It is a pretty well known fact that the typical optical mouse can be a trying to work with in 3D environments. You just don’t have that much flexibility to rotate items or pan smoothly. Especially when it comes to being on the road and you only have your dedicated laptop trackpad, it can be extremely difficult to work in 3D software. You just don’t have that many fingers! 3DConnexion released the newest addition to their SpaceNavigator line, the SpaceNavigator for Notebooks. Like the regular SpaceNavigator, the SpaceNavigator for Notebooks allows you to easily move around in 3D environments, but this one is more portable and travel friendly. We were lucky enough to get a some one on one time with the SpaceNavigator for Notebooks which was just released.
The SpaceNavigator for Notebooks might look like a fancy paper weight at first glance but it’s actually a very sophisticated mouse that will let you roam through 3D spaces with ease. The new cap design on the top part of the device serves as the joystick so to speak so you can Pan Right/Left, Pan Up/Down, Tilt, Zoom, Spin, or Roll. There are two-button function keys as well to click around with just like on a typical mouse. When you pick it up, you do notice that it’s kind of heavy for a notebook mouse, .55 lb to be exact, but I assume it was created a little bit hefty so that it wouldn’t move around as you may get a little carried away by zooming in to objects. However it is small and sleek enough to use on airplanes and since it’s stationary you won’t be knocking into or bothering your traveling companion. A nice custom fit traveling pouch is included as well.
So with dreams of Tron like environments dancing in my head, I was excited to start testing the SpaceNavigator on my Macbook Air. The first thing I did was plug in the SpaceNavigator for Notebooks via USB and then headed over to the 3Dconnexion website where their most updated software would be (though a CD with PC & Mac software was included as well). I downloaded them and followed the on-screen directions. I installed the the drivers on to my computer and then suddenly this lovely blue color appeared on the SpaceNavigator near the base below the cap. I was also then greeted with a Configuration Wizard on how to operate the device which showed me what it actually does. The wizard used animations and drawings to depict the different ways I can use the SpaceNavigator and how it interacts with objects. If I need to access this information again I can go to the 3Dconnexion Control Panel or Preference Pane on the Mac OS. Once I clicked through that. I was told to restart the computer for the installation to take affect. I restarted the computer and then I decided to check out the Control Panel for the device. The Control Panel offers tools for beginners, intermediate, and advanced users . You can increase the speed of any of the motions that the SpaceNavigator does as well as edit the functions of the two buttons.
The SpaceNavigator for Notebooks is compatible with most of the popular 3D Software programs out there such as Autocad or Maya. While I’m familiar with these programs, I don’t have a clue how to use them, but I know some 3D pros who would love this type of device and I’m sure that it would help speed up their work flow. So after setting it up, I was finally ready to use this little guy and the program I decided to test it on was Google Earth. I typed in Egypt, The Great Pyramid, to be exact, and I flew on over and grabbed on to the SpaceNavigator and started to zoom and pan right over the desert. I felt as if I was flying, it was almost surreal. I was able to smoothly fly around and turn at different angles, unlike with a regular mouse where you wouldn’t easily have the ability to look at 3D objects at different perspectives. I was able to easily move and up and down the screen without any issues. On a regular mouse you can only use the scroll wheel to zoom in or pull back to see different views and you really can’t position yourself as well as you can with the Navigator. Forget about it on a laptop touch pad, it’s twice as hard. Either way I had a blast flying all over the world and it felt like it was a more immersive and fluid experience using Google Earth with the SpaceNavigator for Notebooks than compared to using a regular mouse.
Google Earth addicts will enjoy using the SpaceNavigator for Notebooks a lot. The SpaceNavigator for Notebooks also works with other popular applications like Photoshop CS3, Google Sketch-up and Adobe Reader. Personally I’m hoping that they’ll have support for Adobe After Effects in the future, and to their credit 3DConnexion is constantly adding new supported software. They say that they work with the software developer to ensure that their 3D mice are thoroughly supported and it shows. If you work and travel with 3D design software, we imagine this to be a must have, otherwise the SpaceNavigator feels like a luxury item.
This 3D mouse is perfect for those who work in 3D worlds. Autocad professionals, game developers, or those who are just 3D enthusiasts. There is a list of software compatible in Linux, Windows, and Mac for the SpaceNavigator here. Shortly Second Life will release version 1.20, which will support the device and add a whole new dimension to 3D interactive worlds. You will easily be able to glide your Avatar through environments and perform hard to remember keyboard commands that can easily be done with the SpaceNavigator. For $129.00, the SpaceNavigator for Notebooks is not sooo much pricier than some of the other fancier wireless mice out which can do much less, consider it the mouse of the future.
The Good: Simple to Install and use. Even this beginner was having fun 1 minute into it.
The Bad: Not very light to travel with. Will probably stay a industry mouse until more mainstream software becomes 3D based and is supported by 3DConnexion.