Gestures and multi-touch: Logitech T650

As operating systems evolve, so do the ways of interacting with them. While older laptops might have still the processing power or even the disk space to run e.g. Win8 or Win10, it is often in the control, or human interface hardware where the support is lacking. Adding an external keyboard and touchpad might be a way to give some extra life to an older system, while the downside of such “hybrid system” will unavoidably be that you’ll lose the simplicity of being able to just open the laptop cover and quickly start working. Setting up the external keyboard and external touchpad might make nevertheless sense for longer working sessions. In my case, I suffer from chronic carpal tunnel syndrome and simply cannot work with non-ergonomic mouses, keyboards or touchpads – and I regularly rotate and try all sorts of mouse replacements and other add-ons.

Logitech T650
Logitech T650.

My optimal system at the moment is based on some very nice gear Logitech has developed. Both on my Macbook Pro and Vaio Z3 I have now set up the illuminated bluetooth keyboard by Logitech: K810 model for Vaio, K811 for Mac. The key travel in either of these, otherwise pretty excellent PCs is just too shallow to allow for high-speed typing – at least for me, your mileage may vary. Logitech K810/K811 is so excellent piece of design and engineering, with such an outstanding typing experience, that I just cannot stop marvelling at it every day I use these things – and I have purchased several, despite the rather steep price. My lurking nightmare is that Logitech will some day cancel this product, or somehow alter and ruin the design and functionality – so I just might again go out and get a couple extra ones to my spare parts closet, just to be on the safe side.

While I really like the touchpads of Macbooks, the touch behaviour in Windows systems has been much more problematic. In modern Windows 10 systems the touchpads apparently are getting closer to the Mac standard, and there is also the additional interaction affordance of touch screen in many Win10 models (something that Apple has stayed away in their laptops, while the touch interface of iPads and iPhones is of course very good). I happen to like the combination of touch screen and mouse/touchpad – it feels natural to handle screen directly, and it is also good for ergonomics to change the manner of manipulation every now and then – even while if touch screen would be the only mouse replacement, it would not really work.

For older Windows 7 devices like my Vaio Z3 there is no luxury of truly working multitouch gestures or anything like that – the touchpad in this Vaio is small, cramped and operates so erratically that it can pretty much drive you crazy, particularly if you have used something like Macbook Pro, with a really good touchpad and multigesture OS X that supports it.

While originally purchased for my other, Windows 8.1 equipped home computer, I recently took the Logitech T650 external touchpad to work and tried setting it up with my Vaio. While the small “Unifying” connector now takes up one precious USB port (no bluetooth in T650), I was surprised how well this Logitech touchpad works with Windows 7. The newest version of Logitech’s SetPoint software works really well also under Windows 7, and the two-finger, three-finger and even four-finger gestures really transform the speed and ease of use for scrolling and handling many documents and different software running simultaneously in my Vaio. The operating system is originally not really optimised for this kind of use, and there is no e.g. “expose” style overview mode in Win7, but Logitech add-on software provides that feature, as well as several others. The main problem is that if you are constantly running from meeting room to another like I do, there is not really time to set up the laptop, set up the keyboard and touchpad, switch on all of them, make sure that they connect correctly (sometimes they do not – a reboot might be required); and then, at the end of meeting to switch off and repack all three things again – just to repeat everything at the next room. But I guess I’ll just need to live with that at the moment. The multitouch gestures and solid typing experience that Logitech provides are so much better than the alternatives.

Logitech T650 multitouch gestures
Logitech T650 multitouch gestures.

Windows 8 ergonomics

Mouses and trackpads
Mouses and trackpads

I have been testing and using Windows 8 (and now 8.1) in most of my Windows PCs for some time now, and while I mostly fail to find any real use for the Metro style apps, there are some nice improvements (most of them “under the hood”) that make Windows 8 preferable to Windows 7, for me, at the moment. However, there remains some issues that mostly relate to how to manage the new gesture controls of Windows 8, when only one of my Windows laptops is an actual touch-screen device. Swipes from the sides of the screen need to be carried out by pointing and clicking with a mouse, which is cumbersome, or through a touchpad, which have their benefits and downsides. 

The attached picture shows by current cavalcade of optional pointing and gesturing devices that are connected and available next to the keyboard in my Windows 8.1 desktop workstation. These include the Logitech Touchpad T650, Apple Wireless Touchpad, Logitech Marble Trackball and Microsoft Sculpt Comfort Mouse, the most recent addition. The traditional mouse (with the optional Win8 button/touch area) is the most precise for pointing, the Marble trackball provides overall best ergonomics, and T650 is best compatible and supported in Windows 8 of the two touchpads (no surprises there, really). What really irritates me, is that after using one of them, there is aways some shortcoming which forces me to move to another device for a while: the touchpad is great for gestures and skimming through web pages, for example, but whenever multiple files need to be manipulated precisely, I find myself getting hold of the mouse or the trackball. And when my fingers and wrist get tired of rotating and swiping with a mouse, then I need to move a touchpad back to the mousepad. 

A mobile device does not suffer from similar schizophrenia – you just use the mobile-optimized apps through a mobile-optimized UI. The touch gestures in Windows 8/8.1 desktop mode are a problem mostly since they are almost useful, so that once you have started to use them, it is hard to go back — yet, on the other hand, they do not naturally fit the desktop computer control devices capabilities. You are stuck in the middle.

And my carpal tunnel syndrome gets worse, again.