Touchpad might be right for you

Meet Clarence.

He hangs out at all the stores I go to, on end caps at Target, decorated with orange tags at Meijer, wearing gold stars at Kohl’s.

Yes, I mean clearance. A little joke I developed when my sons were young and I wanted to check what items, especially electronics, had been reduced for quick sale, without trying their patience.

These days, my sons are in college. If we happen into one of these stores, the first thing they want to do is find Clarence.

Who doesn’t like a bargain?

Recently, as I was testing Windows 8 on a tablet PC, I ran across a Logitech wireless touchpad on clearance at a local store. On a
Blog Photohunch, I bought it.

A touchpad essentially replaces your mouse or the touchpad on your laptop. Wireless touchpads let you move them around on your desk to a location that might be more comfortable for you than your laptop's pad or than using a mouse.

Windows 8 is particularly suited for touch-screen devices, but most computers now are not touch-capable. I thought a touchpad might improve things for me. I have a tablet PC that uses a pen/mouse input, so it’s not a true touch screen like the screens of tablets or smartphones or the newest laptops or monitors.

I spent a little time on Logitech’s website and learned the touchpad I had was not the newest version (which made sense; a newest version won’t typically be on a clearance shelf). So I dropped a note to Logitech and in a few days a t650 arrived at work for me to test.

Blog PhotoI tested both of them on the tablet PC and on a laptop running Windows 7.

Here’s what I can say: The t650 is vastly superior to the original wireless touchpad, which doesn’t seem to have a model number. But it’s not a cheap add-on. Whether it’s right for you depends on your needs and your budget.

-- The t650 is rechargeable via a USB cable -- and it’s the same microUSB cable that charges many phones, which means you can make one cable do double duty. (And battery life is very good.)

-- It has the capability to use more “gestures,” varying for number of fingers and direction of “swipe” The one ability that I thought would really recommend it is the pinch/spread, which is a standard gesture to zoom in or out on tablets and most smart phones.

-- The t650 is much sleeker than its predecessor. It has a lower profile, but more usable surface.

Even the original wireless touchpad helps the Windows 8 experience on a non-touch-enabled device. Both were, in some ways, fine replacements for a mouse or built-in touchpad.

What I didn’t like:

Neither touchpad is exactly plug-and-play. You have to download and install software before you can use it..

Connection was imperfect for me with both. The process of connecting is simplicity itself; it just didn’t always work. One evening I had to shut the touchpad off and turn it back on four times before it connected. (First world problems, right?) I had this problem with both versions of the touchpad, using the receivers that each came with, on different computers. It is possible that user error caused the problems. A Logitech spokeswoman told me my problem was an isolated issue, one the company hadn’t encountered before.

Once the connection was made, both touchpads worked as advertised, and it’s in direct comparison that the newer t650 really shines. This gets you closer to a touch-screen experience than you’re likely to get any other way. You can pinch-zoom, swipe to go from side to side and top to bottom, as well as from Start screen to desktop or from one app to another.

The gestures take only a little getting used to. The touchpad can clearly tell the difference between a gesture made with two fingers and one made with three (this matters because those are entirely different gestures).

As a straight replacement for a mouse, the one problem I noticed on my tablet PC is that places that ought to make the on-screen keyboard pop up don’t do so with the touchpad, though they do with a mouse or a tablet pen. Signing in to Evernote, for instance, or any other instance when a fillable field appears -- logging in as a user, to other software like OneNote or even on Chrome -- ought to pop up the keyboard, and it does when I use the stylus that came with the tablet. But the keyboard never pops up with the touchpad.

One of the selling points of both products is the “unifying receiver,” a USB device to receive the wireless signal that allows you to connect up to six devices -- a keyboard, a mouse, a touchpad, for instance. I had limited chance to test that, but the receiver for the new model worked with the older one and vice versa. The only drawback is if you move them from one machine to another: those things are tiny. I can easily envision losing one.

Should you buy one? It depends on your device and your needs. As with many devices, if there’s a newer version, you should expect to pay far less for the early one -- because it won’t do as much as the new one.

The t650 has a list price of $79.99. Is it worth it? To me, that depends entirely on how much you want your device to act like a tablet. The greater that desire, the more a t650 will work for you.

I think the price is a bit steep; you can get a good-sized hard drive tor 80 bucks. Heck, you can upgrade two machines to Windows 8 for 80 bucks.

On the other hand, if you have a pretty new laptop running Windows 7 or Windows 8 -- especially the latter -- and you don’t intend to upgrade it any time soon, this could be the ticket.

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