CAD Like a Jet Pilot: Review of the SpaceMouse Pro Wireless
Steven Schain posted on May 09, 2019 |

The SpaceMouse Pro Wireless. (Image courtesy of 3Dconnexion.)

Viewing a complex 3D model on a 2D screen is inherently clunky and awkward. This not only makes navigation difficult, but it can also significantly reduce productivity. What users need is a tool that lets them maneuver through 3D space as intuitively as they do with a traditional 2D mouse.And this is exactly the niche that the SpaceMouse, 3Dconnexion’s line of 3D controllers, now occupies.

3Dconnexion has a good reputation for creating 3D interface devices for CAD and visualization software that prioritize an intuitive user experience. I have long used a SpaceMouse device and, over the years, have come to view it as my 3D design secret weapon. So, of course, I was excited to take the SpaceMouse Pro Wireless, a true 6-degree-of-freedom input device, out for a test-drive.

The SpaceMouse Pro Wireless is the latest in a long line of successful devices developed by 3Dconnexion, which was founded in 1993. The current product lineup includes the SpaceMouse Enterprise, with its LCD display; the SpaceMouse Pro; SpaceMouse Pro Wireless; and their smaller siblings, SpaceMouse Wireless (the model I use in my personal setup) and SpaceMouse Compact.

Overview

For those who have not experienced the SpaceMouse line of 3D interface devices, the controllers provide users with the full freedom to move around in a digital 3D world. There are virtually no limitations on position and rotation within the environment. While the SpaceMouse really stands out in 3D applications, it can also be used to zoom, scroll the page view up and down, and access other functions in 2D programs, documents and browsers.

The SpaceMouse Pro Wireless with accessories. (Image courtesy of 3Dconnexion.)

From the first look, it’s clear that 3Dconnexion prioritizes quality and a good user experience. The box contains everything you need to connect the device to your PC, including:

  • The SpaceMouse Pro Wireless
  • A carrying case
  • A universal receiver
  • A twin-port USB hub
  • Two USB cables: one a half meter long, and the other one-and-a-half meters long

The SpaceMouse Pro Wireless’ patented 6-Degrees-of-Freedom (6DoF) sensor allows you to push, pull, twist and tilt the controller to pan, zoom and orbit your point of view, as well as manipulate geometry. In addition to the sensor, there are 15 programmable keys.

A close-up view of the controller’s 15 programmable buttons. (Image courtesy of 3Dconnexion.)

At the top of the device, you’ll find four easily accessible custom buttons. Users can program these buttons according to their preferences and most commonly used commands. On the left of the controller base are four keyboard modifier buttons that provide direct access to the Shift, Alt, Control, and Escape commands. Below the keyboard modifiers is a programmable menu button, which can be customized to open a menu of your choosing in your current application.

The right side of the control knob hosts the QuickView keys, which provide up to 12 distinct views that enable users to quickly change views for modeling and part examination. The rotation toggle key turns the rotation axis of the controller off and on for times when you want to limit your motion to panning and zooming. This can come in handy when you’re working on drawings that don’t require you to orbit or rotate the viewpoint.

Specifications

Features:

  • Controller: 3Dconnexion’s patented 6DoF sensor
  • 15 programmable keys, including four intelligent function keys

Dimensions and Weight:

  • 8inx 5.6in x 2.3in (LxWxH)
  • SpaceMouse Pro Wireless: 1.24lb

Wireless and Battery:

  • 3Dconnexion 2.4 GHz wireless technology
  • Battery life: approximately two months (based on 8 hours use per day, 5 days per week)
  • Rechargeable lithium-ion battery

Warranty:

  • 3 years

Operating systems supported:

  • Microsoft Windows, Mac OS, Linux

Software:

Cost:

  • $329.00

Installation

Setting up the 3Dconnexion SpaceMouse Pro Wireless controller was quick and easy. After downloading the latest driver from the 3Dconnexion website and installing it, I just had to plug in the universal receiver. However, since I already had a universal receiver from my SpaceMouse Wireless, it was even easier. I was able to simply add the SpaceMouse Pro Wireless to the universal receiver through the installed 3DxWare control panel.

3Dconnexion’s control panel for adding additional wireless controllers and button customization. (Image courtesy of 3Dconnexion.)

The two-port USB hub and the two additional USB cables that come with the receiver are a nice touch. This gives you a great deal of versatility with the placement of your universal receiver, and is especially nice if the computer you’re plugging the receiver into isn’t next to the SpaceMouse Pro Wireless controller (like in a conference room or customer demo).

Once the hardware is installed and configured, I recommend customizing the controller buttons to fit your workflow and application needs. It may take some time, but it will pay some serious dividends in productivity upgrades. The customization is done through the 3Dconnexion Control Panel. One very important thing to note is that you must have the application open to customize the buttons. For example, if you want to customize the buttons for use in Autodesk Inventor, you must first launch the program. Once I was done customizing my controller buttons, I was off and running.

Battery and Charging

According to 3Dconnexion, depending on usage, the battery life in the SpaceMouse Pro Wireless is about two months. Since I only had the mouse for about a week, I have not been able to fully verify this claim. But I received the device with about a 40 percent charge, and after using it in the evenings for some moderate design work, the charge dropped just 8 percent over the course of a week. While you would want to turn the device off when it’s not in use, this charge reduction rate seems to indicate a wireless peripheral that lasts long enough to use full-time, five days a week, for the promised two-month period.

When it comes to charging the device, you can simply plug it into the USB port on your computer. Or, as in my setup, you can plug it into a charging port on a powered USB hub. Even if you do run the device down to 0 percent, you can simply plug the SpaceMouse into the USB port for use while it charges. Plus, charging does not take a long time. In five minutes of charging using a 5V 2.1A USB charging port, the battery increased from 32 percent to 38 percent.

Putting the SpaceMouse to Use

I’ve already had experience with the 3Dconnexion SpaceMouse Wireless, the much smaller and more portable version of the SpaceMouse Pro Wireless. So it didn’t take any time to become acclimated to using the SpaceMouse in Autodesk inventor 2020. The basic navigation experience, however, was one of the only things the two had in common.

The smaller SpaceMouse only has two programmable buttons, compared to 15 on the Pro version. However, unless you want to overwrite the functions of the keyboard modifiers or the QuickView keys, you really only have four additional buttons. If you want more, you have to upgrade to the SpaceMouse Pro Enterprise version, which has 12 programmable buttons and a full-color LCD screen that shows you which commands those buttons are linked to. For my use, I changed the first button to one of the radial menu options, and left the other three programmable buttons at their default settings for the 3D Modeling environment in Autodesk Inventor (Right Mouse Pro Part Quad, Fillet, Hole).

Showing RM tools radial menu on screen. (Image courtesy of 3Dconnexion.)

Using the SpaceMouse to navigate around models and assemblies is, for the most part, smooth and easy. There is one small caveat, however. If you rest your hand on the controller, just the slightest pressure will change your point of view, and even seasoned users will occasionally find themselves lost. But this is where the rotation lock and fit buttons can be extremely helpful. The axial rotation lock will keep you from orbiting around the model by limiting you to just the pan and zoom options from your current viewpoint. While this is best used for drawings, it can be extremely helpful when working in the modeling environment.

I also find the Fit button extremely helpful. In fact, I often refer to it as the “find my part” button. If I’ve taken myself off the grid by orbiting, panning or zooming myself off screen and can’t find my way back, I can simply press Fit and zoom to my model. This can save countless hair follicles. I sure wish my mouse had this feature years ago!

The axial rotation lock and fit buttons. (Image courtesy of 3Dconnexion.)

The axial rotation lock and fit buttons. (Image courtesy of 3Dconnexion.)

Wrapping It Up

Since it began producing 3D navigation devices in 1993, 3Dconnexion has sold over a million of them. Over the years, the company has continued to produce one of the highest-quality 3D input devices on the market. And it has continually refined and enhanced each generation of 3D mouse. With superb form and function, easy navigation, and a smooth software user interface, the SpaceMouse Pro Wireless is a perfect example of this continued evolution.

While I have deservedly heaped quite a bit of praise on the SpaceMouse Pro Wireless, I do have to bring up one little quibble: the device’s size. I don’t have a lot of desktop space available in my home office, and this mouse is certainly not small. That said, it’s a rock-solid design. The combined productivity-enhancing navigation and array of shortcut buttons make the SpaceMouse Pro Wireless a tool that every 3D CAD user should have on their desk.


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