updated 05:10 pm EDT, Wed April 9, 2008
First Look: SpaceNavigator
For most people, a mouse or trackpad is all they need to choose commands or navigate their way around a user interface. However, for anyone involved in computer-aided design (CAD), architecture, engineering and construction (AEC), geographic information systems (GIS), or any other application that offers a 3D interface, an ordinary mouse or trackpad may be too clumsy to use, requiring multiple clicks just to do a simple task. For those who need a more intuitive way to navigate through 3D interfaces, 3dconnexion offers a mouse specifically designed for laptops, called the SpaceNavigator.
The SpaceNavigator consists of a heavy base and a knob that you can rotate, push down, pull up, or tilt in any direction, giving you a more natural way to maneuver a 3D object on the screen. The device plugs into a USB port, and comes with a traveling case to make it easy to carry with your laptop. It is both Windows- and Mac OS X-compatible.
Before you can use the SpaceNavigator, you must configure it for your computer by installing the appropriate drivers. Unlike most programs, the SpaceNavigator installation process is longer, explaining various features of the SpaceNavigator as you go along so you can take full advantage of all the unit's features.
After you finish installing and configuring the mouse, you can start using the device in any of 120 supported applications. If you lack one of the commercial applications the SpaceNavigator supports, you may want to try using the unit with Google Earth (http://earth.google.com) or Microsoft's Virtual Earth (http://local.live.com).
Both sites let you view the planet and zoom down to visit individual cities. Once you get down to the city level, you'll see computer-generated buildings that you can zoom through as if you were flying through the actual landscape.
Like learning a regular mouse for the first time, using the SpaceNavigator takes a while to get used to; once you get familiar with its various features though, you'll soon find yourself zooming, scrolling, rotating, and flying through any 3D interface. Perhaps as a testament to the SpaceNavigator's abilities, flying through a 3D depiction of your favorite city can seem so realistic that you may even experience a bit of motion sickness as buildings whiz by.
The SpaceNavigator isn't a must-have device for everyone, but if navigating through a 3D interface has gotten too frustrating on other controllers, then the $129 SpaceNavigator is an inexpensive and handy device that can make 3D navigation much simpler and fun. Its small size, low weight, traveling case and ability to work with multiple operating systems through a USB port means you can employ the device on multiple computers. For manipulating 3D objects on the screen, the SpaceNavigator can definitely be a time-saver.