Lenovo (formerly IBM) ThinkPad laptops are widely known for three things:
- An amazing keyboard (often touted as the best for professional work)
- Rugged build quality (it’s hard to kill a Thinkpad: https://youtu.be/OMilj81s9SI)
- The TrackPoint, which has been standard on ThinkPads since the first model in 1992
What is a TrackPoint?
Simply put, it is an alternative to using a mouse or trackpad on laptops. To ensure that your index fingers can easily reach it, it’s situated in the middle of the keyboard between the G, H and B keys.
Wikipedia formally calls it a pointing stick, but you may hear it referred to as a nub or nipple mouse.
And while TrackPoint is IBM’s term for it, most people call it a TrackPoint today because it is most commonly associated with original IBM ThinkPads. It’s just like how people today commonly refer to facial tissue as Kleenex in tribute to its earliest common brand name.
TrackPoints were very common on early laptops in the 1990s, including my Toshiba 320CDT and SPARCbook 3000ST, but have been included on many business-grade laptops since then. Outside of Lenovo’s Thinkpad line, you can still find them on many HP EliteBook and Dell Latitude models today.
Why use a TrackPoint?
Up until last year, I thought the TrackPoint was a useless navigation device. Each time I’ve tried using one beforehand, I’ve gotten frustrated within a few minutes and switched to a trackpad or a wired/wireless mouse. In short, I hated using TrackPoints and no idea why they were still included on laptops.
Today, however, I use a TrackPoint exclusively for nearly all desktop navigation as I find it faster and more enjoyable. I never use the trackpad anymore, and the only time I use my precision Logitech MX Master 3 mouse is when I need to work in a tool like Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator.
It all began one evening a few years ago, when I was super tired after a long day but still wanted to browse my news sites and catch up on social media. I refused to put down the coffee mug in my left hand, as its contents were the only thing keeping me awake at the time. So I used my right hand to type and navigate using the TrackPoint…slowly. Surprisingly, it worked well and I started to get better at it rather quickly in my tiresome state.
The TrackPoint provides infinite movement without the need to reposition your hand, which is not possible using a mouse. And while trackpads have gotten much larger in recent years, you still have to reposition your finger every so often if you don’t want it to run off the edge. This leads to occasionally sloppy trackpad movements that never seem to disappear over time. Moreover, the TrackPoint allows you to build and continually refine dexterity skills in a way that mice and trackpads do not. It makes you feel like a surgeon who gets faster at performing each successive surgery without sacrificing precision in each movement. It’s definitely a Zen experience.
How do I master the Zen of TrackPoint?
Start experimenting with the TrackPoint when you aren’t in a rush to get something done. Otherwise, you risk getting frustrated and losing interest. A good time to start is during the evening, when you just want to browse the Internet for fun and have lots of time to spare.
Only use your index fingers with the TrackPoint. After all, the TrackPoint is a precision device, and your index finger has likely been conditioned to provide more dexterity than other fingers.
Be patient. You’re not going to move that TrackPoint as fast as a mouse or trackpad at first. Like Yoda in Star Wars, or Mr. Miyagi in The Karate Kid, the TrackPoint teaches you patience before precision.
Make sure you’re already comfortable with using a trackpad. There are definitely some transferable trackpad navigation skills that will make it much easier to master TrackPoint usage.
Practice makes perfect. After experimenting with your TrackPoint one evening, do it again the following evening, and so on. You’ll be shocked at how quickly you master it (it took me less than a week).
What if my keyboard doesn’t have a TrackPoint?
Some high-end keyboards actually come with one, including the Lenovo TrackPoint II wireless keyboard shown below that I use with my other systems. It works flawlessly with Windows, Linux and macOS, and can use either a Bluetooth connection or the included WiFi nano dongle.