Logitech 3Dconnexion SpaceNavigator Review

Navigate Google Earth and SketchUp

3Dconnexion SpaceNavigator
Image courtesy 3Dconnexion

3Dconnexion, a Logitech company, produced the SpaceNavigator. It's not really a mouse, and it's not really a joystick, but it has a few qualities of both.

What Is a SpaceNavigator?

The SpaceNavigator is a "3D motion controller." It is a USB device used in conjunction with a computer mouse for navigating 3D applications, such as Google Earth and SketchUp.

Generally, you'd put the mouse in your right hand and the SpaceNavigator in your left, although it would work equally well the other way around for left-handers.

The SpaceNavigator is used for manipulating the 3D environment, such as rotating objects or panning and zooming the camera. Your mouse hand remains on your mouse for all other functions.

You could do most of those actions with your mouse hand and keystroke combinations. However, the 3D motion controller saves you time because you don't have to switch between modes to manipulate 3D space. The SpaceNavigator also gives you finer control and allows you to perform two or more actions at once. You can zoom while tilting, for example.


SpaceNavigator can use the USB 1.1 or 2.0 port on one of the following systems:


  • Intel Pentium 4/III or AMD/Athlon processor-based system
  • 140 Megabytes free disk space
  • Windows XP, Vista, or 2000


  • Intel Dual-Core or Core Duo processor based system or 1Ghz G4 or higher
  • 512MB RAM
  • 10 Megabytes free disk space
  • Mac OS X 10.4.6 or later


  • Redhat Enterprise Linux WS 3, SuSE 9.0 or greater


    Installation was fairly painless on both Windows and Macintosh computers. The installation process concludes with the Configuration Wizard with an interactive tutorial on using the SpaceNavigator.

    I usually like to skip tutorials, but this one is worth exploring. Otherwise you may not understand why your scene is tumbling out of control rather than moving in the direction you intend.

    Using the Controller

    The SpaceNavigator is a very solid device. The base is very heavy, which allows it to rest firmly on your desktop when you manipulate the top area, which resembles a fat, squat joystick.

    The SpaceNavigator controls tilt, zoom, pan, roll, rotate, and just about every other way you can manipulate a 3D object or camera. This control comes with a very steep learning curve.

    The controller differentiates between rolling the handle side to side, sliding it horizontally, and twisting it. This can get very confusing as you're learning it. Fortunately, you can disable tilt/spin/roll actions if it's too hard to avoid them. You can also slow the controller's reaction speed, if you find yourself being a bit too heavy-handed with the controls.

    The other potential piece of confusion is up/down and zoom. You can control these actions by either forward/backward slides or pulling the controller straight up and down. You can pick which direction controls which action. I tried using both arrangements. For me, pulling the controller up for zoom was easier to manage, but that's a matter of personal preference.

    Custom Functions

    In addition to the joystick control on the top, there are two custom buttons on the side of the controller.

    You can set either of these buttons up with keyboard macros, which is really handy if you're using 3D applications and find yourself constantly using the same keyboard commands.

    Navigating Google Earth

    3Dconnexion drivers should automatically install themselves the first time you launch Google Earth after installing SpaceNavigator.

    Google Earth comes to life with the SpaceNavigator. It's much easier to fly around the globe and move in two directions at once. I don't think it was a coincidence that Google installed SpaceNavigators at the Google Earth demos for SIGGRAPH 2007. When you're using the SpaceNavigator, it really does feel like you're flying.


    Navigating SketchUp

    Like Google Earth, the drivers should install themselves the first time you launch Google SketchUp. This worked on both the Macintosh and Windows Vista machine I tested.

    If you are a heavy user of SketchUp, you really do need some sort of navigation device. Otherwise, it gets very annoying to switch between orbit mode and object manipulation.

    With a SpaceNavigator, you're always in orbit mode with one hand, so you can easily switch your vantage point without switching tools.

    I did have to lower the reaction speed for the controller to use it in SketchUp. Otherwise, I found myself getting seasick with the rapid motion and losing track of objects.

    The 3Dconnexion software lets you change the controller reaction speed on an individual application basis, which is a really nice feature. Slowing down SketchUp did not slow down Maya or Google Earth. 

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    Beyond the Google Applications

    I also tried SpaceNavigator with Autodesk Maya, and it performed well. With Maya, I'm used to navigating with just a three-button mouse, so it took a bit to get used to navigating with my other hand. The results were more precise, and I liked being able to mix motions and pan while zooming or tilting.

    If I were buying a 3D mouse for use with Maya or other high end 3D applications, I would probably upgrade to a model like the SpaceExplorer with more buttons for more macros.

    However, for a student, the SpaceNavigator is much more affordable.

    SpaceNavigator is compatible with a long list of other 3D applications, mostly for Windows users.


    The SpaceNavigator has a suggested retail price of $59 for personal use and $99 for commercial use. The commercial "SE" edition also comes with more technical support.

    There also a more compact version of the SpaceNavigator, called the SpaceTraveler. I'd suggest sticking with the SpaceNavigator unless you already own one and are looking for something more compact for travel.

    The Bottom Line

    The 3Dconnexion SpaceNavigator gives you a lot of control at a reasonable price. It does come with a learning curve to physically master the controls, but the control panel and tutorials take away the mystery. The only improvement I could suggest would be to make it easier to physically differentiate between a rolling motion and a sliding motion.

    If you regularly use 3D applications like Google Earth and SketchUp, the SpaceNavigator may become your new best friend.

    As is customary, I was sent a sample SpaceNavigator to test for this review.

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