With all of the point-and-click action required for everyday work, not to mention play, pointing devices have become an important part of any computer system. Laptops and notebooks are made with or can accommodate a variety of pointing devices. Finding the one that works best for you can make all the difference between pleasurable hours spent at the keyboard, or frustration and in some cases, fatigue and even pain.
Pointing devices built into notebooks include the touchpad and pointing stick. Some laptop models incorporate both, while others have one or the other. If built-in devices don’t satisfy, an external wired or wireless mouse can be used. Let’s take these choices in turn along with the pro’s and con’s.
A touchpad can take a little getting used to but can be a welcomed relief over an external mouse. The touch-sensitive pad sits beneath the space bar, controlling cursor movement with the light swipe of a fingertip. Using a touchpad eliminates the need to extend an arm out to the side to grab and control an external mouse. It also eliminates repetitive movements of the fingers used for clicking external mouse buttons. Instead one taps the pad to emulate a click, with optional thumb buttons located beneath the touchpad.
While many people find a touchpad preferable to a mouse, touch-typists might like the pointing stick. This is a miniature joystick located in the center of a QWERTY keyboard nestled between the G and H keys. Applying pressure to the pointing stick moves the cursor in a like direction. Sensitivity can be configured to taste, keeping the pointing stick easy enough to manipulate without causing accidental cursor movement by arbitrary swipes while typing. Buttons are located beneath the spacebar, and the stick can be configured to translate a tap into a click.
Of all pointing devices a pointing stick has an important advantage: a typist does not have to move his or her hands from the resting point or home row on the keyboard to use it. For this reason alone many typists won’t purchase a notebook that doesn’t have a pointing stick.
Despite the advantages of touchpads and pointing sticks, nothing quite compares to the accuracy of an external mouse, and in some cases, this is all that matters. Video and graphic editing is especially easier using an external mouse, as is gaming, and some people simply prefer it.
These are three types of mice: mechanical, optical and laser. A mechanical mouse uses a rubber ball on the underside to calculate position. The ball can get dirty and this type of mouse has been largely replaced by optical and laser mice. An optical mouse uses light to calculate position, and is very accurate and reliable. A laser mouse uses laser light and is even more precise than an optical mouse, making it a favorite of gamers. However, it’s also more expensive than an optical mouse, the defacto standard.
A wired external mouse plugs into a Universal Serial Bus (USB) port, but most mice made today are wireless models. A wireless mouse comes with a USB adapter fitted with a receiver. The mouse, powered by a battery, transmits movement to the receiver using either 802.11b, 802.11g, or Bluetooth frequencies. Finding space to operate the mouse might be tricky if you like to place your notebook on your lap, but if you desire an external mouse, you should be pleased with either an optical or laser model.
With the wide array of pointing devices available it’s only a matter of finding the one that suits your needs best. If you're currently unhappy with a built-in device, you might consider accessing the configuration software to tweak the settings. In some cases, adjusting sensitivity and optional features can make all the difference.