Fingers-on with the Dell’s Wireless Touchpad

dellwirelesstrackpad

You know that feeling when you want something to work really bad? You try it. It lets you down. So you try again and again, but it still lets you down. Nevertheless you keep trying. Well, that’s how I feel right now.

When I saw the Dell Wireless Touchpad on Dell.com last week, a product I didn’t even know existed let alone shipping, I knew I had to try it. I spend enough of the workday scrolling webpages, emails and Twitter to appreciate any good alternative to the scroll wheel of a traditional mouse.

For better or worst, I had high expectations, not that anyone shouldn’t. My experiences with the Apple multi-touch trackpad on the MacBook Air has been extremely satisfactory. Although by no means a flawless product, its tracking and gesture recognition (two-finger scroll, pinch, rotate & three-finger swipe) are extremely consistent. It even works spectacularly in Windows too.

I’ve been quite content with the multi-touch trackpads on Dell laptops, so I thought how different can it be? Lots, apparently.

Hardware

dellwirelesstrackpad3

Out of the box, the Dell Wireless Touchpad TP713 is quite an elegant device. The flush metallic chrome encompasses the matte black surface which has no visual impurities except the vertical line dividing the “left click” and “right click” areas at the lower bottom.

Underneath is a fairly typical rubber surface shell which has a removable tray for 2xAAA batteries. Four rubber seats which provides a firm grip for the device when the finger ballet happens. The underside is also what provides the tactile click feedback when pressing down on the device.

The clicking is subtle – the depression isn’t even deep enough to see a visible change, but it’s comfortably firm and provides a decent amount of audible and physical “thump” to let you know it clicked. Of course tapping is also supported.

dellwirelesstrackpad4

The touch surface itself is smooth and fingers glide quite easily. The surface area is reasonably sized and should provide sufficient room for most gestures. Although subject to sensitivity settings, gliding across an entire 27″ screen is possible from one corner to another.

The device uses a mini dongle to communicate on what I can safely presume to be the 2.4Ghz band. Possibly due to the miniature size of the dongle (it was so small I accidentally threw it in the bin), I noticed some interference issues at a meter distance with other wireless keyboard/mice and possibly WiFi devices which all operate on 2.4Ghz.

Driver/Software

Of course all great hardware needs equally great drivers and software. Unfortunately in this case this is where the quirks develop into frustrations.

dellwirelesstrackpad5

First of all, as of the most recent version of the driver (v1.04 released 26/10/2012), there are no customization options. None what so ever. You can’t tweak the sensitivity and you can’t disable gestures. This is surprising since Dell has a history of shipping quite customizable trackpad drivers for their laptops.

But probably the most important, the gesture detection is too finicky. When it does work, it works pretty well. But when it doesn’t work, it can work against you. You simply can’t build enough trust to use any of the gestures with confidence.

I would consider two finger vertical scroll the bread and butter of any good trackpad and it’s frustratingly hard to pull off accurately on this trackpad. One moment you’re scrolling, the next moment you’re accidentally zooming. Worse, sometimes I move my two fingers everywhere like ice-skaters, nothing actually happens.

The algorithms that separate gestures from each other and panning must be such a science I can only imagine robots performing the gestures with any confidence in outcome.

The only gestures I could reproduce with some reliability are the three-finger swipes. Swipe up gives you instant access to the “All programs” list in the Windows 8 Start screen, swipe down gives you the Start screen itself. Both are Windows 8-specific and provide some novel use, but not enough to redeem itself.

In contrast to the above, the drivers do actually support the swipe-from-edge gestures for Windows 8 to activate the charms bar, app bars and app switching.

But it’s not all Dell’s fault. It’s long-overdue that Microsoft hasn’t standardized the trackpad driver in Windows itself so it can perform scrolling and gestures detection more reliably and consistently across all multi-touch trackpads which is quite standard on Windows laptops today.

Conclusions

Even though the Dell Wireless Trackpad hardware is the closest thing I’ve seen to an Apple Magic Trackpad peripheral for Windows, it’s primitive if not buggy drivers is its Achilles’ heel.

At an affordable AUD/USD $59.99, I can’t stop wishing it was better. Until Dell can prove it can ship better drivers to fix the gesture detection, I’m left disappointed to find an alternative.

Speaking of alternatives, I’ve now got my eyes set on the Logitech Wireless Rechargeable Touchpad T650 at almost twice the price. Also not available in Australia.

13 insightful thoughts

  1. The last time I had a Dell laptop (XPS M1330), I believe it had a bog-standard Synaptics touchpad that you find in nearly all non-Apple laptops. While not exactly exciting (and not supporting any gestures beyond edge-scrolling) they do tend to work fairly well.

    Is this thing based on Synaptics or some other third party, or completely custom-built by Dell?

  2. I am currently using the Logitech T650 and I love it. There are some minor issues on Windows 8 with two user accounts (the double tap to move, highlight and scroll only works correctly on the first user account, while you have to use physical click for the second – if both users are logged in). Logitech is working on a fix. Reviews on Amazon are excellent. Interestingly, I received my T650 from Dell at a discount.

  3. As owners of both an Apple Magic Trackpad and Logitech T650, here’s some quick notes:
    * The Magic Trackpad on Mac OS X is my reference of the best available multi-touch trackpad. As Long said, it’s not perfect (I disable zooming for example because I activate it accidentally too frequently when I’m trying to pan with two fingers instead), but the most reliable in gesture recognition.
    * The Magic Trackpad on virtualized Windows (eg VirtualBox) running on Max OS X also gives an equally great experience as running it natively.
    * The Magic Trackpad on native Windows (Boot Camp or on a normal PC) is a much poorer experience because of drivers. For example, sensitivity of tapping (instead of clicking the trackpad) is too sensitive in my experience and needs to turned off (although its nearly flawless on virtualized Windows). There’s next to no configurability with Apple’s drivers for Windows either. I lived with it months until I bought a Logitech T650.
    * Right-click drag on a Magic Trackpad is next to impossible. I use this all the time to drag files in Windows Explorer (or File Explorer in Windows 8) to different volumes and choose whether to move or copy files. Using the two finger tap gesture for right-click on the Magic Trackpad opens the context menu without letting me perform a right-click drag.
    * The Logitech T650 on Windows is a pretty close experience comparable to the Magic Trackpad on Mac OS X. I’m hoping for more configurability in drivers in the future, but it’s pretty good. I still have a few issues with sensitivity of tapping, but much less than with the Magic Trackpad. Windows 8 gestures are a bonus.
    * I haven’t tested the Logitech T650 on Mac OS X.

    My preferences in summary:
    * Magic Trackpad on Mac OS X or virutalized Windows.
    * Logitech T650 on native Windows.

    1. I was hoping you would mention how the dell trakcpad TP713 performs with a mac. Please let me know if you have tried that. It is available for cheap (1/3 the cost of apple trackpad). If it works good I might buy that. Thanks.

  4. I have been using the T650 touchpad for a month on Windows 8. I have found that the more I use it the more comfortable it becomes. I believe it covers all windows 8 gestures and daily checking of Logitech forums brings more and more details to improve my knowledge.

  5. Go with the Logitech one. It has Windows 8 specific gestures (those who are into that dumb OS) and it will be better supported down the line. Apple will suddenly stop supporting older Windows version drivers.

  6. Thanks for the honest review. I saw the Dell TP713 being advertised and was thinking about getting one, but will give it a miss.
    I too tried the Logitech T650, but with Win 7 and found it less than practial with many of the idosyncracies of the Dell TP713 you mentioned. I ended up sending it back and getting a refund on it.
    I do know there are drivers / cpanels to allow the Apple Magic pad to be used with Windows, but haven’t tried that yet.

  7. Not sure why you say the Logitec T650 isn’t available in Australia. You can order it online via the Logitec site and they’ll ship it to AU. I’ve also seen it being sold in Harvey Norman and a few other retailers in Sydney.
    It is not a good choice for Win 7 though, as the drivers / cpanel don’t allow certain functions to work or be configured; the most essential of which is double tap and hold to drag, which was non-existent. I found the click pressure was way too high and the cursor would also randomly jump everywhere or gestures randomly didn’t work.

Leave a Reply