3D Connexion has to date shipped over 1 million devices to CAD enthusiasts across the globe. Their SpaceMouse, SpaceNavigator and SpacePilot series support over 200 CAD applications. Those are staggering statistics to digest!
With their latest offering, the SpaceMouse Pro Wireless, they claim you can use the device 8 hours a day for 2 months without charge. A bold claim and one which we decided to test to the fullest.
I was expecting a bevy of cables, booklets and CDs to come with the device but in fact you get a small USB receiver, two cables and a USB hub. That is it! The only instructions are 5 illustrated steps. Plug in, turn on, download drivers, install and train. No 100 page manual, no strict 'follow this to the letter' warnings. Plug and play....almost.
First impressions are....it's big and heavy. To give you a sense of its size I took a picture of the SpaceMouse Pro Wireless resting on my forearm. So if desk real estate is an issue for you then go buy a bigger desk.
The SpaceMouse doesn't replace your mouse. It acts as a portal into modeling zen! A tool to boost your productivity and improve your design experience.
Firstly, the setup was quick and the installation was easy. just grab the latest driver from the site and install. The actual download is over 100mb. Understandable considering the volume of applications it has to support. After install you get to calibrate your device. Do some training tutorials to learn the device. All nice to have but I skipped all the training. I wanted to get down and dirty in SketchUp right off the bat.
Right out of the box the SpaceMouse Pro wireless is 'SketchUp Ready'. Its 15 programmable buttons are already set and you are basically free to get used to its patented 6-degrees-of-freedom (6DoF) controller cap. So in terms of fast setup it scores 10/10.
What it does?
The most basic principle to understanding a 3D navigation device like the SpaceMouse is that it is not intended to replace your mouse. It is meant to compliment the interaction of mouse and 3D space.
Imagine being able to reach into your SketchUp workspace and manipulate the objects with your hand. That is the only way to describe the experience of using a SpaceMouse. The 6DoF controller cap represents that type of hands on manipulation.
While you continue to use your mouse as a means of instructing SketchUp, the SpaceMouse allows you to orchestrate the viewing and modeling experience. It is a very natural setup after a few hours, having 2 hands occupied. In fact, it is exactly that 2-handed operation that results in the boost in productivity.
It is often overlooked, or even considered, that the SpaceMouse series are meant to replace your mouse. That is certainly not the case. The SpaceMouse eliminates the repetitive and 'mouse-killing' activity that CAD design causes.
The 6DOF cap is the meat and potatoes of all 3DConnexion devices. What separates the SpaceMouse Pro from it's smaller brethren(the SpaceMouse Wireless) is the added functionality of the programmable buttons.
As mentioned, it has 15 programmable buttons which are laid out efficiently. These can be customized to your needs and I found after a week of use I had most of the config changed to my particular modeling style. Having a button for undo and explode makes life so much easier in SketchUp! But you can pretty much assign whatever you want wherever you want.
There is also an added feature of some onscreen Virtual Pads and Radial Menus that are application specific and customisable too. Plus you can even build out your own Macros. In terms of getting your device to suit your style the SpaceMouse Pro offers total control.
What are others saying?
SpaceMouse Pro user and CG Artist, Kim Frederik, had this to say about his time with 3D Connexion devices....
It's a fantastic tool! Even when it's standing here on my desk it looks good. The SpaceMouse Pro has been a pleasure to work with from day one.
Apart from SketchUp, I use PhotoShop several times during the week and, to my big surprise, you can use the SpaceMouse with PhotoShop where you can race around and zoom in and out. Thea Render Studio is another of the tools I'm using frequently, where the SpaceMouse makes it easier for me to position the cameras.
With a regular mouse, you’re constantly scrolling and moving your arm, with the SpaceMouse Pro, you can easily navigate in a model [and] you have some handy keyboard shortcuts right where you need them.
Cost is negligible considering the time it saves you when modeling. Time is money after all.
Creative Designer, Donna Clifford Martinez, uses her SpaceMouse Wireless everyday...
The SpaceMouse is so natural to use. As a creative I find myself jumping between SketchUp, Blender, Photoshop and numerous other apps. The SpaceMouse seamlessly adapts in each environment.
When I teach designers they are immediately attracted to the device and find viewing scenes navigated by a SpaceMouse 100x clearer than stop start effect you get with a mouse.
The Look and Feel
The SpaceMouse Pro Wireless looks great but more importantly it is comfortable to use. Anyone that uses any CAD package for long durations will know that your arm gets tired. Repetitive strain injuries are most common in the CG industry. The wrist rest gives you t he needed support that a regular mouse and pad just can't come close to mimicking.
The ergonomic design, sturdy build quality and efficient button placement make the SpaceMouse intuitive and satisfying to use. It is worth noting that the more comfortable you get using it the more productive you become.
The Verdict: 9.0
What I find most surprising about 3D Connexion devices is that many CAD users are reluctant to ditch the scroll wheel. Any worthwhile time spent using the 6DOF system reaps benefits instantly. If you ask anyone that adopts to the SpaceMouse device they tend to never look back.
What the new SpaceMouse Pro Wireless brings to the table is portability and battery life. My tests didn't quite make the 2 month mark. I found myself charging it after 5 weeks. That is still a very impressive result.
Pricewise the SpaceMouse Pro is just shy of €400. Which, for a navigation device, is hard to justify. But the rewards are apparent. If you are a serious CAD professional and need to be more productive then it is probably the best investment you will make in CAD hardware.
The SpaceMouse series brings modeling zen to your workflow. Flawless hardware for serious professionals.
Overall, the SpaceMouse Wireless is a winner. Time invested is returned tenfold. Smoothly zooming, rotating and panning through your workspace is a breeze. Multi-app support is great and the customisation of the Pro series takes it to another level.