swathe of screen – as soon as you lift your fingers to reposition them, you ‘drop’ whatever item you’re dragging.

Read next: Magic Mouse 2 review

OUR VERDICT

If you’re a big fan of the Multi-Touch trackpads on Apple’s current laptop models, the Magic Trackpad is for you. It gives you the same clickable, glass surface and Multi-Touch gestures, as those laptop trackpads in a wireless desktop model – with the bonus of nearly twice the trackpad area. The only real caveat is that if you have an exceptionally large display, or multiple displays, you’ll find the Magic Trackpad requires more effort to traverse that screen area than a trackball or mouse. If you prefer a mouse or trackball over the built-in MacBook trackpad – say, for reasons of ergonomics or precision movement – the Magic Trackpad probably won’t win you over. It’s the same trackpad, just bigger.

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