Hardware

Mouse vs touchpad: which is faster for productivity?

  • Which makes you more productive? A mouse or a touchpad?
  • Let’s analyze the advantages of these input devices side by side in various aspects of work.
  • If you do something 1000 times a day, gaining a split second each time adds up in the end, big time. And it’s your time to do whatever you want with it.
mouse vs touchpad comparison

Mouse or touchpad? Which one is better when it comes to working faster?

It’s been a while since I had this article in the pipeline. I couldn’t figure out how to approach it. In the end I chose to compare mice and touchpads in various tasks and scenarios, based on how we are usually using them.

While I’ve added quite a few sections, the two contenders will only get points at the stuff that’s linked directly or indirectly with productivity. But I did give you my two cents on some other aspects. I couldn’t resist!

I basically applied the same approach in the Mac vs PC decision maker guide. You should let me know if you think this format is useful, by the way.

Anyway, this is not a definitive comparison, more like observations from many years of using both mice and touchpads for work and leisure. I already know what’s best for me but keep reading to find out which one I think you should use, and why, if working faster is your goal.

Moving precision over a large distance

I’ve said this countless times, and I will keep repeating it: the biggest productivity improvement you will see is from adding a second monitor to your setup.

This means your cursor needs to move over large distances with ease, while also allowing for precision when you reach the desired region of the screen.

Mice sensors have evolved significantly in the past years due to the push from gaming, and this technology has trickled down to regular office mice too.

I still remember the mice I was using back in early 2000s. Current mice are much faster, while also being more precise. Tweak the mouse acceleration to your liking and you will be able to control multiple monitors with ease. Some models even allow for on-the-fly sensitivity adjustments.

On my Mac, if I only use the integrated display I’d say the touchpad lags behind a mouse slightly, but not to the point where it becomes cumbersome. Once I connect an external monitor things change completely and I feel the need to use a mouse.

Mice are just better on bigger displays.

Verdict: mouse wins.

small laptop mouse

Interacting with app interface elements

I won’t insist too much on this because again, I think it’s subject to personal preference to some degree. I use keyboard shortcuts as much as possible, but not every element can be accessed via a shortcuts so I use my mouse quite a lot.

Selecting menus that open other sub menus or clicking ribbon buttons is a similar experience with a mouse or a touchpad, so both win here.

Verdict: it’s a tie.

Controlling windows and switching between apps

Moving windows around and especially resizing them is easier with a mouse, much easier I would say. If you’re not using the snap layouts in Windows, or you’re on a Mac, which I find very basic when it comes to window management, you’ll be much faster with a mouse.

But, while the mighty mouse wins this round, I would still advise you to use keyboard shortcuts to switch apps and resize windows. My Windows essentials cheat sheet includes an entire chapter dedicated to window management in case you want to check it out.

Verdict: mouse wins.

Work that requires precision

Here I’m thinking about tasks like drawing in a vectorial program, image manipulation, 3D design, and CAM/CAD work. The smaller the elements you have to select and manipulate the easier it will be to do it with a mouse. The conclusion is obvious.

Verdict: mouse wins.

3d cam cad assisted design

Scrolling

Not everyone has access to dual mode scroll wheels like the ones you can find on some Logitech mice. These allow switching from a step-by-step scroll mode to stepless, where you can stroll very long pages much faster than you can do even with a touchpad.

That is why I have to award this point to the touchpad. Scrolling with two fingers on a touchpad is much more precise and feels more intuitive. Not only that, but with a touchpad you can also scroll horizontally with ease. That’s excellent in spreadsheets.

One note though, try and use the middle click scroll method because it’s quite good.

Verdict: touchpad wins.

Drag and drop items

Another quick win for the mouse. Press and hold the left click to select an item, move the mouse, release to drop the item. It’s easy, fast, and it’s very accurate.

Compare this with the usual touchpad methods and it’s not even close: click and hold the clickpad, or tap plus tap and drag, while making sure you don’t lift the finger from the touchpad surface. Even the Mac method that allows lifting the finger over long distances requires a final tap at the end to exit this mode.

It’s still not very accurate, and much slower on a touchpad.

Verdict: mouse wins.

Gestures

I remember the Opera browser when it first introduced mouse gestures. They worked pretty well, but for some reason these didn’t get popular. In contrast, current touchpads support gestures with one, two, three, and even four fingers.

touchpad gestures

If the touchpad is accurate enough these gestures are very intuitive and offer a level of flexibility mice are just not capable of.

Verdict: touchpad wins.

Gaming

There’s only one reason to use a touchpad when you game: you want to lose, desperately. Gaming on a touchpad is just frustrating. It’s not slower, it’s basically impossible.

Verdict: mouse wins.

Drawing and inking

Having tried both I can honestly say both such in comparison with using a stylus on a touchscreen or a graphic tablet, a necessary accessory for graphic designers. Yes, the mouse is slightly worse, but the touchpad is also not adequate.

Verdict: it’s a tie.

Ergonomics

While you can buy vertical mice, which are sold as a more ergonomic alternative to regular mice I think this is just a marketing gimmick. Yes, for some people with specific health problems these may be better suited, but if you buy a decent mouse shaped for the grip type you are using you will be perfectly OK.

computer mouse ergonomic shape

I can’t say much about using a touchpad when it comes to ergonomics, because I don’t use them for work. I don’t count scrolling the web while in bed as a good use of my touchpad.

Keeping my hand in an ergonomic position comes down to desk position and discipline as much as it depends on the input device. This is why I can’t pick a definite winner.

Verdict: it’s a tie.

Versatility

I’ve read articles that tout the fact that touchpads are integrated, so you don’t need extra gear. Also, mice need a flat surface to work, while touchpads work everywhere.

These points are valid, I’ll give you that, but we’re talking about productivity here. You know what I think about working on a laptop, so it would come as no surprise that I won’t give touchpads points for versatility.

I was almost inclined to give points to mice, because they have more buttons, especially if you’re using an MMO mouse, like I do, but to be fair mouse buttons are compensated by touchpad gestures.

Verdict: it’s a tie.

logitech mmo mouse front

Distance from keyboard when you need to type

This is probably an indirect influence, but I think it’s worth pointing out. A regular touchpad is placed much closer to the keyboard area than a mouse. This means your right hand has to travel less when switching between keyboard and touchpad vs reaching the mouse.

I have solved this problem for the most part by using a 75% keyboard, but most people are still using a full-size keyboard with a numeric pad. That’s why I will award this last point to the touchpad.

Verdict: touchpad wins.

Let’s discuss the operating system

Windows is clearly designed to be used with a mouse while the Mac is very well prepared for touchpad use. These are my findings after one year of being also a Mac user.

So, if you’re a Mac user, you may think that the touchpad is the obvious choice. I would say obvious(ish). A mouse is still faster when you do precision stuff. Not much faster, but enough to make a difference overall.

At the same time, navigating the Mac virtual spaces and switching between apps is more natural with the touchpad because Apple completely ignores the mouse in these cases.

On a Mac you could say the touchpad wins because Apple doesn’t want you to use the mouse, not because it’s worse.

There are two more points that I think don’t have anything to do with productivity.

I won’t touch maintenance. Why? Where was the last time you have cleaned and “maintained” your mouse? If you’re cleaning your touchpad from fingerprints and hand oils, you can do the same for your mouse. Also, it’s a non-point for productivity.

Same goes for which one is more hygienic. I think everything we touch regularly will be full of bacteria, so regular cleaning of these peripherals, plus good personal hygiene is necessary in both cases.

Mouse wins with 9 points vs 7 for touchpad

If you consider each category has equal weight, then the mouse wins by 9 vs 7. Personally, I don’t believe the two are this close. I value cursor precision more than anything else.

That’s why you should do this exercise considering the way you work and the type of work you are doing. You may arrive at different conclusions.

TLDR: For me there’s no question: the mouse is a better choice for productivity. But it also comes down to personal preference. I know people who use a Mac only with its touchpad. It’s good, certainly the OS is better suited for touchpad use, but I still find a mouse being faster in Mac OS.

Considerations regarding the quality of the peripherals I used

For this not very scientific comparison I have used my trusty 500 Hz Logitech G602 wireless gaming mouse, my MacBook Pro, and my ROG Gaming laptop.

I would say I used the good stuff, not the best stuff. Your experience may vary if you use a cheap mouse or a touchpad. Both experiences can be very frustrating with lower grade peripherals.

I know from experience, because I’ve used cheap mice and keyboards and every time, I need to help a colleague or friend who doesn’t care about this aspect I feel the dread of missed clicks, inaccurate cursor moves, freezes, or sudden pointer jumps.

Invest in good peripherals and you’ll be less frustrated, something that will increase your productivity.

Before I end, I want to point out that I’ve researched this topic and didn’t find any kind of scientific experiment with numbers to back up my personal findings.

I did findthis article on Logitech’s website though which concludes that mice are 50% more productive and 30% faster when compared to a touchpad. I would take this info with a grain of salt: Logitech sells mice for a living and there’s no indication about the methodology they had used.

Avatar for Ionuț-Alexandru Popa
I'm a writer and Editor-in-Chief at BinaryFork. I am passionate about technology, science, space exploration, and movies. I started writing about tech more than 20 years ago, after graduating in Computer Science.
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