Review of 3D Connexion’s SpacePilot Pro


A funny thing happened on the way to the review……… I have been planning on writing this review for a couple weeks now, but something always came up to put it off. I had set aside yesterday afternoon as the latest of the scheduled writing times, but an email problem on my web server stole that time.

So I rescheduled for today, and the family settled in to watch the next episode of the Making Stuff series of Nova. This particular episode was Making Stuff: Smaller. In the beginning there was some cool stuff about making transistors smaller and other such wizardry, but the segment that caught my eye was the one on the eye robot –a robot that is injected into, and navigates around in, an eyeball! And they were using a SpaceNavigator (one step down from the SpacePilot) to steer the bazillameter long robot!

Check it out for yourself………..the segment starts at about 3:58, and if you pay attention, you will see the SpaceNavigator on the desk in the background throughout the segment, but at 7:42 they show the show’s host David Pogue using the SpaceNavigator to control the robot……..inside an eyeball!

Watch Making Stuff: Smaller on PBS. See more from NOVA.

 My guess is that Dr. Bradley Nelson and his team are using a 3D mouse to steer their robot is because it is the only way to fluidly navigate in 3D. Would you trust a doctor operating on your eyeball with the clumsy “orbit” tools you’ll find in any 3D program? I think not……..and once you decide a 3D mouse is for you, 3D Connexion is the obvious path to go down –at least for people who have done their research.

I have personally owned a SpacePilot since they first came out in 2005, and have used it daily (except while on the road consulting), until today. Today I am stepping up to the Pro unit –not because the old one doesn’t work, it works the same as when I bought it. What I am hoping for, is better ergonomics and easier access to the added features such as the Intelligent Function Keys. On with the review…


Where I live, we seem to get a lot of broken, bent, or dented merchandise (odd but all too true), but I opened up the SpacePilot Pro’s box to find the unit well packaged and in perfect condition. As a long time 3D Connexion customer, I’ve come to expect  a quality product and the first impression bore that out. The unit was in a hard shell, but not one of those wielded together shell from hell’s that takes dynamite to open. Just a round piece of tape on either side between you and your machine. Sweet. The unit was completely covered in anti-scratch film where needed as one would expect, and with that removed, the mouse was in pristine condition. So far, so good.





Outside the box

The first thing I noticed was that the USB cord was just long enough to make it to the USB port on the back of the computer. The old one was nearly twice as long (I always thought it was too long). In the end, I guess there is no perfect cord length, so it is what it is. I do believe these things use too much juice to ever be conveniently cordless, so I doubt that will happen soon…..but the way batteries are evolving, you never know.


The 3D Connexion WorkFlow Assistant

 Next came installation. I expected the new mouse to be recognized by the already installed software and drivers, but that was not the case. I had to uninstall the current version then reinstall it to get the unit recognized. I needed to update my driver anyway so not a big deal…………. As I am typing this, email are coming in, and I can see them filing in one by one in the SpacePilot Pro’s WorkFlow Assistant (the 1 ½” x 2” color LCD screen). Very nice to keep an eye on email without having Outlook taking up screen space!


 Another thing that is immediately noticeable with the SpacePilot Pro –or any of the other 3D connexion mice for that matter, is their weight. They are surprisingly heavy for their size……. but that is all part of the design. Their heft allows you to push and pull on them without them moving around. It also has the added benefit of making the product feel stronger –like you are buying something that will last.

So….wrapping things up, so-far the SpacePilot Pro ships well, looks swell, has a medium length cord, and it has a sleekness that is unexpectedly yet pleasantly rooted by its heft. It frees up screen space by putting your inbox at your fingertips, and can steer a robotic dart inside of an eyeball. Damn fine start.

In part two of this review, I’ll show you how 3D mice work, and post a video showing how sweet it is to zoom around a large 3D model in Autodesk Inventor. We will talk about the productivity gain (mo money) you get from a 3D mouse –with an ROI generally in less than a month!

There will likely be several more to follow that —have I told you my daughter has been using a SpaceNavigator since she was six? I’ll have to go there. Until then…


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