The best way to soar through Google Earth or to do serious 3D graphics work is with a 3D mouse. And the SpaceNavigator for Notebooks is an effective solution for doing exactly that on the go. Its $129 price may give some pause, but this more portable version of the original SpaceNavigator will be welcome for designers--and anyone else who appreciates 3D navigation.
Design and Ergonomics
The SpaceNavigator for Notebooks is a circular nub that looks similar to the original SpaceNavigator, but at 1.8 inches tall and 2.7 inches wide, it's a smidge smaller. It's also about half the weight of its predecessor. The 8.8-ounce device isn't exactly pocket friendly, but Photoshop and AutoCAD users who want a 3D mouse to take on the road will have no problem fitting this accessory in their notebook case.
Much like the original SpaceNavigator, the smaller notebook model lets you pan left and right as well as move forward or backward along a 2D axis by twisting or pushing the wheel. You can also pull up the wheel to zoom out and push it down to zoom in. The smooth, rubber-coated central dongle has a soft glide to it when pushed in any direction, and it has a sleek metal base with glowing blue accents to distinguish it from a paperweight. There is also a right-click button at the top of the unit, which was easy to press with our middle finger, and an easily accessible left-click button right where our thumb rested.
We installed the new SpaceNavigator in less than 5 minutes; we just had to plug in the USB cable and install a small software package called 3DxWare from the included CD. The device, which is designed to be used in conjunction with a regular mouse, requires about a five-minute learning curve. Once you learn how to pan and zoom, you'll have it down. Keep in mind that you'll need to have the unit's cord facing away from you; otherwise the navigation will be backward. On our tests, the SpaceNavigator was comfortable for both right-handed people and southpaws.
Once our unit was installed, we launched Google Earth and Microsoft Live Search Maps. The SpaceNavigator's weight was enough to keep it on the desk when we pulled on the unit to zoom out of New York City and fly across the globe into Cairo in Google Earth. We had fun using Microsoft Live Search Maps, surfing from the bottom of Manhattan, through the city's skyscrapers, up to our office building on Broadway. Once we got used to it, we were able to navigate the 3D city environment more quickly and easily than when we used a traditional mouse. Architects or city planners could find great use in exploring a city quickly with the SpaceNavigator.
Second Life Gaming
The SpaceNavigator for Notebooks mouse is currently supported by Second Life Release Candidate 1.20.0. We booted up Second Life with our mouse plugged in, and we found it incredibly easy to zoom around with the SpaceNavigator. We were able to zoom up into the sky by pulling on the center knob and zoom back down by pressing on the knob. To walk around, you simply need to push forward and twist. It's very intuitive, and we appreciated the ease of use.
At $129, the SpaceNavigator for Notebooks is an expensive peripheral, but if you're a 3D professional--or even an enthusiast--you'll appreciate the build quality, portability, and ease of use this high-tech input device delivers.