- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 24, 2010

It’s often an afterthought, but the accessory items that come with your computer or are added on after purchase can become quite important. Apple Inc. recently launched a couple of products well worth considering, albeit only if you’re a Mac user.

Together, the two products, Apple’s $69 Magic Trackpad and $29 Battery Charger, may well epitomize wonkishness, but in a good way.

The Magic Trackpad — honest, gang, I didn’t make up that name — is what it says it is: a trackpad, just like the ones you’ll find on Apple’s more recent portable computers. Except this isn’t attached to a computer. It sits on the desktop and connects wirelessly, via Bluetooth, to your computer.

The Trackpad performs all the functions of a mouse, and then some. You can “swipe” to move across pages on the screen, or move your finger up and down to scroll. The whole pad surface is a “button,” which you can press with one finger to click on something or with two fingers to invoke the “mouse menu” found in most applications (commands such as “Cut,” “Copy,” “Paste” and so forth). I’ve used Apple’s Magic Mouse for quite some time, and the Magic Trackpad (is that the ‘70s pop group Pilot I’m hearing?) is just as functional and just as easy to learn.

One of the things that Apple is big on, apparently, is making the human-machine interface supereasy, which is why, I’m guessing, the iPhone relies on your finger as a stylus and why the “Magic” items, mouse and trackpad, are so finger-centric. It’s a smart move, in my opinion: Just about everyone has fingers, and we all certainly know how to use them.

The crucial question in using the Magic Trackpad, though, is whether it makes your work move more quickly or more easily. The answer seems to be yes. I’ve had the Trackpad at my day job for a few days now, and it’s gotten quite a workout. Working with it is as fast, if not faster, than using the Magic Mouse, and, again, the transition was intuitive.

The downside for Windows PC users, however, is that Apple doesn’t have Magic Trackpad software or drivers for that platform. This might inspire someone to come up with such software or perhaps a firm such as Microsoft or Logitech to develop a trackpad that works on both platforms.

But if you’re a Mac user, especially if you work a lot in graphics, video or music editing or other mouse-intensive areas, the Magic Trackpad might well be just your cup of tea.

I’ve yet to mention how the Magic Trackpad is powered, but you might guess: two AA batteries will do the trick. And while Costco might cancel my membership for saying this, buying those blessed batteries over and over again is a royal pain, not to mention an ecological challenge. That’s where the Apple Battery Charger, $29, comes in.

This device is simple: Take two rechargeable AA cells at a time, place them in the charger, plug the charger into an electrical outlet, and wait a while. Voila: two charged batteries, and you’re ready to trackpad or mouse away. Apple supplies a total of six rechargeable AAs in the package, and the charger is tiny, easily portable and works well. Its wall plug can slide out and be replaced by other Apple-sold plugs for use overseas, so charging on the go shouldn’t be a problem. It’s a good product, and the price is certainly reasonable.

HP printer update: About a month back, I lamented a lack of full wireless compatibility between a Hewlett-Packard OfficeJet Pro 8500 and my desktop computer. The problems seem to have resolved themselves: I was able to wirelessly scan a document from the printer to the computer today, and, as I write, the computer is importing about 1,100 photos from an SD memory card inserted in the printer’s card reader. The import is slow but appears to be working.

I’m still not totally thrilled with the 8500 — there’s still the envelope-printing hassle of no single-slot feeder — but I’m feeling a bit better about the device now.

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