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Should you use a trackpad instead of a mouse?

Updated: May 17, 2021

Every modern laptop in the world comes with a trackpad or touchpad to control the cursor, since you don´t always have a mouse handy or a flat surface to use comfortably (especially as the TrackPoint fell out of favor). Desktop PCs can be rather expensive, so a laptop is all a lot of people have.

You might one of those people, you have been using the trackpad for years and want to install some games on your laptop. However, everyone is telling you that you should get a mouse to play them if you want to get into PC gaming. Or maybe Magic Trackpad and like it so much that you don´t see any reason not to use it to play video games.

You are pretty used to the trackpad already. Do you need to get a mouse, or is the trackpad enough?

Trackpad vs mouse for gaming

A touchpad or a trackpad (these two terms are usually used interchangeably) is a device (or more accurately, a surface) that tracks the motion and pressure of your fingers to the position of the cursor on your screen.

If you swipe left on a touchpad, the mouse cursor will move left. If you press it, then it will click (assuming the touchpad itself allows that function). You can also use special gestures that serve as a shortcut, to make it even easier on yourself.

A mouse, by contrast, is a device that you hold in your hands and drag around a solid surface to move the cursor on your screen. It has two (or more) buttons that you use to click stuff on your monitor. There are many different types of mice, including specialized mice made for gaming.

At a glance, it might seem that a touchpad is better than a mouse, after all, why rely on a weird half-spherical device over your fingers? However, unless you´ve been in a coma for half a century or are an alien, we all know that most people think otherwise. And for good reason.

It is common knowledge that the mouse is more sensitive and precise than the trackpad, but is this true? Objectively?

Sadly, yes. Trackpads tend to be more clunky and require more effort from your part to drag the cursor around and click on stuff (usually, there are a few high-end exceptions).

When it comes to working, this isn´t particularly bad, you can even prefer it to the mouse. The problem arises when you try to play games on your computer. Not only the low sensitivity can make twitch reactions hard, but the position of the trackpad on a laptop is usually on the bottom center of the keyboard.

That means that unless you have small hands, the fingers that you have on your trackpad might block or get interrupted by the fingers you have manning the WASD keys.

Now, this isn´t a problem in some games (or if you play with a controller) that don´t require reflexes, like some turn-based strategy titles like Civilization or Xcom. But what about work? Does the mouse retain the edge or can you increase your productivity with a trackpad?

Does using a touchpad increase your productivity?

Let´s get this out of the way, any increase or decrease in your productivity from changing to mouse from trackpad or vice-versa would be minimal. But still, which one is better for working?

You are usually better off with a mouse, at least on Windows. The precision and sensitivity of the mouse mean that you will be able to click what you want to click faster and with less of a hassle.

Macs, however, tend to have more specialized touchpads that are more sensitive to the touch and can work better than some mice when it comes to working. They also include a variety of gestures (most of which are also on Windows, to be fair) that can help you save time since they act as shortcuts to various functions and features of your computer.

There is one exception to the rule. If you travel a lot, or work in a place without a desk, then you will find that using a mouse will be pretty uncomfortable in the cramped space. In those cases, using the touchpad will be a lot better than say, trying to balance the mouse on your leg.

Most of the time, the touchpad isn´t better for gaming or work, but what about your wrist?

Is the touchpad more ergonomic than a mouse?

We already talked about how to deal with wrist pain due to gaming on this blog. The reasons why your wrist hurts after hours of using the mouse usually comes down to posture and repetitive movements.

When you are using the mouse, you usually have your hand bent up, holding it in place with your fingertips and with your wrist at an angle. When you need to move the cursor, you flick your wrist and keep your arm steady. If all or some of this rings a bell, then you might want to consider changing the way you hold the mouse, as it is bad for your muscles.

In theory, the correct way to use the mouse is to keep your wrist horizontal, grab it with the palm of your hand, and click without bending your fingers into a claw. Move it around using your arm, not your wrist.

If you follow the previous advice, then using a mouse should not put your hand into too much strain. However, you might find that doing all that is a bit harder than it seems. Few people are going to change habits, so would a trackpad help you with that?

The trackpad will not necessarily improve your posture, but usually, it will make you put your wrists in a more relaxed position. You will also not bend your finger as much when you move them around the touchpad. In that way, it can be said that trackpads can be "naturally" more ergonomic, but still, it´s not quite fully so.

Your muscles can get injured when your rest the weight of your hand on your wrist (the main cause of carpal tunnel syndrome). Also, if you perform repetitive motions over and over again for several hours. The trackpad is a little better in this regard, but not entirely.

The best way to avoid muscle strain is to follow the aforementioned advice. If you do, then it doesn´t matter that much if you are using a mouse or a trackpad.

Now, we have talked about normal trackpads, the ones that come with your typical laptop. However, there is a more "advanced" alternative that´s a cut above the rest. How does it fare?

Is the Magic Trackpad better than a mouse?

The Magic Trackpad is Apple´s premium trackpad designed for the Mac. It is also compatible with Windows if you download an unofficial driver.

Their objective was to design a more ergonomic touchpad that´s easy to use and brings all the advantages of modern design into it. If you look around the web, you´ll see a lot of people swearing that this is the best trackpad on the market. Is it true?

Well, the price tag certainly seems to think so, and to be fair, it is probably the most advanced touchpad out there. It´s not a built-in touchpad like the ones you find in laptops, as its flat surface resembles a mouse pad more than anything else.

The Magic Trackpad has haptic feedback, advanced gesture detection, (although Windows also lets you use gestures if you use a touchpad), and rechargeable batteries.

It's a good option if you can afford it, and not a bad way to control your computer, specifically if you know all the different gestures that you can use. If you don´t know how to do these gestures and don´t care to learn, then maybe a mouse would be a better option for you.

But what about playing games? Well, it works, but it isn´t any better than the mouse. For gaming, the Magic Trackpad runs into many of the same issues that a regular trackpad does. The average mouse´s precision and speed outclass even Apple´s premium touchpad.

In summary, it is possible to play games with a trackpad, but the mouse is the better alternative for gaming. When it comes to working, then it depends on your preferences, if you use gestures, then odds are you are going to prefer a trackpad, if not then a mouse or even a trackball. A touchpad is not inherently more ergonomic than a mouse, but it can feel that way if you have a bad posture.


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