Talk to me about the trackpoint
May 31, 2011 9:12 AM   Subscribe

Thinkpad users -- talk to me about the trackpoint (also known as the little red eraser thingy on the keyboard).

For those of you who own a Thinkpad laptop -- do you use your trackpoint? If so, why? What do you do with it and why is it awesome? What is it especially good for? Where does it fall short?

For those of you who have a Thinkpad and don't use the trackpoint -- why not? What about it doesn't work for you?

And if you've gone from a Thinkpad to another laptop or vice versa, I'd love to hear your thoughts too.

From what I've seen, there's a small, but extremely committed minority of people who love the trackpoint, but there's also a learning curve that keeps many people from really getting into it.

Just trying to gather as much anecdotal information as I can.
posted by missjenny to Computers & Internet (31 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I love the nipple. It takes a few days to get used to, but once you get the hang of it, it can be very precise. It's no good for, say, Photoshop, etc, but for basic windowing, it's great.

However once you use the no-button Mac touchpad thing, you never want to use any other kind of laptop.
posted by jeffamaphone at 9:15 AM on May 31, 2011

I use it exclusively. it's weird. I mean I love it and I really have a callus on my finger from it. It's just been really convenient and I tend to have better control with it. I fumble up the touch pad, but I think it's really because I can't stop from using the trackpoint.
posted by kendrak at 9:18 AM on May 31, 2011

I love trackpoints, but I don't use them all the time. They're best for quick mouse movements while typing, since you don't have to move your hands from the home rows of the keyboard. Cursor movements, menus in your editor, hitting the 'Post Answer' button on AskMe, that kinda stuff. However, for highly mouse-centric activities like basic web browsing or Photoshop, using it becomes tedious and I prefer a trackpad.
posted by zsazsa at 9:18 AM on May 31, 2011

I never use it. Ever. It's easy and accurate and takes little time to get used to and i can see why people like it a lot. But the trackpad is what I like. So it's what i use.
posted by atomicstone at 9:19 AM on May 31, 2011

One of the reasons I bought ThinkPad was my old Toshiba laptop had a very similar pointing device, and I really didn't want to be without one, as I'm very keyboard-oriented. I rarely use the TouchPad for scrolling, etc. I don't own a mouse.

On a side note, when trying to introduce slightly older relatives to computers, I've found ones who have trouble with a mouse or a touchpad absolutely love and instinctively understand the how to use the TrackPointer/similar pointing device.
posted by sardonyx at 9:21 AM on May 31, 2011

I used to have a ThinkPad and I loved the trackpoint. Mine came with a few different ones that you could switch, as they were slightly different (and I recall one was far better than the others). It was great, very precise, very quick to respond.

Since switching to another laptop I find I just cannot go back to using a regular touchpad/trackpad. Now I use a wireless USB mouse with my laptops (although I tend to use the keyboard over the mouse anyway, for both PC and laptop).

The trackpoint is not as good as a mouse, but far better than a touchpad/trackpad.
posted by maybeandroid at 9:22 AM on May 31, 2011

Trackpoints are the reason I still buy Thinkpads instead of getting a MacBook. I use it exclusively—my last couple Thinkpads had only the trackpoint; my current one has a trackpad as well, but I've disabled it.

The advantages are basically these: You can move the pointer to a given point on the screen much, much faster, because you can control the speed of the pointer's movement simply by pushing harder (you're not limited by the speed at which you can swipe your finger over a trackpad without losing precision). And, just as importantly, you can do this without ever taking your hands off the home row, which is wonderful if you are doing keyboard-heavy stuff—it's a joy to be able to use the trackpoint while in Emacs without interrupting the flow of even complex keystrokes. Because of this, I prefer the trackpoint even to a real mouse.
posted by enn at 9:27 AM on May 31, 2011

My last two laptops have had trackpads, mostly because I've bought them cheap and in a hurry. I love the trackpoint, it works a hell of a lot better for window and cursor manipulation. When I'm using a laptop that has a trackpoint I usually carry a Wacom tablet or mouse when I need to draw, but since I rarely do that they rarely get plugged in.
posted by straw at 9:28 AM on May 31, 2011

I don't like having a trackpad, they are finicky and also I tend to touch them accidentally.

I adore the, um, clit mouse... except for a) the fact that my ex bf called it that and now I can't fathom any other name, and b) I get some proto-RSI issues if I use it too much, so I now have an external wireless trackball if I need to do any serious mousing while on the go.
posted by nat at 9:36 AM on May 31, 2011

When I bought a Thinkpad, I forgot to order it with a trackpad, so it only had the red nipple. After a couple of hours, I basically decided to never go back. Using a trackpad is so much slower and clumsier compared to the nipple/Trackpoint.

I don't think there's really much of a learning curve - just adjusting the sensitivity settings to match how much pressure you can apply with a finger. And it takes a couple of days to develop the callus from using a brand new nipple.
posted by milkrate at 9:48 AM on May 31, 2011

I never use it. But I don't even like the trackpad - I have a mini optical USB mouse and use that on the bit of the laptop next to the trackpad. So I think I'm just set in my ways.
posted by Stacey at 9:50 AM on May 31, 2011

I use the trackpoint only when I have to (i.e.-- in somewhat confined spaces, where I cannot attach and use a mouse). I much prefer to use a real mouse. I find the placement of the trackpoint to be cumbersome to use on the Thinkpad and I find the trackpads on laptops to be clumsy, in general.
posted by PsuDab93 at 9:55 AM on May 31, 2011

I love mine. There is definitely a learning curve. Years ago I had a temp gig that involved notetaking at a meeting and they provided a laptop for me to use - that had ONLY a trackpoint. There was no mouse around, so I was forced to use the trackpoint for navigation. I cursed at it for a while and then fell in major love. I don't know why more netbooks don't have just a would save so much space.

Here's what I like:
1) I don't have to move my index finger from the home row (I touch type) to use it - the nub is in between the G and H keys.
2) I can move endlessly in one without running out of space like you do with a mouse or a trackpad.
3) I don't seem to get any carpal-tunnel like symptoms from it, and I'm on the computer a lot. (I had problems when I was using a mouse.) When you're using a trackpoint, your wrist still rests on the laptop wrist rest like it does when you're typing - with a trackpad, your wrist is in the air unless you have some external gizmo.
4) It feels faster and more precise than a trackpad (but I've never really used the trackpad regularly.) I like the feeling of having my finger on one button instead of a giant open space.
posted by needs more cowbell at 10:03 AM on May 31, 2011

2) should be: endlessly in one *direction* without running out of space, *
posted by needs more cowbell at 10:04 AM on May 31, 2011

I have a Thinkpad, which has both trackpad and red nipple. I use the trackpad; I've never used the red nipple, but it doesn't get in the way of my keyboarding.

It's not that it doesn't work for me, I've just never felt the need to try it. Perhaps I will tomorrow, though I've had the Thinkpad for four years now so it might be hard to get into the habit...
posted by altolinguistic at 10:05 AM on May 31, 2011

I love my MacBook's trackpad and it's multitouch goodness. It's the best pointing device in the whole world. A close second is the IBM nub. A distant third is a mouse with two direction scroll wheel, followed closely by trackballs every other trackpad I've ever had the misfortune of using and all other pointing failures. Every time I need to fix someone's broken Dell laptop (it seems all these dudes bought Dells) I always run out of room on their trackpad and moving from one side of the screen to the other is a chore. In short:
  • Easily move from one side of the screen to the other without having to swipe a few times across a trackpad
  • More accurate than every PC trackpad I've ever used
  • Never move your fingers from the home row

posted by Brian Puccio at 10:07 AM on May 31, 2011

I love the trackpoint, it's so much easier to use, in my experience, than the trackpad. I'm always brushing my fingers or thumb against the trackpad, making the cursor jump all over the place. I've since purchased other laptops without a trackpoint, and rather than rely on figuring out the trackpad, I just hook up an external mouse.

On the other hand, sometimes my fingertips would get a little raw using the trackpoint.
posted by indigo4963 at 10:08 AM on May 31, 2011

I got a ThinkPad specifically because it came with the Trackpoint, since I've had so much trouble with touchpads (especially the idiotic Apple kind which lacks buttons). But lo and behold, turns out I easily adapted to the ThinkPad's Touchpad, and now never use the Trackpoint.
posted by Rash at 10:46 AM on May 31, 2011 [2 favorites]

I had a ThinkPad (T40, with both the trackpoint and a touchpad) from work and in less than a day I physically removed the trackpoint from the laptop (pulled out the red thing from between the keys). There were a couple of reasons I didn't like it:
  1. It was too small for be to accurately move the cursor with it
  2. When I tried to use it, part of my right hand would tend to hit the touchpad and move the cursor to all sorts of crazy places
  3. I tended to hit it while moving around on the keyboard, moving the cursor

posted by Godbert at 10:55 AM on May 31, 2011

I love the trackpoint and am sad when I have to use a laptop that only has the touchpad. I hate the touchpad; it's too finicky. Maybe I'd get used to it if I only used that for a while, but whenever I use it I hate it. I prefer a mouse when using Photoshop or playing, say, SimCity - things that require a smooth and very accurate drawing motion - but for basic computer/internet use, the trackpoint is the perfect pointing device for me.

Also, it neither gives me a callous nor a raw fingertip, but maybe I have it set to be more sensitive than people who end up getting those things. Sometimes I do get pointer finger fatigue, in which case I just use the left hand on it for a while.
posted by wondermouse at 10:57 AM on May 31, 2011

I'm a real picky guy, and often times for things that aren't describable. Needless to say, I was glad that I fell in love with the trackpoint on my Thinkpad (X200), especially since it didn't come with a touchpad. That being said, I had used a netbook before with a fullsize touchpad, and I've used other typical laptops so I do have experience with both.

I do say though, I've used a trackpoint for hours on end (8+) without any problems as far as calluses or pain or discomfort go. I'm a scrawny guy with small dainty hands, so it's not as if I have callused hands from metalworking, so it seems YMMW as far as that particularity goes. (Unless of course there are different trackpoint nubs and some being more comfortable or better designed than others)
posted by SollosQ at 11:17 AM on May 31, 2011

i heart it. i started hearting it in 1999 and i hearted it ever since.
maybe it needs some getting accustomed to, but not having to move your whole hand to switch from the keyboard to the mouse = pure win
posted by 3mendo at 11:17 AM on May 31, 2011

I have a Thinkpad that only has the red pointer -- no trackpad, and I also have a MacBook with the touchpad. I love them both, in their own way, but I find that the trackpoint is easier to use while typing. I have to move my hands less, and it fits into the flow of my work better. I do find that my hand gets tired from holding down the center button plus the trackpoint to scroll, when I'm websurfing, but that's the only downside. Otherwise, I find it easy and comfortable and intuitive to use. Somewhere I have the other nubs and I should maybe try them, as the one I have is getting worn smooth.
posted by gingerbeer at 11:40 AM on May 31, 2011

Love it. I literally wish my iPhone had a trackpoint. It’s way more precise than a touchpad or mouse, you don’t have to constantly pick up and start over for endless scrolling, you can more easily control the speed of your movement, and you can keep your hands on the keyboard at all times.

Perhaps most importantly, the trackpoint has been an invaluable tool in teaching several guys how to properly run their finger over a clitoris.
posted by thebazilist at 12:04 PM on May 31, 2011

You used to not be able to order a Toshiba laptop without a clown nose/trackpoint, though I think this is changed. I used to run a computer lab that had them and the number of people who were completely befuddled and confused by them was enough to make me order a bucketful of mice to offer as an alternative. This could by why they're not as available as before.

However, for simple tasks they are great. As mentioned above, I would not try to use them for extended periods of time, nor would I ever consider using one to edit Photoshop documents. Still, they are a nice use of space and don't take up nearly as much room as the alternative trackpads or an extra mouse. Worth it just for the savings on space.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 12:12 PM on May 31, 2011

X31 user here, no touchpad just a trackpoint. Absolutely love it, it's fast and accurate and I can move the cursor around with minimal effort and without significantly moving my fingers from the keyboard.
Interestingly I could applyGodbert's list to touchpads, in that I've hated every single one I've tried (eeePC, T40, Dell XPS) for much the same reasons. The Dell is the worst by far, to get across the screen I have to endlessly swipe at the thing like one of those Japanese lucky cats.
Downsides are that it's not so great for gaming and it's spoilt me for every other input device apart from good trackballs, which I can tolerate.
There is a learning curve; it took me a week or so to get used to it and my girlfriend just can't get on at all with the trackpoint on her hand-me-down T40. If you're more used to a mouse as an input device then it's going to feel pretty alien I think, but if you've used a joystick a lot then it feels totally natural.
posted by SyntacticSugar at 1:02 PM on May 31, 2011

I love it. It's the primary reason that I've only bought Thinkpads since 2002. I can't get used to the touchpad because it seems so much less responsive than the trackpoint.
posted by Sculthorpe at 2:04 PM on May 31, 2011

Big fan of the clitmouse. Requisite xkcd link.
posted by Iteki at 2:48 PM on May 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

Years ago, I had a couple laptops (a Toshiba and a Thinkpad) with trackpoints. They were okay, but I had some issues. The top of the trackpoint was relatively smooth (like a pencil eraser). This worked fine for the most part, but if my hands were sweaty (laptops can get warm after a while), the trackpoint was near useless. It looks like later models have a textured surface which may help with that.

I now have a MacBook Pro with the no-button trackpad, and I can't think of using anything else. It's just so intuitive, and remarkably precise. When I'm on other people's laptops, I find myself cursing at the stupid clunky trackpad with it's archaic buttons and stuff.
posted by xedrik at 7:03 PM on May 31, 2011

My Thinkpad tablet bricked a couple days ago, but I always used the nipple. I loved it. I used it constantly and loved how it allowed me to mouse without leaving the home row. Super intuitive and precise, convenient, and fucking red, yo.

This Toshiba has a trackpad that I hate.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 8:00 PM on May 31, 2011

Hated it on my T41. I turned it off, and eventually it popped off after I absentmindedly played with it too much!
posted by radioamy at 8:28 PM on May 31, 2011

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