Have you ever bought a laptop and noticed that there is a little orange or green button sticking out of the keyboard? Wonder what that is? That is a Trackpoint, an alternative pointing device that you can use instead of a mouse or a touchpad.
Well, while it´s usually called a Track Point, the correct term is pointing stick. "Track point" is the name IBM used to call their pointing sticks when they released their laptops way back in the nineties, even if it´s Lenovo the company that pioneers the name today. It caught on, similarly to how "band-aids" came to mean adhesive bandage.
How does the Trackpoint work?
The TrackPoint works like a joystick, moving the cursor in the direction that your fingers push it. Unlike all of its alternatives, it doesn´t rely on movement to track the direction you want to move the cursor. The nub uses the pressure you put into it, making it perfect for when you don´t have space to work with, like ultra-compact notebooks.
The more pressure you put into it the pointing stick, the "harder" the cursor will move in a direction. To use an analogy, pressing into the Trackpoint with all of your finger's weight would be the equivalent to swiping the mouse across the mousepad in one swift motion.
Normally, laptops that come with Trackpoints have a couple of extra buttons below the space bar that acts as the mouse buttons. If you want to click, you press them. No need to lift your hand or reach for the touchpad.
When you are using exclusively the Trackpoint, your hands are in a sort-of resting position above the keyboard, almost as if you were typing. The thumbs take care of clicking the buttons while your index fingers move the nub in the direction you want.
Is the Trackpoint better than a mouse or a touchpad?
If you aren´t already a fan of the TrackPoint, you might be wondering why do people prefer it over a mouse. Or at least, why isn´t it dead yet? Touchpads have long since replaced the nub in most laptops out there in the market.
The answer is that Trackpoint does have some good qualities that win fans over to its side. For starters, the position of the nub inside the keyboard allows you to reach it whenever you want. You don´t have to lift your hand off the keyboard like you have to do with the mouse.
And this brings another advantage, ergonomics. While using the mouse isn´t inherently bad for your wrists, your muscles should be in a more neutral position (instead of being bent up and down by grabbing the mouse at an angle), when your hands are over the keyboard. As such, using the Trackpoint can be considered slightly easier for your wrist.
Additionally, you don´t need to readjust or reposition to keep using a Trackpoint. The mouse will run out of space in the mousepad, which is why you can´t move it indefinitely. Using the nub, you have no such issue.
Can you use the Trackpoint for gaming or are you better sticking with the mouse? It´s not like these sorts of controllers are unheard of in the industry. The New Nintendo 3DS had something similar to the Trackpoint with the C-stick.
Well, not so much. You can use it to play games, sure, but pointing sticks still have a problem when playing fast-paced twitch games, like FPS. It´s a similar issue to what happens with touchpads. The problem comes that while the pressure mechanism on the TrackPoint is good for office work, it´s not so good for quick and precise motions like you usually need in those games.
Still, if you find the Trackpoint much more comfortable than the mouse, you could probably get used to those hurdles, although you will need to crank the sensitivity up a notch.
What computers come with a Trackpoint?
Today you can find pointing sticks, nubs, Trackpoint, however you want to call them, in Lenovo´s laptops. More specifically, in the Thinkpad series. It is thanks to this line of computers that the Trackpoint didn't vanish to obscurity.
Toshiba also sells laptops with pointing sticks, although they call it "Accupoint". HP and Dell as well, although they are notebooks, which means that they aren´t as suitable for gaming as a regular laptop would be.
Finally, you don´t need a laptop to use a Trackpoint, you can buy one of these keyboards and use the pointing stick on a desktop if you want. Useful for professions where you have to type a lot.