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Space... the final frontier... Space Mouse...like the cutest thing ever!

Professional need professional tools. 3DCONNEXION has created such a thing for the CAD monkies out there and it is called the SpaceMouse.

Through fantastic fortune (big thanks to Unprofessional Engineering, Autodesk University and 3Dconnexion) I have came into possession of 3DConnexion's SpaceMouse Wireless Kit. So join me won't you please as I delve into the world of professional CAD peripherals and review 3DCONNEXION's SpaceMouse Wireless Kit.

First, a note on my fervor for trackballs. I love playing with my balls (some puns are easier than others) and I still do. So understand that this has not shifted my position on trackballs. I still use my trackball and that plan isn't changing. Having said that, I always keep an ole trusty mouse around and connected. The reason for this is varied; I occasionally like to use it and the other big thing I keep it for is if another user comes to my station. I'm part of a service group so I frequently deal with individuals who I train and receive feedback from so it is there for them when they get in the 'driver's seat.' The #1 reason I keep a mouse around connected to my workstation is so that I don't have to hear I.T. complain about working on my computer.

So what is a SpaceMouse Wireless kit?

Fundamentally its a bundle of 3DConnexion's SpaceMouse (wireless) and their recently released CadMouse (wireless). I believe you can purchase the pieces individually so if only one of these devices strikes your fancy you may be able to purchase it individually.

The kit comes with everything pictured below as well as a charging cord. There is only one charging cord in the package but given that the SpaceMouse is supposed to be able to run for a month between recharges you should have plenty of time to move the cable to the other device... If you are like me, you might need to buy another cable. These appear to be the standard micro USB cables, so if you have purchased any personal electrical device in the last 5 years you probably have a few of these cables hanging around. This is really my first week of using the device day in day out so I can't speak to the experienced battery life yet but i will follow up in the future if it deviates from the advertised battery life (1 month for the SpaceMouse and 2 months for the CadMouse).

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So upon opening the box you will be looking at a mouse pad (black square pictured above). I haven't enjoyed using a mouse pad in a long time. I haven't had one on my desk since the world switched to the optical/laser mouse. So immediately in my mind I'm thinking this is a waste. It all seems packaged nice. The devices both come with their own zippered carrying cases (pictured above). They seem fairly robust and look as though they would weather traveling well for a while. Fortunately/Unfortunately I'm out of the traveling cycle these days so I probably won't get much use out of them.

One of the cool things is that there is a Single USB.. dongle (I guess that's the word the cool kids are using).  3DConnexion call this its Universal Receiver (pictured above). This is nice because it's only 1 USB slot for two devices.

Overall I love the design of these. They look fantastic and feel like they have a very solid construction. Also I'm a sucker for that brushed steel look  high-contrasted with black. I have not tore into the devices to see what quality switches they are using but the sound and fell like quality. (for giggles this is a teardown of a spacemouse)

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Going forward i'm going to review the pieces separately.

As I mentioned earlier, i'm not a user of mouse pads. Even though the pad is not the most important part of the puzzle, in this case, it makes itself important. The mouse without the pad has a fine performance, but 3DCONNEXION have really put together something nice with this pad and together with the mouse, its amazing. I'm not going to cover its specs, you can check out their website for that stuff. The best part about this pad is that IT DOES NOT MOVE or SLIDE! Where you put it is where it stays! This solves one of my biggest pet peeves with mouse use. Nothing is as aggravating as a mouse pad bunching up on the side while you are trying your level best to shoot a person in the face only to have your shot ruined and the subsequent smack talking after you get fragged because you were taking time to straighten a stupid mouse pad. ( for those playing along at home, I'm not talking about actual shooting but online gaming). So gamers (or anyone else for that matter) if you are tired of a moving mouse pads you owe it to yourself to check this thing out!

On to the Mouse:

So outwardly it's just a run of the mill mouse (this coming from a trackball guy). I don't mean this in a bad sense, I mean when you look at it you don't think "if i feed it past midnight i might end life as we know it." It does have a few extra buttons but they didn't go overboard with it. I personally think it's got a look of elegance and professionalism. So the number one thing I like about this mouse it that it moves like butter! By this I mean it's smoother than a pastor running game in a seedy bar. At first use, it made me really think about ditching the trackball (only for a second though). It is that good! It slides so effortlessly and smooth, you have to check your six to make sure Barry White is not behind you disrobing. Granted I haven't been a consumer of computer mice for a while so I could have just missed the wave of awesome mice. That said, if you spend significant amount of time banging on a computer you owe it to yourself to at least try the feel of the CadMouse in conjunction with its mouse pad. I won't get too much into the specifics, you can check out 3Dconnexions spec for this device. It's got 3 finger buttons a clickable scroll wheel, two side buttons (the usual forward, backward) and one menu button. It has three modes of connectivity (really only two in my book) You can leave it plugged into the USB cable (I don't count this one but i guess if you are really keeping score it is kinda a unique ability) The menu button is packing as it can be used to activate several things so if you are looking for more buttons consider what this menu brings. Below are pictures of the menu; one activated in AutoCAD and the other activated in Excel.

Of note: One thing I had to change was 'smart scrolling.' It mimics a free wheel scroll and for my taste it had to go. I get a little more into customization later.

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One to the SpaceMouse:

I'm no stranger to seeing the SpaceMouse. My local reseller has one version these on every desk in their office. They of course have the ones that look like a chaise lounge mixed with spaceship controler (SpaceMouse Enterprise). So I've been around them but I have never used one to any meaningful extent. My model is the much more simplistic version of it; the SpaceMouse Wireless. When I first strapped in, it was a bit of a bugger to get in the proper mind set. The device has 6 degrees of movement in a single control and honestly my brain was not having it at first. So you need to know, there isn't much in the way of an intuitional use of it. It's not too difficult to get to the point where you can use it, but if you casually look at a demo in a store, it's going to seem like it's outside of your grasp. It took me a couple hours of use before I had a real sense of confidence with it. This is not said to discourage you but to set you up with realistic expectations. So as far as a review in a comparative sense, it's not possible. I have never used a device like it before. I have used joysticks before; even fancy ones with things like a twisty handle but this is a critter all its own. I really enjoy using it to navigate and I'm really looking forward to adopting it use in my workflows. Is it a must have? I cant say as much right now, but thats because its a 'new' and unique device to me and there are issues with the software (personal) that make me hesitant. In other words its uniqueness is both its strength and weakness. I'll get into more of this when I get into its support software.

One really cool thing that this device can allow is for you to navigate all your 3D worlds similarly. Some programs use different key combinations and click to manipulate their world but with the space mouse you can customize them so they all behave the same way with the SpaceMouse. For example the scroll wheel zoom in Fusion 360 is backwards from AutoCAD, if I were to solely adopt the SpaceMouse they could be set to zoom using the same motion on the cap.

Currently its allure is enough for me to keep using it. I like to use it to navigate, but it's running against some tough muscle memory I have developed using the SHIFT+SCROLL BUTTON to navigate the 3D world. In other words, it's solving a problem I don't have. That said it does solve that problem and it does so very well and it has the value added features of additional buttons and a similar radial menu like the mouse. I like the way it navigates (as opposed to the SHIFT+SCROLL BUTTON method) and it too feels like a real solid device. As an added bonus it looks really cool sitting there on my desk too (I know, never the shallow one. Dont hate). It has some really cool lights that impress when someone asks about the device.

 

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One to the support software:

Unfortunately the is where the love fest ends. There is nothing inherently wrong with the drivers/support software, but what it's missing is what has got into my craw. First let me discuss what it does well... basically it does everything well.

In addition to the drives it installs a few bell a whistles.

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In addition to the ones pictured above there are more in the program menu so be sure to check the out too. The most important thing it offers is trainer. DO NOT OVER LOOK THIS (unless you already have a good grasp of the device). The trainer takes you through the breakdown of the axis of the device and how it manipulates objects. It's got a great explainer video and then some practice games. Do this before diving into the use of this device. It can even evaluate your mastery of the device. Definitely check this out first.  

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After you are familiar with the general idea of the device there are a couple toss in manipulators. I would go use the Demo first to get an idea about the collaboration of your mouse and the SpaceMouse. In it you 'assemble' what appears to be a landing gear assembly. After that you can check out the other software thats included. Aside from the jet, box and chicken manipulators, there is a collage maker and a file viewer (.3dm, .fbx, .obj, .stl). The collage maker seems like fun and i'll have to give it a another go next time I need to make a collage. The view is also fun though my guess is that if you purchased the space mouse you probably have the programs that can generate the files that the view can view. There is also a 3D puzzle that looks fun. it may replace my use of freecell in the arena of time killing.

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So here is where I get critical. It’s not a device thats on everyones desk in all use applications. So if you have an application you would like to use it on you have to hope it's provided with the software. There are ways to customize the device and its setting, but it seems like this is where they skimped on the design. With such seeming fine quality in hardware design, I would have liked to see the same robustness applied to their software. Its limited in what it can customize. (if I am mistaken in this please let me know) One very slick thing it does it that it recognizes the program that has focus of the computer and it automatically puts you into the customization for that program (when you are editing the buttons). This is very cool and a bit of a pain in the ass. In other words if you wanna edit the way it operates in AutoCAD you have to have AutoCAD running and then the window on top of it. Another very cool thing it allows for is the exportation and importation of the settings. So if you are desk hoping you settings can hop with you… if you copy them.

Something to consider if your CAD software is browser based (Onshape, TinkerCAD, etc.) this devices is limited to the minimal features available to the browser.

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Out of the box there is a limited amount of software that the device works with. If you are curious as to what it supports you can look here. This is basically the crossroads where my new romance stopped. The power and applicability of this device would seem to me far more reaching than the customization seems to allow. Its not that the device can't handle it, but that the software isn't up to snuff of letting you customize it for software outside of what is supported (at least from a noobs surface reading). Its as if you have been given Wonka's magic elevator that can go anywhere, but you can only take it to the local general store or the pharmacy. I mean come the fuck on, who does this! Don't strangle the potential. I did some searching and it looks like it can be setup with several applications by editing .xml files, but this is far from the answer I would like to see in such a otherwise slick device. But i digress, I'm sure there is a reason, I just can't see it. I would love to use the device in My Digital Audio Workstation, but it looks like it limited to just programming the buttons in that arena...

Pound for pound Id say the SpaceMouse Wireless Kit is worth every bit of its retail price (if the software you use is compatable). The mouse alone (with pad) could almost make it worth that. If you are in the market for a mouse and might be able to use the SpaceMouse, I’d say pull the trigger on the SpaceMouse Wireless Kit. If you are curious about the space mouse and feel like you could use a little boost in your productivity this might just give you the edge you are looking for. I wouldn't say it does out of the box cause it’s got a learning curve, though it’s not to bad. With a little time invested in it, it very well may make the difference to help you be the better drafter. There is always the risk of getting one of these peripherals only to let it languish, so I'll be sure to follow up on my use of the device. Right now (despite my disappointment in being able to customize it in other programs) I'm still loving it and am working to fully integrate it into my workflows. And I mean, come on... no one else in this office has a peripheral as cool as this!

There you have it my noob review of the SpaceMouse Wireless Kit. I give it a dont swipe left.