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Perfect for flying through 3D apps like Google Earth
A mouse never feels quite right controlling 3D applications. Designers usually have to click many times—or enter elaborate multikey commands—to angle the perspective just right. The SpaceNavigator for Notebooks is a great 3D controller because it moves in all of the directions you might want to go in order to manipulate a digital object or scene. With this device, a quick twist or nudge feels more natural than using mouse-clicks and key commands.
The small bulb is built around a springy core and weighted base. Even with a range of movement, the controller typically stayed planted in the same spot while we bowed, twisted, and pushed the top to control what was onscreen. Designed for mobile users, this controller is slightly smaller than 3Dconnexion’s others, but it still feels substantial in your hand. And while the device doesn’t move too far in any direction, it freely nods in more directions than a bobblehead doll. Like a traditional joystick, the SpaceNavigator moves four ways. It can be pushed down, lifted up, and twisted. It even responds to sliding commands in four directions, where the top stays parallel with the base, but the bulb juts out a short distance, like an overbite.
All of these movements control most of the popular Mac 3D design apps, including ArchiCAD, Blender, Maya, Poser, form-Z, and VectorWorks. We first tried it in Google SketchUp, controlling all angles of the world while building quick models with a mouse. This two-handed technique makes that construction much quicker than without the controller. A handful of other programs recognize the device, including Acrobat Reader, Fledermaus, Second Life, and TurboSketch. We panned and zoomed through QTVR scenes in QuickTime Player and flew through Google Earth by bending the SpaceNavigator. We even tried panning and zooming in Photoshop, and twisting the bulb to change the diameter of brushes. Even in that 2D program, this sort of functionality felt more effective—and faster—than using the keyboard or an onscreen palette.
But the SpaceNavigator’s biggest drawback is that it limits you to 3Dconnexion-supported software. After seeing how well it works with Photoshop, we’d like to be able to use it as a jog/shuttle wheel in Final Cut Pro, for example, or even pan and zoom in Firefox or Safari. User-created settings are severely limited, essentially letting you configure only the device’s two side-mounted buttons as substitute key presses. And it won’t work as a mouse in a pinch, either.
The bottom line. While wider software support could make the SpaceNavigator for notebooks a unique device to control all kinds of programs, for 3D designers it easily beats other input devices as-is.
REQUIREMENTS: 1GHz G4, Dual Core, or Intel Core Duo processor or better; Mac OS 10.4.6 or later; 512MB RAM
Effectively controls 3D programs with minimal effort. Works with a variety of the most popular software.
Users can’t readily configure control for unsupported applications