There’s no question that Windows 8 was built with touch in mind. I’ve always assumed from the first time I used it in Developer Preview that Microsoft was looking ahead to a world where traditional desktop computers were a thing of the past. Touchscreens and laptops with trackpads are becoming increasingly pervasive. It makes sense that Microsoft would latch on to this trend with Windows 8. Previous attempts to gain traction in the tablet market (even before the modern tablet market existed) were met with failure because Windows simply wasn’t built with touch in mind. Windows 8 is. Does that make the trackpad the ultimate interface outside of a touchscreen?
I decided to give this theory a shot with my desktop PC. I purchased a Logitech t650 Wireless Rechargeable Touchpad (what a long name), which I’ve heard was the ultimate external trackpad for multi-touch control of Windows 8. It does, indeed, have a wide variety of gestures available to it. To be fair, I’ve also used Windows 8 extensively with a Logitech G5 gaming mouse.
What are the results?
Navigation through Windows 8 with a mouse wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be based on the feedback I had been getting from the community. You can use a mouse to do just about anything in Windows 8. Granted, a non-touch mouse won’t give you the added benefit of gestures to quickly switch between applications or bring up specific menus. Gaming is still something I feel requires a mouse, and for that reason alone I’d recommend not replacing it outright to anyone who wishes to do so.
The limitations of the mouse are more apparent when you start using apps made for the Modern UI. Many of them are made for touch, and only touch. It’s nerve-wracking, and I can’t help but feel absolutely frustrated by this. A mouse can’t simulate multi-touch gestures, which some apps require. Just try playing Lunar Lander without a keyboard or a touchscreen. A mouse won’t do it, and not every app developer has taken into account folks who don’t use Windows 8 on a touchscreen.
That said, there’s no reason anyone should rush out and buy a touchscreen monitor or trackpad. The mouse works great for standard Windows programs and the majority of apps available for the new UI. I’ve found navigating through Windows 8 with the mouse to be easy once you get the hang of where things are.
Not every trackpad is created equally, but I can speak to the advantages of the t650. Switching between windows can be done with a quick flick of a finger. You can switch between the desktop and Modern UI with a simple three-finger swipe up or down. Pinch to zoom is incredibly useful.
The trackpad really shows its advantages in the Modern UI. Switching between apps, closing apps, and scrolling is a breeze. I’ve never been a fan of trackpads, and I certainly don’t have the dexterity of some of my friends who can play first-person shooters on one, but I can’t help but to appreciate the added benefit of gestures on a multi-touch surface in Windows 8.
Do you need a trackpad? No. Still, it could make a huge difference in how easily you navigate through the operating environment.
What About Both?
I think the best Windows 8 experience can be had if you have all of the interface options in place. This might speak more to the difficult complexity of Windows 8 than for the interface mediums themselves, but it just seems like the operating environment isn’t sure what it wants to be when it grows up. I’m not sold on touchscreens for laptops and desktops just yet. I don’t really want to deal with fingerprints on my monitor. It’s not something I find particularly ergonomic, either.
For now, I would say that having both options readily available is certainly looking like the best way to get the most out of your Windows 8 experience. Having a trackpad and a mouse handy means being able to take advantage of traditional Windows programs and new apps being made for the Modern UI. Where keyboard shortcuts could certainly help me navigate through the operating system at lightning speeds, there’s something to be said about simply swiping your finger on a touchpad that makes it seem like the way Microsoft wants users to experience Windows.
What do you think? Is the touchpad a better tool for navigating Windows 8 than a mouse? Or is the mouse still king of pointing devices?