capsule review

First look: Apple's Magic Trackpad

At a Glance
  • Apple Magic Trackpad

    Macworld Rating

Early Tuesday, Apple announced the Magic Trackpad, the company’s new standalone, Bluetooth trackpad. Using the same glass surface as the trackpad on Apple’s current laptop line, the Magic Trackpad supports the same Multi-Touch gestures, bringing Apple’s Multi-Touch technology to any Mac running Mac OS X 10.6.4 or later. (Sorry, the Magic Trackpad doesn’t work with the iPad.) After taking some photos of the Magic Trackpad, we've spent the day using it, and here's our first in-depth look.

Designed to complement Apple’s Wireless Keyboard, the Magic Trackpad uses the same aluminum-body design—and is almost the exact same height, depth, and inclination—as the Wireless Keyboard. (The trackpad is ever-so-slightly deeper from front to back.) As with the Wireless Keyboard, the back edge is raised about half an inch to accommodate a cylindrical battery compartment that holds two AA batteries. You’ll also find the same power button (on the right-hand side) and screw-shut battery-compartment cover (on the left-hand side). Rubber feet on the bottom of the trackpad keep it from sliding around your desk.

The Magic Trackpad also fits well with non-wireless Apple Keyboards: The thicknesses and inclinations are nearly identical, so when you align the front edge of the trackpad with either of Apple’s wired keyboards, the top surfaces align almost perfectly (although the trackpad’s battery compartment extends beyond the rear edge of the wired keyboard).

Apple's Wireless Keyboard and Magic Trackpad, side by side

Apple claims the Magic Trackpad is nearly 80 percent larger than the largest MacBook Pro trackpad—the largest trackpad the company has ever made—but doesn’t provide actual dimensions. The actual trackpad surface is roughly 5.2 inches wide by 4.3 inches deep; the entire device, including the battery compartment, is 5.2 inches deep.

My favorite Magic Trackpad design feature? While the Magic Trackpad may not appear to support physical “clicking,” it indeed does: The two nubby, rubber feet on the bottom, along the front edge, actually have buttons built into them. When you press down on the trackpad surface, the feet “click,” giving you the same tactile sensation as you get with Apple’s current MacBook trackpads. Very clever, and a welcome Apple touch—no pun intended—for those who hate touch-tapping.

The Magic Trackpad requires the Magic Trackpad and Multi-Touch Trackpad Update, available via Software Update or direct download, for full functionality. The download is just shy of 80MB and requires a restart of your Mac. (In my testing, the update didn’t appear in Software Update for desktop Macs unless the Magic Trackpad was already paired.) Without this update, the trackpad will pair with your Mac, but will act as a single-button input device with no gesture support.

After pairing the Magic Trackpad with your Mac—it works with both desktop and laptop Macs—and installing the required software update, you configure the trackpad’s gestures just as you would on a MacBook—using the Trackpad pane of System Preferences, which also displays the Magic Trackpad’s battery level. For most gestures, your choices are simply whether or not the gesture is enabled, although a few give you more options. For example, you can choose whether or not to use one of the trackpad’s bottom corners as a right-click, and if so, which corner.

The available gestures—helpfully displayed on the back of the Magic Trackpad’s box—are identical to those you can use on a MacBook: besides moving the cursor, you can click, right-click, double-click, click-drag, two-finger scroll, two-finger rotate, two-finger pinch and zoom, two-finger screen zoom, three-finger swipe, and four-finger swipe.

The updated Trackpad pane of System Preferences

The new trackpad software also adds a couple new gesture options, both to the Magic Trackpad and to most recent Apple laptops. You can now opt for scrolling with inertia, and 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 instead be used as a substitute for click-drag. (The three-finger-drag gesture isn’t available on the MacBook Air and on Early 2008 MacBook Pro models.)

It’s worth noting that when using the Magic Trackpad with an Apple laptop, you can’t choose different gesture settings for the Magic Trackpad and the built-in trackpad. (This behavior is different than that of the Keyboard pane of System Preferences, which lets you configure different keyboard settings for a laptop’s built-in keyboard and an external keyboard.)

Looking for more gestures? Unfortunately, none of the third-party utilities I tested for enhancing Apple's laptop trackpads and the Magic Mouse—MagicPrefs, BetterTouchTool, Inklet, or Jitouch—works with the Magic Trackpad, although I suspect the developers of these utilities will be updating the software soon for full Magic Trackpad compatibility.

The Magic Trackpad ships with two AA alkaline batteries, although Apple now sells its own Apple Battery Charger, complete with six rechargeable batteries—enough to power a Wireless Keyboard, Magic Trackpad, and Magic Mouse simultaneously. Apple hasn’t published an official battery life for the Magic Trackpad, and we haven’t yet had our review unit long enough to make any guesses. According to Apple, the Magic Trackpad—much like the Wireless Keyboard—goes into a power-saving mode when not being used in order to extend battery life.

Several Macworld editors will be test-driving the Magic Trackpad over the next few days. Stay tuned for our official review.

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At a Glance
  • Macworld Rating

    Pros

    • Large, Multi-Touch surface
    • Works identically to Apple's laptop trackpads
    • Rugged, portable design matches Apple's keyboards
    • Easy setup

    Cons

    • Not as precise as a mouse or trackball
    • Not ideal for large screens or multiple displays
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