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First Look: SpaceNavigator, 3D mouse

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 ( or Microsoft's Virtual Earth (

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.

by MacNN Staff



  1. danviento

    Joined: Dec 1969


    As a CAD/3D guy

    I'd have to try this out before forming an opinion on it. For the time being, I can use key-hold combos with a the Mac's trackpad if I want to operate in 3D, or even use the extra buttons my mice have, but it'd be nice to be able to execute a command or draw in a direction while changing the three-dimensional view.

    If it's in a local computer store, I might want to check it out.

  1. akimball

    Joined: Dec 1969



    I'm an Electrical Engineer. I have TWO SpaceNavigators right now. I love them. One of them is installed on my Mac (my personal home computer), and the other is installed on my Windoze XP machine (needed for CAD work at my day job).

    I realize that while in an SPECIFIC applications, this works as a "3D Mouse", you should be very very careful comparing these things to a "mouse or trackpad" since, THEY DO NOT WORK IN THE FINDER (mac OS) nor do they work as a "regular mouse" for every application under Windoze either.

    This device is great when in a CAD program for zooming, moving and rotations... don't get me wrong, but there is no driver at this time for "regular mouse" capabilities. You MUST HAVE A MOUSE or TRACKPAD.

    This is NOT a replacement for a mouse. Every article about that thing, especially those that use the word "mouse" should make that clear.

  1. Mimi-mim

    Joined: Dec 1969


    This looks fantastic

    I hope it encourages more work on three-dimensional user interfaces for operating systems. I've think the current generation of two-dimensional interfaces -- where everything is presented on flat sheet "window" panes -- could be replaced in a decade or two if we can find an intuitive three-dimensional interface. Perhaps something like a desk with stuff on it, where you reach out and grab your files off the desk. Though who knows. Good 3D interfaces are extremely difficult to design. We have the technology to see and work in three dimensions: now all we need is to find a way to make it work.

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