What is a trackpad? Here’s what you need to know about your computer’s built-in mouse

Someone using touchpad on laptop
Trackpads or touchpads help you navigate programs on your laptop like a traditional mouse.
  • You can use a trackpad — also known as a touchpad or glide pad — to click, scroll, zoom in and out, switch between tabs, and more on your computer.
  • Trackpads are commonly found on laptops, but they can also be used with desktops in place of a mouse.
  • Your trackpad type and capabilities will be dependent on the kind of desktop or laptop device you have, such as a Mac or Windows PC. 
  • Trackpads take up less space and require less strain on your wrists but must be frequently cleaned and maintained to avoid user issues. 
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If you're reading this on a laptop, you're likely using a trackpad right now. 

A trackpad, also known as a touchpad or glide pad, is a device that translates the position and motion (left, right, up, and down) of your fingers in order to move the cursor on your screen and interact with websites and applications. 

Here's what you need to know about trackpads and your devices. 

What devices have trackpads

You'll most commonly see trackpads on laptops like MacBooks, Chromebooks, and Surface Laptops. You can also buy trackpads to use with desktop computers in place of a mouse. Some Magic Trackpads are compatible with Apple computers, while other Wireless Precision Touchpads are suited for Windows computers. 

Trackpads have different features and tools

From clicking to scrolling to zooming in and out, there are a number of different ways to use a trackpad. 

On a MacBook, you can view available trackpad gestures, customize them, and turn them on or off in System Preferences. That can include your scrolling direction, your "smart zoom," and "tap to click" settings. You can also change more advanced gestures for swiping between pages, showing the Desktop, and displaying the Notification Center. 

Depending on the type of track or touchpad your PC uses, Windows users have many of the same tools at their fingertips. Touchpad gesturing and swipes also grant quick access to Windows' virtual assistant Cortana, letting you access the Action Center, and view your recent activity through Windows Timeline.

Advantages and disadvantages of trackpads

Trackpads are a great alternative to computer mice when desk space is limited. In addition to being a space saver, trackpads can be easier to use than other input devices like mice. That's because you don't need to apply any pressure on them. Only small movements are required to interact with your device, helping you avoid more wrist strain from repetitive motion. Most trackpads are dirt, moisture, and scratch-resistant, too.

Some disadvantages of trackpads are that they can be literally touchy. Calloused or moist fingers may not be appropriately read by the sensors and thus not translate gestures accurately. Though it can generally be adjusted, the sensitivity of a trackpad can also be problematic for tasks that require precision.

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