Review: 3DConnexion Space Navigator

What’s a SpaceNavigator

I’ve had this 3D mouse for a while, and I finally got around to opening the box and giving it a try. (I think this was a giveaway from a recent SketchUp Basecamp.)

It’s called SpaceNavigator, made by 3Dconnexion, and it sells for $109. It has a sleek look:


I hear that this mouse really shines when moving around Google Earth. I haven’t tried that yet, but I did spend an hour or so using it in SketchUp.

The mouse is basically a fat, short joystick with a couple of buttons on the side. You can raise and lower the joystick, twist it in three directions, and slide (pan) left, right, up, down. After installing the software (which is very easy), there are some demos and tutorials, even a game, which get your hand used to the various movements.

What I didn’t realize at first, but soon figured out, is that the SpaceNavigator doesn’t replace your computer’s regular mouse. Trying to use the SpaceNavigator to move the cursor and click buttons in other programs was possible but really hard and annoying.

If you’re coordinated enough to use both hands, you should have one mouse in each hand. That’s the way I believe it’s supposed to work – navigate with SpaceMouse, all other mouse functions go with the regular mouse in the other hand. I tried that with laughable results, and now both mice are for my right hand only. Maybe I’m too old to learn new tricks. Or I needed to try longer.

Test Run

I downloaded a model from the 3D Warehouse, after searching for “furnished house.” Here’s the model I used.

After spending maybe 25-30 minutes practicing, I recorded this video of me moving through the house. Here it is at about 400% speed. I hope you don’t get too dizzy:

The nice thing here is that I didn’t have to switch between SketchUp’s native navigational tools – I just use the SpaceNavigator joystick the whole time. And you don’t have to only zoom, only pan, etc. You can combine joystick movements to both zoom and twist at the same time, etc. Though it takes some practice.


How was It?

Here are my thoughts:

  • I’ve gotten so used to using my good old three-button mouse for zooming, panning, and orbiting, and the SpaceNavigator movements at first felt foreign and non-intuitive. But after playing a bit, the mouse quickly grew more natural.
  • For years, I’ve also been using SketchUp’s Walk, Position Camera, and Look Around tools. Those took a LOT of practice as well, and I’m still not great with them. SpaceNavigator did make the fly-through a bit easier, though as you can see from the video, I did get wildly out of view a few times. It’s easy to get back though, by just reversing the previous mouse movement. It’s much harder to reverse SketchUp’s native walk-through tools.
  • You can adjust the directions and speed of the joystick, and customize the two buttons on the sides. I kept the defaults, but would probably reverse the panning motions – the default seems to be the reverse of what I expected.
  • The best use of SpaceNavigator for a model like this one would be to continually save scenes. For example, save a scene at the front door, walk through the wall, save another scene. This way, you can keep going back to the previous scene if you want to try again to navigate to the right spot. And when you have all the scenes you need, you can present a walk-through just by playing the scenes as an animation.

If anyone else has used one of these 3D mice and loved or hated it, I’d be interested to hear about it!


About Bonnie Roskes

Bonnie Roskes has been writing tutorial-style projects on 3D modeling software, primarily SketchUp, since 2001. Her website, offers a wide variety of learning materials for all ages, from kids in grade school through design professionals. Her materials cover general 3D design, 3D printing, geometry, interior design, geo-modeling, and more, and future books are in the works. Read more about Bonnie.