When I first unpacked my review unit of the new 24-inch iMac, I quickly set aside the Magic Trackpad 2 ($119, originally $129; amazon.com or $129; expercom.com) that came in the box. “This is a neat extra I probably won’t use,” I told myself as I set up the classic Magic Mouse and Magic Keyboard combo that I’ve grown used to on previous Macs.
Flash forward a few weeks later, and I can’t fathom how I’ve gone so long without a Magic Trackpad in my life. This navigation tool has made using a Mac more convenient and comfortable than it ever has been for me, to the point where I’ve barely touched a traditional mouse since I set one up.
Here’s why I’ve joined team Magic Trackpad for life, and why this great gadget deserves a spot in your home office.
What the heck is a Magic Trackpad?
For those unfamiliar, the Magic Trackpad 2 is a wireless 6-inch-by-5-inch surface that essentially works like a blown-up version of the trackpad you’ll find on a MacBook Pro or Air. It gives you plenty of real estate for scrolling through websites and clicking around your Mac with precision, but it also has a few unique perks that are handy for both creative work and everyday tasks. And with advanced Force Touch haptics inside, the Trackpad provides a satisfying “click” sensation despite the fact that it doesn’t actually move when you press on it.
The Magic Trackpad 2 offers a variety of customizable gesture controls, many of which have become a smooth and effortless part of my daily workflow. I frequently find myself performing a quick three-finger swipe upward to see all my open apps in Mission Control, and am able to easily zoom into website text by simply spreading my fingers on the surface.
And just like on the latest MacBooks, the Magic Trackpad 2 has Force Touch capabilities, meaning you can perform additional actions by performing a slightly firmer-than-normal click. For example, you can Force click on any word on a website to instantly look it up in the dictionary or hard press on an address to find that location on Maps. This feature also has plenty of neat uses for creative types, as you can use a quick Force click to instantly create a new audio region in GarageBand, or fast-forward or rewind more quickly in iMovie by pressing harder on the pad.
It just feels better than a mouse
Despite all of these fancy features, the reason I can’t stop using Apple’s trackpad is simple — it’s just more comfortable than using a mouse. Thanks to its wide surface area, I can zip between apps on my iMac’s large 24-inch display while keeping my wrist stationary instead of dragging my arm around like I typically have to with a mouse. And because I’m using my fingers to navigate, I’m able to hop between Chrome tabs and Slack chats more quickly and accurately than I can on my Magic Mouse 2. The Magic Trackpad makes me feel like I’m living in a sci-fi future where we’ve outgrown the need to navigate our computers with round husks of plastic.
That’s not to say I dislike Apple’s mouse, which has a sleek and ergonomic design that I’ve grown to like over the years. But the Magic Trackpad just makes everything feel smoother and more natural, and gives me the ability to do more with a few quick finger swipes. The Magic Mouse 2 isn’t without its own handy features — you can activate Mission Control and quickly zoom into a webpage with various tap controls, for example — but its abilities are far less robust than the bevy of actions you can perform on the Trackpad’s larger surface.
Oh, and here’s the kicker — unlike the Magic Mouse, you can actually use the Magic Trackpad while you charge it. While the Magic Mouse 2’s Lightning port is bafflingly located on its underside, the Magic Trackpad 2’s charging port is conveniently placed at the top edge so you can juice up while you work and play.
It’s not a game-changing difference since both accessories have great battery life, but it is one more point in the Trackpad’s favor. Both devices are sitting at above 50% battery after several weeks of use, which is in line with Apple’s claims that they can each last about a month of typical use on a charge. As with most Apple gadgets, I’d love it if the Trackpad charged over USB-C instead of Lightning so that I can use the many USB-C chargers I have lying around with it, but I had no problems using the proprietary charger that came in the box.
My experience with the Magic Trackpad hasn’t been without its flaws. I’ve caught myself accidentally Force clicking when I meant to perform a standard click, and certain actions such as dragging and dropping still feel a little easier to pull off on a mouse. Fortunately, I was able to turn off Force Touch entirely to prevent the former from happening, and I find myself getting more and more used to doing the latter as time goes on. Considering how much more I’ve enjoyed using my iMac since I made the switch to a Trackpad, these are pretty minor trade-offs.
The Magic Trackpad is awesome — but who is it for?
For an accessory I almost completely ignored, Apple’s Magic Trackpad 2 has quickly become an essential part of home office that makes working and creating just feel better. There’s something borderline soothing about being able to effortlessly glide between all of my daily tasks with a quick stroke of a finger, an experience that makes the still-solid Magic Mouse feel clunky by comparison. If you’re willing to pay up for the most comfortable and versatile way to navigate a Mac, it’s worth the premium.
I would recommend the Magic Trackpad 2 for just about anyone who owns or is about to buy an iMac or Mac Mini, as its large surface area makes it especially ideal for navigating a big-screen desktop environment. If you’re big on creative apps like GarageBand and iMovie, the Trackpad opens up some handy extra features. It’s also a good fit for those short on space — while it’s physically bigger than the Magic Mouse 2, you won’t have to slide it around your desk like you would with a mouse.
It’s a little harder to recommend the Trackpad 2 for folks who work strictly from their MacBook with no external displays, as you can already utilize many of its best features on the trackpad built right into your existing Apple laptop. But if you’re one of the many MacBook Pro or Air owners who dock their laptop and use it with one or more monitors, the Magic Trackpad 2 brings the MacBook’s navigation experience to a larger canvas that better fits multiple screens. And if you’re somehow using an ancient, pre-2015 MacBook, the Trackpad 2 will give you all of those sweet Force Touch features you’ve been missing out on.
It’s worth noting that the Magic Trackpad 2 isn’t explicitly designed for non-Apple computers, such as Windows and Chromebook machines. I was able to pair it to my Windows desktop pretty easily, but while basic pointing and clicking worked fine, I wasn’t able to scroll, zoom or perform gestures. There are a few drivers you can download to work around this, but those who want a trackpad designed to work out of the box for Windows should consider alternatives such as the $99 Brydge W-Touch.
The Magic Trackpad 2 (available in silver on its own) isn’t cheap starting at $119, and it’s certainly more expensive than picking up a $74 Magic Mouse 2. But if you’re configuring a new 24-inch or 27-inch iMac, you can swap in the Trackpad for the Mouse for a much more palatable $50. And if you’re not sure which one you’ll like more, you can equip your iMac with both for an extra $129. Keep in mind that if you get a Magic Trackpad for the 24-inch iMac, it’ll be color-matched with whichever vibrant model you choose.
No matter how you opt to get one, the Magic Trackpad 2 makes a great upgrade for any Mac user who wants more precision, flexibility and comfort than what a standard mouse will give you. It’s an investment, but one that your wrist will thank you for.