I was given a Space Navigator at no charge with the understanding that I would post my thoughts here on GEH.
What is it?
Or better, what is it not? The SpaceNavigator (SN) is not a substitute for the regular computer mouse. It is a 3D-motion-controller for circumnavigating in 3D-applications like Google Earth, Google SketchUp or NASA World Wind, but also for applications like Blender or AutoCAD (all together about 100 applications). It works in the combination with the usual computer mouse.
The device provides 6 degrees of freedom
- move right / left
- altitude (up / down)
Recommended system requirements
The SN likes to work with Windows 2000, Windows XP x86 / x64, Windows® Vista x86 / x64, Mac OS X 10.4.6 or greater, Linux Redhat Enterpise Linux WS 3, SuSE 9.0 or greater.
Out of the box
The SN comes with a box of about 15 x 15 x 10 cm, which includes the SpaceNavigator, one Quick Start Guide in English for Windows®, one for Mac OS and one for UNIX and Linux and a CD-ROM with drivers, demos and tools.
The SpaceNavigator itself is a pretty heavy (about 500 gr), round device with a diameter of about 8 cm and a height of 5 cm. Its socket is made of stainless steel with a ring of rubber preventing the device moving unintendedly on the desktop. The upper part is dominated by the black plastic controller. Between socket and the controller is a ring of blue light illuminated by internal LED. This ring indicates, that the SN is plugged in and the driver is started. If someone doesn't like the illumination, the LED can be switched off by the software. Between the socket and the plastic are two buttons (one right, one left) like mouse buttons. Both buttons are programmable. The cable with the USB-plug is about 170 cm long.
My first impression is that it is a solidly assembled hardware in good quality.
First you place the SN on the opposite side of the keyboard to where the mouse is placed. Next the required software must be installed from CD-ROM. The installation started by autorun is guided by an installation wizzard. Probably I made a mistake, but when I installed the software, I was asked if an online search for updates is wanted. I answered yes, but nothing actually happened. No software was installed (and no software was updated). Anyway, I did the installation once again and initiated the online update after all software modules were installed.
When 3DxWare icon appears in the systray, the driver is started. If not, start the driver in Start → all programs → 3DConnexions → Start driver. Now you can start e.g. Google Earth and circumnavigate the globe.
By pressing the right button, the control panel opens.
The device allows navigating in 6 degrees of freedom. Even if this sounds confusing, it is pretty easy to fly around in Google Earth. Once Google Earth is started and you can easily fly in Alps or the Rocky Mountains by following movements. From the default view down to the globe, you dive down to earth by pressing the controller. At the preferred altitude tilt back the controller to get view to the horizon. Now push it forward and the flight begins. Change direction by moving the controller more to the right or left or turn the view by turning the controller. All motions are very smooth. It is very easy to use. If you are lost and you wish to reset the direction and tilt, use press the left button.
The confusing navigating by the Google Earth control panel is needless; all can be done by the SpaceNavigator.
Youtube video - SpaceNavigator Demo
Use with Blender
The SpaceNavigator does also work with Blender, an open source 3D rendering software. Unfortunately the SN can't be used out of the box with Blender. As Blender has a huge community and even books describes the pros of this device, I'd recommend to implement the Blender plug-in in the installation routine.
To get the SN run with Blender, you first have to download the plug-in from the 3DConnexion-Site. Some phantasy is needed to find it. You won't find it at support → driver download. The plug-ins are hidden at Solutions → Blender. The installation of the plug-in is pretty easy (move file in plug-in folder).
From my point of view using SN with Blender isn't as easy as with Google Earth, but it is definitely a great help when designing 3D-objects with Blender. It just needs more training than with Google Earth.
Youtube video - 3Dconnexion SpaceNavigator and Blender
How much is it?
Here in Germany the SpaceNavigator Personal Edition (for not commercial use, only online support) costs 59,00 € incl. VAT (appr. $75,00). The Standard Edition (including hotline support) costs 99,00 € (appr. $125,00). Referring to Amazon in the USA the Personal Edition costs $49,00 (appr. 39,00 €).
The SpaceNavigator is a great help when you have to navigate in 3D applications like the ones mentioned above. Where the (2D) computer mouse has its limits, there comes the SpaceNavigator out of the light. It is pretty easy to use and pretty easy to install.
As mentioned above I wish the plug-ins would be implemented in the installation routine.
Even if the device has a rubber ring to fix the SN on the desktop, when the controller is moved to its extreme positions, the SN slides a little bit. It needs to be fixed by at least one finger pressing it down.
For people working a lot with 3D applications like Google Earth, I'd say the SpaceNavigator is a must have. It isn't much more expensive than a quality computer mouse.
For people just working from time to time with application like this, the SpaceNavigator isn't probably worth it.