3Dconnexion SpaceMouse Pro

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3Dconnexion’s SpaceMouse Pro comes in any color you like, as long as its black

I’ve long been a fan of spaceball type products. I’ve owned several, from the old 2000 and 3000 series, and what I have to review today is the 3Dconnexion SpaceMouse Pro. I emailed 3Dconnexion and asked for a review unit. These guys have always been pretty liberal with their publicity programs. They are one of those companies that gives a lot of devices away at user group meetings as well. While I was talking with them about a review unit, I asked some questions about the company. Specifically, the company had been owned for a few years by Logitech, the general peripheral giant. But I had noticed recently that all 3Dconnexion devices on the Logitech site were listed as “legacy”. When I asked about company ownership, I got the answer “3Dconnexion was acquired in 2011 by a private investor that focuses on specialized companies with unique IP.” Good enough. It was a little disappointing, since I’ve long been on a quest for helpful CAD-specific mice, which I thought Logitech might be able to help with. CAD-specific hardware is one of those “be careful what you ask for” sort of deals, because with the direction of most computing devices, CAD is going to be left out of the mainstream very quickly. I’m also a big Logitech fan, with Logitech keyboard and mice. 3Dconnexion stuff has always also been well-built, solid stuff, made with great materials and sturdy construction.

spaceball-2-300x230
Even the older models made great modeling and rendering practice parts

When I was asking for the review device, I asked for what I thought was the top-of-the-line device, the SpacePilot Pro. It has a nice color LCD display, and a cool look. But  3Dconnexion didn’t really want to talk about that, and kept steering me toward the SpaceMouse Pro. The difference between the devices is about $100 retail, the ‘Mouse lacks the color LCD, and there is a more radial layout to the ‘Mouse, which I do like better. I’m a little curious why they didn’t want to send out a top-end device other than maybe they see more sales from the ‘Mouse than the ‘Pilot, or maybe they are getting ready to redesign the SpacePilot Pro.

I think these devices have always looked good. I love that every new version has an interesting take on the ergonomics issue. These have always made great modeling and rendering projects too. I have an older SpacePilot on my desk, with most of the same buttons that the ‘Mouse has. On the newer generations of products, they have that blue glow from under the puck that also adds to the visual appeal.

spaceball-1
The ergonomics have changed over the years, but great design and construction has always been a trademark

Anyway, so I have this SpaceMouse Pro on my desk. If you are familiar with other models, there is much to like about the device. The first thing you notice is that it is weighty. It holds itself down to your desk without the need for additional mats or worry that it will lift off even in your most passionate modeling sessions.

The next thing you notice is the gorgeous shape, and the radial layout of the controls. The controls are all centered on your hand placement. On some previous models, such as the SpacePilot and SpacePilot Pro, you get a more rectangular layout of the buttons. I do like the radial layout better, since it seems more ergonomic.

Material quality is another thing that you will take notice of on these devices. The center wrist pad and the puck itself are all finished with a luxuriously touchable soft touch material. This is a primary appeal for these devices, even apart from the actual function of controlling 3D displays and the location of objects in 3D space, just the materials used in 3Dconnexion’s products have always drawn me to them.

In actual use, there isn’t really much to compare these things to. You could compare view rotation with what you can do with a regular desktop mouse, but the ability to control the view with one hand while making selections with the other hand is something you have to experience for yourself if you haven’t already. I turn the sensitivity way up on mine, to make the display react quickly to small inputs. With a spaceball, you just cruise around your model fluidly.

11For people who are used to visualization in 3D, it shouldn’t take much if any effort to get used to using a spaceball. They pretty much work the way you think, controlling all 6 degrees of freedom. You can also limit it to just changing along one axis at a time, for example, only rotating about X, then move along Y, and so forth. It eliminates most of the finger dances you have to do on a standard mouse to drag with various buttons held down, and such. I use my spaceball in connection with a Kensington trackball, which gives me a very ergonomic work area.

But rotating the display is not the only thing you can use a spaceball for. You can also move individual parts in the assembly with it, or move views on a drawing, or even scroll the FeatureManager with it. The software makes it a very versatile device. And it’s not just limited to working with SolidWorks. I’ve used mine with Solid Edge, Autodesk products, Sketchup, Rhino, and I’m sure many other 3D software products. Beyond the 3D capabilities, something I don’t use as much as I should  is the selection of buttons around the puck. You’ve got standard view buttons for Top, Front, Left and Right, as well as a dedicated Zoom to Fit button. It has standard keyboard modifier keys ESC, Shift, Ctrl, and Alt, as well as a button the brings up the 3Dconnexion menu, and four programmable buttons.

12Most of the time I just use the puck, but would like to get in the habit of using some of the other buttons on the device. When I’m running CAD, I usually have my right hand on my trackball, and my left hand moving between the spaceball and  hovering over the ESC key. I need to get in the habit of using the ESC key on the spaceball. This would start saving me more time. My SpacePilot has 6 programmable buttons, which can be mapped to software specific or Windows commands. I love mice with programmable buttons. I think more than anything, maybe this review will revive my interest in programmable input gadgets. I’ll definitely start using the modifier keys and the view orientation buttons more frequently on my device.

There are a couple of things that I don’t like about the software. The first is that the SolidWorks “Previous View” function doesn’t see the spaceball moves. So if you change the view with the device, the last view you can go back to is the last one you changed from with the mouse or the keyboard. The second thing is that from time to time I’ll use it to move a part that is in the correct location, but not mated. This leaves the part in a wonky position, and the Undo command doesn’t work to get it back. This one is probably the biggest problem, because there is literally nothing you can do, aside from reloading the model, or re-mating the part back into place (if that is even an option).  You can turn off the ability to move parts in an assembly, when it happens, it’s just an accident, or I’m not paying attention. Maybe they could include an option in the software maybe triggered by a button on the device for a “3Dconnection Previous View” or something. Plus, I really like the new “rotate about floor” option in SolidWorks, which I wish 3Dconnexion could copy in their software.

The SpaceMouse Pro sells for $299, and the SpacePilot Pro for $399. I’ve used the smaller SpaceNavigator (puck only), which sells for $99, but found that I really liked having the entire device.  Anyway, these are great devices.

12 Replies to “3Dconnexion SpaceMouse Pro”

  1. @Bob S.

    Hi Bob S, John from 3Dconnexion here. Sorry to hear about the peeling issue on your 3D mouse. Can you please send a mail to john_moseley at 3dconnexion dot com so we can discuss it personally? Many thanks

  2. @Normand C.

    Hi Norman, John from 3Dconnexion here. Sorry to hear about the peeling issue on your SpaceNavigator. Can you please send a mail to john_moseley at 3dconnexion dot com so we can discuss it personally? Many thanks

  3. Bob S.
    Also, in SW, there are times when model rotation with the mouse is locked-out because a dialog box is open (modify dimension value, for example).

    You made me curious and tried rotating the viewport with the mouse while editing a dimension in SW 2013. Good news – it does rotate. 🙂

  4. The rubber has peeled off mine as well. I think they use a soft touch paint over the ABS which is always a bad idea or products like this. However the alternative – over moulding the elastomer – is not cheap either. This does offer a far better finish though as the materials are chemically bonded and thicker than a paint finish. Don’t understand why they don’t do this for such a expensive device.

  5. @Normand C.
    Same peeling thing happened to mine. Poor choice of materials/finish. I also think the internal springs may be wearing out because I find the motion gets erratic. I often have to “zoom to fit” to clear it up or recalibrate the device. I still like the device though.

    Also, in SW, there are times when model rotation with the mouse is locked-out because a dialog box is open (modify dimension value, for example). The 3D mouse still works in these cases allowing you to rotate/zoom to view model changes without having to close the dialog. This is a big advantage I don’t see mentioned much.

  6. Matt, I have one of the buttons on my space explorer mapped to the “S” key, one to bring up the “number pad”, one to “ESC”, one for “Enter” and finally one for “Delete”.

    This combination really makes for less hand travel between the space explorer and the keyboard but takes some practise initially.

  7. I’ve had a SpaceNavigator for a few years (bottom of the line), it’s great value, but there’s a big weakness: the rubber film that covers the “knob” pealed off where I hold it with my fingers in a manner of months, revealing the same smooth and slippery surface as the top cap.

    Since I don’t kill guitar strings that fast, I don’t think I have highly acidic hands…

    I’d wager they use the exact same knob on all their products, which makes me think I’d be annoyed as hell seeing that quick a degradation over $300 worth of computer hardware.

  8. David,
    I have a SpacePilotPro using SolidWorks and the center of rotation dynamically updates in relation to where I’m zoomed in to. It’s a feature that was added to the SPP’s software a couple of years ago and makes moving around so much sweeter.

  9. David :As far as i understood one can’t choose the rotating point in SW.

    David, you can select a face, edge or vertex with the regular mid mouse button and that will become the reference for rotating the viewport. Not sure how it works with the 3D Mouse.

  10. Hi there,
    I have one of these; i’m pretty happy with it, but I work with Catia.
    How’s the feeling with SW?
    I mean, with Catia, one makes middle click in any part of the solid and everything rotates around this point. When you are far from this point it gets annoying to work with.
    As far as i understood one can’t choose the rotating point in SW
    cheers,

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