Home' LAPTOP Magazine : October 2010 Contents When you think about how much laptops
have evolved over the past couple of
years, it's staggering. You can now get
screaming-fast quad-core power inside a machine
that weighs less than 4 pounds. Many notebooks
can switch between integrated and discrete
graphics on the fly. You'll even find some models
with 3D displays or tech that lets you stream video
wirelessly to your HDTV. Yet even with all of these
advancements, notebooks have taken serious
steps back in some ways. The "evolution" of the
touchpad seems to have moved from a utilitarian
pointing device to mere decoration.
In the interest of full transparency, I'm a point-
ing stick snob. I love the precision offered by the
ThinkPad that I use as my primary notebook. It's
always pinpoint accurate---no tweaking required.
But I've also used plenty of touchpads that work
well, and it's easy to tell the good ones from those
that make you want to throw your laptop down a
flight of stairs. My biggest pet peeve is touchpads
that integrate mouse buttons, specifically. Let me
clarify: Windows notebooks featuring touchpads
with integrated buttons.
HP has been one of the biggest offenders with
its Pavilion and Envy lines. One system I reviewed
recently had a touchpad so wonky that the slightest
brush against the surface while typing moved the
cursor. Other times the notebook would shrink or
enlarge webpages or documents, registering an
errant second finger as a pinch gesture. A subse-
quent driver update made the laptop more usable,
adjustment, but the best laptops don't have a steep
learning curve. Theyjust work the way you expect,
pretty much right out of the box.
For some reason, Apple's MacBook and MacBook
Pro touchpads are miles better than anything in
the Windows camp. They're silky smooth, offer
multitouch gestures that don't take any practice
or patience, and have buttons that click when you
actually want them to. The experience is so good,
in fact, that Apple saw fit to release an external
Magic Trackpad, which some say puts the mighty
mouse on notice. (Note to Apple: please make a
Will I ever give up my precious pointing stick?
Maybe. Leading touchpad maker Synaptics says
it hears my complaints loud and clear and is
revamping its ClickPad. It boasts a new mechani-
cal design, as well as Image Sensing Technology
that offers more multifinger capabilities usually
reserved for touchscreens. More important, new
SmartSense technology should prevent accidental
palm activation of the cursor. These advancements
can't come soon enough, though the HP Envy 14's
touchpad with built-in mouse buttons is much
improved over its predecessor.
At the end of the day, I'm psyched by many of the
innovations and cutting edge components today's
laptops possess. But in too many cases these
whiz-bang features get canceled out by lackluster
ergonomics. Consumers deserve a notebook that's
both powerful and easy to use. And only those
systems will earn our Editors' Choice.
but we still docked a half star from an otherwise
great system because of subpar ergonomics.
Other Windows notebook vendors continue to
experiment with touchpads, sacrificing style for
substance. Take the Gateway ID49---the first notebook
we've tested with a glowing touchpad. The effect is
kind of cool, but the whole device depresses when
you click the touchpad, requiring you to use more
force and wait longer for your next move.
In general, I also dislike touchpads with glossy
or mirrored surfaces. It's neat that the Acer Aspire
8943G's touchpad houses hidden media controls,
but the glossiness causes unnecessary friction when
youjust want to move the cursor from point A to point
B. The fingerprint smudges don't help, either.
Palm rejection is another issue. As touchpads
enlarge to enable multitouch gestures, so does the
risk of making unintended movements. I especially
notice this problem on laptops whose touchpads
sit very close to the keyboard, such as the Toshiba
Portégé R700. For the most part, Windows note-
books aren't smart enough to know when you're
typing. Yes, you can dig into the settings in some
cases to dial up Palm Check sensitivity, but you
shouldn't have to.
When notebook makers do see fit to include
dedicated mouse buttons, they often skip discrete
left and right buttons in favor of a single bar. I'm
not a fan of this approach at all because, in a lot
of cases, there's not a clear delineation between
left and right. Further, the bar might be too stiff,
narrow, or both. Using any notebook takes some
JUST THE WRONG TOUCH
How poorly designed touchpads are giving you the finger.
LAPTOP | October 2010
Editor in Chief Mark Spoonauer directs LAPTOP's online and print editorial content. He has been covering mobile and wireless technology for more than a decade.
Read his weekly SpoonFed column at www.laptopmag.com/spoonfed, and follow @mspoonauer on Twitter.
by Mark Spoonauer
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