After years of letting third-party vendors attempt to bring touch-based computing to their baby, Microsoft has finally gotten the message and added native touch and gesture-based control to their latest operating system with Windows 8. It’s a safe bet that most manufacturers will add some form of native touch controls to their next-generation of laptops, tablets, and even desktop machines to take full advantage of this more personal style of interaction, but what about those of us still living in the dark ages of – gasp – regular mouse controls?
Thankfully, Logitech has a stable of touch-enabled mice and trackpads ready to help give those with older hardware a gesture-enabled boost into some of the best new features that Windows 8 has to offer. The best of these include the Touch Mouse T620 and the focus of this review, the Wireless Rechargeable Touchpad T650. In all honesty, earlier attempts to bring touchpad use to desktop computers in the Windows 7 era have done more harm than good, as earlier versions of Windows have always featured half-baked touch implementation, relegating most accessories to gimmicky status and only for true technological masochists (you know who you are).
But Windows 8 isn’t Windows 7 (and it’s definitely not Vista, despite the haters). It’s a great new version of Microsoft’s flagship software that’s built around touch-friendly control that mostly works – as long as you’ve got the hardware.
Logitech’s tried this game before with the T650’s zebra-colored predecessor, but they’ve definitely learned a thing or two about style since then. Unlike that trackpad, the T650 sports a cleaner, more dignified look that continues Logitech’s recent co-opting of Apple’s design aesthetics (only grayer). At 5.9 x 5.7 x 1.3 inches (compared to 5.17 x 5.12 x 0.18 inches) it’s bigger than Apple’s magical TrackPad and at 8.8 oz (compared to 5 oz) it’s heavier, too. But it’s a solid heft you’ll appreciate once you begin swiping and clicking around its smooth, matte surface; this really is an exceptional build quality, easily the best I’ve ever experienced on a Windows touchpad of any kind, and it just feels great.
Logitech promises a month of use on a single charge, and after a week’s worth of constant use I’ll believe them, though in a pinch you’ll still be able to plug in the USB charger and keep using it while the juice is recharged. Another nice touch was that, despite the sticker telling me to download the latest drivers, simply plugging in the dongle initiated the process directly from Logitech for the necessary SetPoint software – it would have been nice to have built-in support for the available gestures but at least Logitech’s propriety suite isn’t bloatware.
Unlike its Touch Mouse T620 little brother, the TouchPad brings all the Windows 8 gestures to the party, including full support for the operating system’s most enticing new features. Single left/right clicks should be readily familiar (though right-clickers will have to stray towards the bottom-right for their sub-menu fun), while a three-finger tap in the middle substitutes for the scroll wheel/middle-click function. There’s also the standard two-finger left/right scrolling, a new three-finger back/forward, and even two-finger pinch-and-zoom for expanding/shrinking quickly.
But the TouchPad really gets interesting – and a lot more useful – when it comes to enabling all those fancy new Windows 8 specific gestures. A three-finger swipe up brings up the Windows Start screen, a three-finger swipe down brings up the Desktop, a swipe from the left-edge pulls out the next available App, while a swipe from the right-edge brings up the Charms menu. Other gestures include swiping from the top-edge to bring up the Application menu, maximizing/minimizing windows via a four-finger swipe up/down action, and even snapping Apps to the left/right edges via a four-finger swipe left or right. The gestures work, for the most part, especially the ridiculously simple motion to access the Windows Start screen, which comes in handy considering the operating system’s reliance on the thing.
What’s not so simple is actually using the menus once they’re activated; swiping to bring up the next available App (swipe from left-edge) is fine, but if you’ve got a stable of Apps open then you’ll have to keep swiping to get the one you’re looking for – for heavy users it’s actually faster just to manually open the App manager via the pointer and pick the App you’re looking for. This is really more a problem with how Windows 8 manages open Apps than the TouchPad, but having easier access to menus only highlights the open terse relationship between Windows’ conflicting Metro and Desktop environments.
Another gesture, two-finger left/right swiping, was often erratic when using cruising through some of the longer horizontal menus, especially image-heavy ones like the People or Netflix apps, often not stopping and behaving erratically. Two-finger swipes, no matter how well-intentioned, simply can’t beat a mouse scroll up/down for accuracy and that’s proven here.
The single most frustrating thing about the TrackPad – and possible deal-killer for some – is the lack of a familiar click-and-drag setting. Instead of simply mimicking one of the most popular and much-used features on just about every other trackpad, the way the T650 does its clicking and dragging requires users to click and hold the pad’s ‘hidden’ bottom button to mimic holding the left-button to drag. This forced me into some finger acrobatics just to move desktop items and – forgive me – attempt basic Photoshop maneuvers.
While Logitech’s Wireless Rechargeable Touchpad T650 delivers on its promise to give Windows 8 users a full dose of gesture-based touch controls, longtime mice fans may want to try before jumping headfirst into a world without their trusted clickers. There’s no denying the pad’s solid and stylish build – easily the best I’ve ever seen and used on a Windows PC – and being able to zip through your Windows Apps, Start Screen, and Desktop with finger flicks certainly feels pretty great. But the limitations of the OS limit the TrackPad, as brining up App menus and sub-menu options goes only so far, meaning you’ll be back to point ‘n clicking before you know it.
Strangely, Logitech has changed – for the worse – one of the most familiar controls here: click-and-drag, making it a chore to perform such a rudimentary function. Here’s hoping a software upgrade will fix this, but with limited usefulness and high asking price, it might be best to wait or go for the Touch Mouse T620 instead.