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Issue #686: September 13-19, 2020

Q: My HP Chromebook is like a run away train. It erases my words, or places them in previous paragraphs. It also changes the font. I truly dislike this “lean, mean, amazing machine.”

 – Lois P.
Niceville, Florida

A:  I don’t think it’s any secret that I’m no great fan of HP.  So, I’d love to blame the problem on the manufacturer, but I don’t think I can fairly lay the blame there.  My preference and expertise also lean towards the Windows platform, but I don’t think the problem has to do with the computer being a Chromebook either.  The symptoms you’ve described speak loudly of adverse interactions with your laptop’s touchpad, Lois.  I’ve discussed this topic in several previous columns, most recently last November (Geek Note: I.G.T.M. #642, November 10, 2019).  In that issue, reader Dan B. was even more upset than you, labeling his problem “a disaster” and his laptop “useless”.  Perhaps I can offer you some advice to help you play nicer with your Chromebook.

The main problem is the location of the touchpad, which lives directly below your palms when your hands are in the normal typing position.  While this is mighty convenient for using the touchpad, it is also an ideal position for it to be accidentally activated.  Touchpads are very sensitive.  If you do a little experimenting, you might find you can move the mouse cursor by bringing your finger close without actually touching it.  When your machine misbehaves, what is occurring is that you are inadvertently activating the touchpad with the palm of your hand while typing. 

You are probably aware of a function of the touchpad called tap-to-click that causes a single tap anywhere on a touchpad to be interpreted the same as a left mouse click.  That means wherever your mouse cursor happens to be when the touchpad is activated receives a mouse click, possibly a click and drag, or maybe even a double-click.  If the cursor is over a text area, at a minimum, the text insertion point will warp to that spot.  If you’re typing away without looking, your text will wind up in the wrong place.  Depending on the order and rapidity of these clicks, and how many of them occur, the phony clicks can be interpreted as text selections, and even cut/paste operations, resulting in the chaos you described.

Once you realize what is causing all these problems, you might be able to solve them simply by disciplining yourself to keep the palms of your hands well clear of the touchpad while typing.  If that doesn’t work out, you can try changing the touchpad’s configuration to make it less vulnerable to unintended activation.  For example, it may be possible to turn down the sensitivity, so it doesn’t activate just because your hand or finger comes near it but doesn’t actually touch it.  You might even go so far as disabling the tap-to-click function altogether if you don’t use that feature, or if you’re willing to trade it for a laptop that’s not a “runaway train”. 

To access the touchpad settings, start by clicking on the status area in the bottom-right of your desktop to open the settings panel.  Select “Settings” and the Chrome browser will open, with your Chromebook’s settings displayed.  Scroll down to the “Device” section, and select “Touchpad Settings”.  Adjust as you see fit to attempt to eliminate the problem.  Consider making a note of the settings before you begin, in case you want to reset them.

One final consideration is to use a standard mouse.  You can pick up a fairly good wireless USB mouse for a few dozen dollars, and disable the touchpad completely.  This is more practical if you don’t use the system on the road, but you can always re-enable the touchpad if it’s needed.

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