Hardware review: 3Dconnexion SpaceMouse Pro
Rob Redman gets to grips with the latest controller from 3Dconnexion, which offers natural navigation for 3D artists
Price: £249 / $299 / €299
Requires: Windows / Mac OS X
- Six degrees of freedom manipulator
- Quick access buttons for views
- Intelligent function keys
- Ergonomic design
- On-screen menus (Windows only)
- Virtual number pad (Windows only)
Personally, I’m not a fan of the mouse. I can see its benefits: it’s cheap, easy to use and reasonably precise. However, it doesn’t feel like second nature to use one, and it’s not natural or comfortable to use for more than a few minutes at a time. This is why I now use a tablet and keyboard shortcuts for almost everything.
I remain open-minded, though, and have also taken to using an Apple Magic Trackpad with keyboard shortcuts for general computer use. These two methods of navigating are great for screen work in two dimensions, but neither of them (nor the mouse) translate perfectly to 3D.
This is where the 3Dconnexion SpaceMouse Pro saves the day. It’s a solid yet unintrusive device that seems well built and ergonomic. I asked various differently proportioned people to try it out and they all found it comfortable. It has a variety of buttons placed sensibly around a large manipulator puck – and that’s where the real fun begins.
FREEDOM OF MOVEMENT
At first glance the puck appears to be a stumpy joystick, but this impression disappears seconds after you start using it in a 3D application. It has what the manufacturers call 6DoF, or six degrees of freedom, meaning it can be moved in different ways: twisted, tilted, pulled, pushed, lifted and depressed.
The SpaceMouse Pro is a sleek, ergonomic device that features a 6DoF sensor which enables to you navigate digital models or camera positions in 3D space
This sounds like a lot of controls to get to grips with – and it is. It takes a bit of time for it to become as unconsciously easy as using a stylus or trackpad, but once it clicks there’s no going back. It took me a week to finally let go of my keyboard: at first I was using the SpaceMouse in my left hand, the Wacom tablet with my right and jumping with my left for keyboard shortcuts.
The SpaceMouse has a number of preset and programmable buttons, all within easy reach of the puck. Standard, Shift, Control, Escape and Alt keys are within reach of your little finger, plus there are keys for jumping between viewport layouts, so navigating your scene is easy. The programmable buttons can be assigned in the device’s control panel, which can be launched from a dedicated button. If you use Windows you can have a transparent display overlaying your software as well.
The puck can be set to recognise the software you have active and will change its functions and control methods to suit, without you needing to do anything. I frequently swap from one app to another and the SpaceMouse keeps up with me. One complaint I hear from many computer (and console) users is about inverted controls. Some love them, others hate them – I’m in the hate-them camp. The SpaceMouse gives simple one-click switching in its device manager window, letting you decide how to control the scene.
The most important aspect, though, is how it feels. I was expecting the SpaceMouse to replace my Wacom, but it worked in tandem with it. The puck doesn’t so much navigate the scene as replicate picking up your object and moving it, leaving the stylus to work on the vertices, polygons, edges and menus. The best way to describe it would be like a traditional sculptor picking up a lump of clay, which would be the 3D model in the puck’s ‘hand’. The tools used to manipulate and carve the surface remained in my right hand, as they always were. After a week, it became second nature to twist or rotate the puck so I could see round the side of the model I was working on.
Aside from the time needed to acclimatise to a new working method, the only downside is the price. The SpaceMouse isn’t cheap, but it is well made and really does boost productivity after the initial bedding-in period. It also boasts a quick-access number pad, which is incredibly useful – I only list this as a con because it isn’t available to Mac users yet. However, I tried it with my secondary machine, which is running Windows, and it worked like a dream.
All in all, the SpaceMouse Pro is an impressive device. If I’d used it for just a couple of days I wouldn’t rate it so highly, because I wouldn’t have reached the turning point where everything falls into place – but now I’m not sure I could work without one.
- Comfortable even in extended use
- Quickly becomes a natural way of working
- Increases productivity
- Can be configured differently for separate applications
- The Mac version doesn’t yet support the virtual number pad and on-screen menus
Offers major benefits to productivity and comfort, and the lag in the Mac version’s features is noticeable but negligible
About the author
3D World technical editor Rob Redman is a 3D veteran with an extensive client list, including Daft Punk, Red Giant Software, Ministry of Sound and many others
on Monday, March 26th, 2012 at 12:49 pm under Hardware, Reviews.
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Tags: 3D mouse, 3Dconnexion, 6DoF, controller, programmable buttons, six degrees of freedom, SpaceMouse Pro