Nathan Landale

The Technology for The Next Generation

11 Windows touchpad tricks to help you work faster and smarter
Computer, Gadget & Technology

11 Windows touchpad tricks to help you work faster and smarter

Mid adult man's hand using touchpad on a laptop at home

JohnnyGreig/Getty Images

The built-in pointing devices on Windows laptops were once a source of frustration. This 2011 article in ZDNET by James Kendrick made that point in colorful language: “Why do PC trackpads suck?” He wasn’t alone. Other reviewers of Windows laptops in that era had similar complaints.

(In case you’re wondering: On a Windows PC, it’s called a touchpad. On a MacBook, it’s a trackpad. But regardless of what you call it, the function is the same.)

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That situation began to change in 2013 with the debut of the Precision Touchpad in Microsoft’s Surface Pro 2 and Windows 8.1. The Precision Touchpad hardware and its accompanying built-in Windows drivers treated the touchpad as its own class of pointing device, processing taps, gestures, and movement as native actions. By 2015, high-end laptops, such as the Dell XPS 15, were getting high marks from elite reviewers for having “a trackpad as good as a MacBook.”

With Windows 11, Microsoft tightened the hardware certification requirements for PCs; laptop manufacturers are now required to include Precision Touchpad technology as part of the certification process.

You’ll find an extensive set of customization options for a Precision Touchpad in Settings > Bluetooth & Devices > Touchpad (see image, below). On a Windows 10 PC with the correct hardware/driver combo, a message at the top of that page says, “Your PC has a Precision Touchpad.” That message isn’t visible in recent releases of Windows 11, presumably because it’s not necessary. If you see the options shown here, you’re good to go.

Precision Touchpad Settings page from Windows 11

If you see these settings on your Windows 11 PC, you have a Precision Touchpad.

Screenshot by Ed Bott/ZDNET

Just learning how to use the default gestures available on a Precision Touchpad can pay big dividends in productivity. Spending some time on this Settings page can be even more helpful.

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Here are 11 techniques worth mastering.

1. Swipe to switch between tasks

Using three fingers, swipe up from the bottom of the touchpad (see image, below). That gesture switches you into Task View, with a large thumbnail for each open window and virtual desktop. You can tap to choose the window you want to open, or swipe down with three fingers to return to your previous position. You can also use three fingers to swipe left or right, which begins scrolling through a display of thumbnails for all running apps; stop swiping when you get to the app you want to run.


Use a three-finger swipe to quickly open Task View or switch to another running app.

Screenshot by Ed Bott/ZDNET

2. Swipe to switch between desktops

I’m not sure how many people use the Virtual Desktop feature in Windows 11, but those who do tend to love it. It’s a great way to focus on one or two apps where you’re trying to get some work done. You can keep distractions like social media on a separate desktop. Using the default settings, a four-finger swipe to the left switches to the next desktop, while a four-finger swipe right switches to the previous desktop.

3. Scroll faster

Who needs scroll bars? With a touchpad, you can use a two-finger swipe to smoothly scroll up, down, left, or right. (Swiping with one finger moves the pointer, not the page.)

If the default speed of the pointer isn’t right, use the slider at the top of the Touchpad Settings page to make it move faster or slower.

4. Scroll in reverse

When you’re using a two-finger gesture to scroll through webpages or documents, you might want to reverse the normal scrolling direction, so that as you swipe down, the page moves down, a behavior that’s the opposite of how scrolling works when you’re using scrollbars.

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You’ll find the Scrolling direction options on the Touchpad Settings page, under the Scroll & zoom heading. The options here refer to the actions as they apply to the scrollbar, so choose Down motion scrolls up if you want your swiping motion to match the movement of the page. 

5. Snap windows with a swipe

This is one of my favorite tricks. Customize the three-finger or four-finger swipe options, so that a swipe to the left or right snaps the current window to the left or right side of the display, respectively. You’ll find the settings under the Advanced gestures heading (see image, below). Change Swipe left to Snap window to the left and then make the corresponding change to the Swipe right menu.


Change the three-finger Swipe left and Swipe right options as shown here and you can snap windows with a flick of the wrist.

Screenshot by Ed Bott/ZDNET

6. Choose your own right-click option

If you use the default settings for a Precision Touchpad, a tap with one finger is a click, while a two-finger tap has the same effect as a right-click. If you’d prefer an old-school right-click option, open the Taps section and select the Press the lower right corner of the touchpad to right-click option. To turn off the two-finger tap option, clear the Tap with two fingers to right-click checkbox.

7. Swipe to pump the volume up (or down)

This trick is a particularly good use for the four-finger swipe options, especially if you never use virtual desktops.

On the Touchpad Settings page, open the Four-finger gestures section and use the Swipes menu to change the function to Change audio and volume. With this option in effect, you can swipe up or down (slowly) to adjust the system volume (see image, below). A slider appears just above the taskbar, so you can see the effect of your change. With these settings active, you can swipe left or right to play the previous and next tracks, respectively, even if your music player isn’t visible.

For one last touch, use the Taps menu at the bottom of that section to define a four-finger tap as Play/Pause.


You can redefine four-finger swipes and taps to manage volume and switch tracks in a music player. 

Screenshot by Ed Bott/ZDNET

8. Give control back to the mouse

Do you sometimes use a mouse with your laptop? Windows 11 does a good job of ignoring inadvertent taps and swipes when you’re typing, but you might prefer to disable the touchpad completely when you’re using a mouse. To enable that option, expand the Touchpad section at the top of the Settings page and clear the Leave touchpad on when a mouse is connected checkbox.  

9. Make your own custom gesture

When you go into the Touchpad > Advanced Gestures section, there’s a long list of options you can assign to various taps and swipes. But if nothing on the list strikes your fancy, try the Custom shortcut option, as I’ve done here (see image, below). When I do a three-finger tap, Windows opens the Quick Start menu (Windows key + X).

You can assign any keyboard shortcut to the custom gesture. For example, you could use Windows key + E to open File Explorer with that three-finger tap. Or use Windows key + n, where n is any number between 1 and 9, to open the app pinned to that position on the taskbar. Use Windows key + 0 (zero) to open the shortcut pinned to the 10th position.

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After choosing Custom shortcut, tap Start recording, and press the keystroke you want to assign. Then tap Stop recording.


You can assign any Windows keyboard combination to a custom shortcut. 

Screenshot by Ed Bott/ZDNET

10. Swipe to go back or forward

If you spend a large portion of your workday using the back and forward buttons to go through browser history or photo slideshows, consider changing the Swipe left and Swipe right options to do that task with gestures. Go to Settings > Bluetooth & devices > Touchpad > Advanced gestures. Under the sections for three-finger or four-finger gestures, change the assignment for those two actions to Backward navigation and Forward navigation, respectively. 

11. Configure a gesture so it does nothing at all

Maybe you prefer to keep your touchpad gestures simple? Perhaps you find yourself accidentally swiping or tapping in a way that causes Windows to do something unexpected? If you’d rather not deal with certain gestures, try configuring Windows to ignore those options completely. The Nothing option is available for the three-finger and four-finger gesture sections, and you can customize each tap and swipe option under the Advanced gestures section to also ignore those gestures.

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