Touchpads vs trackballs vs trackpoints vs mice

My very first laptop was an IBM Thinkpad 500.  I won’t go into the specs except to say it was OLD.  One spec I will mention is that it had a Trackpoint.  You know, one of those eraserhead things that barely stick out of the middle of the keyboard.  At the time, I thought it was pretty cool.  Never really got much use out of the laptop, though.

My next laptop, and one I DID get a lot of use out of, was my Sony 505F. It had a touchpad.  Upon purchasing the 505F, I quickly realized that I much preferred the touchpad to the trackpoint. And as far as pointing devices in notebooks go, that was the end of that.  Trackpoint only laptops now get a big minus from me whenever I go laptop hunting.

This problem/preference came to light recently when I was shopping for a convertible notebook last month.  The trackpoint only designs of the IBM ThinkPad X41 and the Acer Travelmate C204 almost instantly knocked them out of the running for me.  Which is a real shame, because in most other respects those tablets were very desirable.  Being a real fan of ultralight computers, I see trackpoints more often because one of the benefits of a trackpoint is the minimal amount of space it consumes.

I notice some people say that they much prefer the trackpoint to the touchpad, which to me, is very odd.  Having tried both, I can’t fathom it any more than I suppose they can fathom my preference for the touchpad.

It occurs to me that what we need, in order to settle this, are some simple repeatable metrics for measuring our respective accuracy with our pointing devices. Since our tendency as human beings is to prefer our own choice to prevent a phenomenon known as cognitive dissonance, a short test like this would serve to easily and objectively measure just how much better you are with a trackpoint than a touchpad.  Or conversely, how much productivity you lose switching from mouse to touchpad.  And then you’d know for sure which pointing device you really are best with.  Such a test would also be useful for determining if different models of mice claiming incredible sampling rates or resolution are actually helping the user or hurting them due to factors besides just samping rate.

Well, lest I claim an original thought here, I’m not the only one to think of this.  Check out this paper, for instance.  Or Google for “Fitt’s law” and throw in some pointing device terms like “touchpad” and “trackpoint” while you’re at it.  You’ll have enough reading material to occupy you for the weekend.  Lots and lots of data has been collected on the issue.

Suffice it to say that different devices are good at different things, but the mouse is a strong performer all around, which is why it’s still a favorite when it comes to user input.

I’m still looking for whether the trackpoint is better than the touchpad.  It seems everyone is too afraid to make a statement or else it’s just buried in the mounds of information out there.  In the mean time, try taking this web based Fitt’s Law study.  I’m sure this will turn up some nice data and maybe tell me what device I should be using once and for all.

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