Faking out a Mac trackpad

So a couple of weeks ago I bought myself a new Ultrabook - a Lenovo IdeaPad U310. I've been used to using a MacBook Pro for work and I wanted something with a similar form-factor, but that didn't cost $1300, have an unnecessarily weird keyboard, and run OSX. The IdeaPaf U310 was fairly cheap and seemed like it would fit the bill.

For the most part, I'm pretty happy with it so far. I even like Windows 8.1 well enough (after installing Classic Start Menu, that is). There are only two parts that I'm not crazy about:

  1. The viewing angle of the screen is pretty limited.
  2. The trackpad is harder to use than on a Mac.

While there's obviously not much to be done about the first complaint, I figured the second one could be remedied in software.


Now, the actual problem here is not with the physical trackpad - that works well enough. It's with the click handling. If you're not familiar with a MacBook trackpad, it has no "buttons" as you customarily see on PC trackpads. Rather, you can just press down (as opposed to "tapping") on the trackpad with one finger to "click" - the pad actually gets depressed a bit and makes an audible clicking sound. To do a right-click (or command-click in Mac speak), you just press down with two fingers. It's a little unintuitive at first, but you get used to it and it works pretty well.

The Lenovo IdeaPad, however, doesn't quite do that. It still uses the same "press to click" mechanism, and you can still press with two fingers to double-click. However, it also has two "virtual buttons" at the bottom of the track pad. There's just a small vertical line, about half an inch long, at the bottom-center of the track pad that. You press on the left of that line to left-click and on the right of it to right-click. Even simpler than the Mac. And, in fact, when using a Mac I'd often wished it had something like that.

Problem is, that doesn't actually work out so well all the time. Because there's no tactile feedback as to whether your finger is over the left-click or right click button, it's very easy to accidentally click the wrong one. This is especially the case if you're using the laptop on your lap and so end up with your hand coming at the trackpad from one side.

The Fix

So my solution to this was to try and change the behavior to work like a Mac - that is, make both virtual buttons left-click and use two fingers to right-click. Seems simple enough, but the Synaptics trackpad software that came with the laptop - which is actually quite good and contains a surprising number of options - doesn't support that. The only option it has for the primary buttons is to swap them, which doesn't help.

However, I did find a solution that uses Synaptics in conjunction with X-Mouse Button Control, a little third-party freeware app that lets you remap mouse buttons if various sophisticated ways.

  1. In the Synaptics settings, I configured the "Two-Finger Click" action to "Middle Click". (It doesn't have to be "Middle Click" in particular, just something other than right-click that X-Mouse can recognize.)
  2. I installed X-Mouse and configured it to set the "Right Button" action to "Left Click" and the "Middle Button" action to "Right Click".

So far this configuration is working pretty well. It's not ideal perfect - two-finger clicking on the left-click button doesn't trigger a right click. However, it does prevent those accidental right-clicks, which is what was really bothering me.

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