Hey, HP! It's time to use Microsoft Precision touchpads in more PCs.

For the last few days, I've been using the new – and unique – HP Spectre Folio a.k.a., "the leather PC." It's a remarkable device that solves some common computer problems while delivering everything I've wanted in a PC.

But one thing that drives me nuts about all of HP's premium Spectre line, including the new ones announced recently, is HP's reliance on non-Precision drivers for its Spectre touchpads. It's time for the company to make the jump to Precision.

What is Microsoft Precision?

Going back to Windows 8.1 and the Surface Pro 2, Microsoft began a process to create a standardized touchpad experience. At that point, Apple had established itself as the king of trackpads. Nary a discussion could be had about switching between macOS and Windows without someone mentioning how amazing Apple's trackpads were.

Precision coalesces around standardized drivers and gestures that we now see in Windows 10. New features and improvements are routinely added through Windows 10 feature updates (twice a year). Trackpad navigation is smooth, consistent, accurate, and more responsive when using Precision drivers.

Microsoft Precision settings found under Settings.

Matching the software is the necessary hardware, which is often a Synaptics trackpad. Microsoft does not dictate – as far as we know – hardware requirements, so there is still variation in size and even materials, such as glass or plastic. That gives PC manufacturers some cost flexibility without making them commit to expensive parts for low- or mid-range laptops.

Microsoft was the first to use its Precision system in the Surface Pro 2 – which had a small, mediocre trackpad – and has used it ever since in all its Surfaces. Today, Surface Book 2, Surface Laptop, and even Surface Pro and Surface Go have some of the best trackpad experiences for PCs.

How to customize 'Precision Touchpad' settings in the Windows 10

But Precision isn't just for Microsoft. The company's goal was to use, improve and share the drivers with all its OEM partners for their laptops, too, likely with a small licensing fee. Today, Dell, Lenovo, Razer, Samsung, and even mid-tier manufacturers like MSI and Acer, all use Precision drivers in their mid- to high-range laptops.

HP already uses Precision ... sometimes

HP has brilliant touchpads in its EliteBook line of busines laptops.

HP has brilliant touchpads in its EliteBook line of busines laptops.

Perhaps the most infuriating aspect about HP is it does use Microsoft Precision drivers, in its premium business line. HP's EliteBooks are some of my favorite laptops – I'm evaluating the new EliteBook x360 1030 (G3) now, and it's almost perfect – and part of that is because they have exceptional trackpads. And they all use Precision drivers.

But when it comes to HP's premium consumer line, dubbed Spectre, the company has never used Precision. Instead, HP falls back to using Synaptics drivers that are subpar. (To make matters more confusing the HP Envy x2 with ARM uses a Precision driver; Envy is HP's mid-tier range).

Every time I review a Spectre laptop I reach the same conclusion: it's perfect, but the trackpad is a letdown.

There is not a single instance where touchpad drivers by Synaptics are ever better than Precision. Accuracy is diminished, sensitivity is all over the place, pinch-to-zoom can be chaotic, and scrolling in apps is random. When I use apps like GroupMe or Twitter, scrolling is janky versus some other apps where it is merely OK.

Anyone who says Synaptics drivers are good, or not that bad, has probably never used either a MacBook or a Windows PC with Precision drivers extensively. And while users can try to "hack" Precision drivers onto their laptops – I wrote a guide on how to do that – the process often breaks, has ongoing compatibility issues, is not optimized, and it is undoubtedly not the answer for regular consumers.

Precision is the only standard

Not only do PC manufacturers compete with Apple's persistent hardware prowess in laptops, but they also contend with each other. They need all the advantages they can get.

Touchpads in laptops are not something that can be passed over like ports, reduced performance with DDR3 versus DDR4 RAM, or even audio where corners are often cut. Trackpads are the core experience, one of the most frequently used parts of the PC (the exception being gaming laptops where gaming mice are often employed). No one should be cutting corners here.

HP makes some of the best state-of-the-art hardware around, often matching Microsoft in creativity but massively undercutting the company in price. The Spectre x360 13t is consistently our best-value and top 13-inch convertible for good reason.

But HP regularly sells itself and its customers short by relying on Synaptics drivers instead of Precision. There's just no excuse, and even HP's business division gets why Precision is better. So why can't the company standardize on Precision?

There is no debate here. HP, and all laptop manufacturers, should be on board with Precision. Reports were that Microsoft was going to make Precision mandatory, but as these new Spectres illustrate, that rule has not gone into effect.

I wish it had. HP's Spectres are very good, but not quite great. Precision would be the difference maker.

Daniel Rubino

Daniel Rubino is the Editor-in-chief of Windows Central, head reviewer, podcast co-host, and analyst. He has been covering Microsoft since 2007 when this site was called WMExperts (and later Windows Phone Central). His interests include Windows, laptops, next-gen computing, and for some reason, watches. Before all this tech stuff, he worked on a Ph.D. in linguistics, watched people sleep (for medical purposes!), and ran the projectors at movie theaters because it was fun.

  • I didn't know HP was reserving precision pads for their more expensive line. I could understand cheap laptops but anything mid-range and up should really be using precision. The difference in experience is phenomenal.
  • It's not even reserved for their more expensive lines... The Spectre is their most expensive "consumer" device, and it should absolutely include precision drivers, but it doesn't. I was in the market for a new laptop this time last year and really almost pulled the trigger on the Spectre, but the lack of precision trackpad support let me feel really good about holding out for the Surface Book 2 (what a great device!).
  • Yet another reason why I'm glad I just ponied up for a surface.
  • I use the hacky method to get precision drivers on my HP laptop which has Elan driver. Everything works pretty good except palm rejection which can be a nuisance sometimes. The best thing about precision drivers is I get the ability to adjust volume with three finger swipe.
  • Precision or nothing for me, it's not even an option. Once you experience precision, you just can't go back. It's similar to the experience of transitioning from a mechanical disk to an SSD (maybe not quite as dramatic, but one can't go back after having the upgraded experience)
  • I have a Spectre X360 (2017) and the default Synaptics drivers are so bad I almost sent the laptop back until I hacked the precision drivers onto it. I need to redo it each time there is a major Win10 update (like October Update etc.) but it's worth the 5 minute hassle since the touchpad is a piece of garbage without the precision drivers. The fact that it's one of HP's premium laptops yet uses the worst drivers imaginable is ridiculous. I hope enough feedback forces HP to change their mind on this issue. Or maybe Microsoft should start forcing everyone to use precision drivers (more through a deal with Synaptics and Elan). You'd think they would be willing as it reduces the amount of driver work they have to do so it's a bit of a win-win.
  • Doesn't it make you wonder whether their hardware team even uses their own devices (for daily use, not in their offices)?
  • Surface Pro 2 had Precision drivers on its trackpad? I'd never read that before. The original Surface Pro trackpads were comical and next to worthless. Now that Surface devices all have good trackpads, I hope the team never decides to follow Apple and supersize them. Well designed software means the track pad needs to be comfortably, but not ludicrously, large.
  • I only partially agree. I lose having the gap between the space bar and the trackpad on my SB2, but I wish it was bigger on its way to the front of the laptop... Like it should extend downward (and wider) until just before the front of the base.
  • I couldn't agreed more, Dan. It's Precision or bust.
  • HP cannot use Precision drivers because of their HARDWARE contracts with Synaptics, who supply the VAST majority of their touchpads.
    These contracts call for exclusive use of Synaptics hardware AND software.
    It would cost them a fortune to change those contracts for existing product lines.
  • That's what I assumed, but everyone else has shifted at this time: Razer, MSI, Samsung, Acer, not to mention Dell and Lenovo their biggest competitors. HP is literally the last one here - that's not 'always reinventing' that's doing the thing from 5 years ago. Anyway, not my problem to solve for them. The product is bad and they need to fix their product. Period.
  • No arguments there. Synaptics touchpad drivers are just plain bad.
    My contacts within HP tell me the Sales people (especially Corporate Sales) have been pushing to move to MS Precision drivers but the bean counters have been pushing back due to the contract costs, not to mention the costs of changes to their support systems too. Their use of Precision in their Premium business line was driven by push-back from HP customer support.
    HP is not making much money right now and I expect another round of layoffs soon in the PC and Printer-Ink-Delivery divisions.
    HPE is doing OK on their high-end server sales (although their new support-contract download requirements are a major PITA to deal with.)
  • The real thing to wonder is why Synaptics even bothers with their own Windows 10 drivers at this point. They would still need to create drivers for other OSes (possibly not older Windows versions if they aren't bound by contracts) but they could cut staff, reduce maintenance and testing requirements, and provide a better experience to the user but just updating their firmware they send to HP et al to use the precision drivers. Is someone at HP really going to be like "no, the contract says we MUST use your crap software even if you allow us to use precision drivers"?
  • Very likely a licesning revenue stream for them, but I just don't see the point anymore. Precision are basically perfect drivers. Synaptics can/should focus on what they're good at: hardware (including FP readers). Could be worse, I guess. These could be Elan drivers (shudder).
  • I guess I just don't use the trackpad enough for this to be a thing. I only use it as a very basic mouse, and only then when the item on the screen is so small that using touch doesn't get it done.
  • Waiting for that on my HP Spectre x360 too. For my next device I will pay attention more closely to this before choosing
  • I agree, Synaptics try as they might really can't get their trackpads upto snuff. I have never had a decent experience with their trackpads especially with gestures... and the side scrolling functionality. Every single laptop I've come across or have had to repair had crappy Synaptics trackpads - which is why I now carry a mini wireless mouse in my repair kit. I'm guessing HP have a deal or something with Synaptics. As it stands Synaptics will have to contend with the lower end of the market if they can't get their trackpads better or on par. Hopefully the movement towards precision serves as a wake up call for Synaptics.
  • Synaptics is brutal, if they went away would anyone notice?
  • Never mind HP's laptops, can we get a precision touchpad for desktops? The Logitech t650 is like six years old and could use Precision drivers.
  • I can't comment on the folio, a bit of hardware I am interested in but as an SP user, the track pad is horrible. Maybe I just got used to the nub on my IBM laptop way back on the day and everything else has been horrible since.
    ? I tolerate it would be how I would word it.
  • "Maybe I just got used to the nub on my IBM laptop way back on the day and everything else has been horrible since."
    I'd lean on that. As someone who has ThinkPads I can't comprehend how anyone uses those nubs at all. I just know it's a thing with males usually 45+ as no one else likes those over a good trackpad. But to play devil's advocate what trackpad do you like? No nubs allowed (c'mon, it's almost 2019 -nubs existed because trackpads were so bad 15 years ago).
  • The irony is that I'm using an HP Probook right now, and it has that nub still. Hmm... not going to get a lot of two or three finger action on that... :D Regardless, I tend to avoid trackpads/nubs. I virtually always use a mouse. At home on the SB1 I have it turned off when a mouse is connected, so all the time. At work, occasionally I use two finger scrolling, that that is about it for gestures. My 2 cents - If MS can leave off USB-C, HP can use 'bad' trackpad drivers. :)
  • Kinda off-topic, but I would love to see the virtual nub make an appearance on android keyboards. The WM10 virtual keyboard nub made it one of the fastest and most precise keyboards I have ever used. The spacebar gesture on Gboard only works on the X-axis, and not all that well.
  • You can try precision drivers for Synaptics and Elan touchpads: https://www.reddit.com/r/Windows10/comments/6qz30h/enable_precision_touc...
    You must manually install drivers - there's link to download on reddit...
  • I wrote an article on that and even talk about it in this article along with the cons of doing so - it's not really a great solution at all. That reddit post even links my YouTube tutorial on it. Would appreciate you read the article before link-dumping.
  • Pretty much the overall reason I utilize Lenovo over HP in my enterprise purchasing. While HP's stuff overall is really good, there's always "that one thing" they do that's proprietary and sticks out like a sore thumb. Since they generally come in at a slightly higher price point, it's just not worth the hassle. Lenovo's have a good track record of a pretty agnostic approach to their businesses hardware and Windows support.
  • Lenovo has gotten better. It was only with this generation of X1 ThinkPads that they moved from a hybrid Synaptics/Precision experience - which was really weird - to just Precision (it's much better now).
  • I'm curious, what do you mean by "hybrid" Synaptics/Precision experience? I thought it was one or the other.
  • Totally agree. I've tried out HP's laptops on a number of occasions, and almost every time I've been disappointed in the trackpad performance. It's the kind of thing that I think most normal people wouldn't consciously think about, but adds to that subpar experience people associate with Windows PCs. It's 2018, and Microsoft has solved this problem. There is no good reason for any manufacturer, especially one like HP with top-quality hardware, to be using anything other than Precision Touchpad drivers.
  • I agree 100%, HP laptops not having a precision touchpad is the reason I didn't buy one. I went for a Dell instead.
  • Maybe Dan it's because HP has been burned in the past when it put all its eggs in the one MS basket.
  • When did that happen lol