image image thumb Just over a week ago 3Dconnexion, subsidiary of Logitech, announced what is sure to be another incredibly popular 3D navigation device – the SpacePilot PRO. This latest version introduces a number of incredibly cool but more importantly useful features like the LCD workflow assistant, and increased comfort. Having used the original SpacePilot for some time now, 3Dconnexion was kind enough to send me its latest SpacePilot PRO to review for myself.

First Impression

Not to say looks are everything, but when a product is going to consume 9 in x 6 in of my desk; it better not be an eye sore. The SpacePilot PRO certainly doesn’t let one down on looks. Its curved profile & black color makes it anything but an eye sore on my desk. However, let’s face it, for a product as expensive as the SpacePilot PRO, it doesn’t only have to look good, but also have outstanding performance as well. I am happy to say it performs as wonderfully as it looks.

Comfort

image image thumb1 Prior to receiving the SpacePilot PRO, the only 3D mouse I had used was the original SpacePilot. While I came to use the SpacePilot rather frequently, the device was a little too boxy for me. Holding the device never felt as natural as I always thought it could be, and I always wondered how the SpacePilot and SpaceExplorer compared with respect to comfort. Of course, then came the all-new SpacePilot PRO. Quite simply, the curved profile of the SpacePilot PRO fits my hand perfectly. By enlarge, using the device just feels natural.

Usability

The symmetrical nature of the SpacePilot PRO makes it an incredibly useful device. Overall, I found each of the buttons on the device to be placed in intelligent locations. There are a few caveats to that statement. For instance, I found the numbered function buttons placement to be a little unnatural. The function buttons seemed to fall perpendicular to my palm, and so pressing them with my pinky wasn’t as easy as pressing the function buttons on the original SpacePilot.

image image thumb2 Before I received the physical device, 3Dconnexion did send me some photos of the new SpacePilot PRO. Like everyone, my eyes instantly focused on the color LCD screen (which holds a very prominent place on the device itself). I truly questioned if the color LCD screen was more a gimmick than a true value-adding feature. After having the chance to use the device for myself, I have truly gotten to appreciate the interoperability with Microsoft Outlook.

Out of the box, the SpacePilot PRO ships with a number of small applications that utilize its LCD screen. These include Outlook Mail, Outlook Calendar, Outlook Tasks, and RSS Feeds. 3Dconnexion has made an API available for the device, so with a little coding knowledge, you can really expand the functionality of this device. If programming isn’t your cup of tea, the SpacePilot PRO doubles as a Windows SideShow device. Microsoft has a gallery of these widget-like tools for you to choose from.

Compatibility

If you have read this blog for any time you know, my primary design platform is AutoCAD Civil 3D. Each of 3Dconnexion’s devices supports a number of CAD platforms, AutoCAD included. Currently 3Dconnexion’s devices DO NOT support the latest 2010 release of AutoCAD. Considering each of 3Dconnexion’s devices are aimed at 3D, not 2D design, it’s understandable their support for AutoCAD starts with the 2007 release. While the SpacePilot PRO will not work with the 2010 release yet, I’m sure a driver update is imminent.

Unlike applications like Inventor, which are all 3D all the time, AutoCAD can function as both 2D and a 3D design platform. How much mileage you get from a device like the SpacePilot PRO will truly hinge on how you use AutoCAD. In my experience, if you’re doing 3D design, a 3D navigation device is a no brainer (you want one). However, if you use AutoCAD primarily as a 2D drafting platform, the decision to purchase a 3D navigation device ventures into the grey area. Let me expand on that thought.

If you’re big into customizing AutoCAD, you may find the function keys to be incredibly helpful. For instance, you could configure the device to execute some command/customization with the press of a button. In other words, there’s value here, but how much really hinges on how you use AutoCAD. Something that may not seem incredibly obvious to some is while Civil 3D wears the 3D name plaque it primarily utilizes a 2D workspace. Translation, you’ll only see the full benefits of a 3D navigation device inside the 3DORBIT command, or a 3D workspace. While that’s not a big deal, one of my biggest disappointments was none of 3Dconnexion’s devices work with the AutoCAD Object Viewer.

Conclusion

The new SpacePilot PRO is an excellent addition to 3Dconnexion’s line of 3D navigation devices. For anyone who finds their self spending a lot of time in 3D applications like 3D Studio, Inventor, even Google SketchUp, a device like the SpacePilot PRO is a no brainer. On the other hand if you’re a casual 3D designer (Civil 3D), I wouldn’t call a device like the SpacePilot PRO a necessity. In my opinion, a better match for casual 3Ders would be the SpaceNavigator. Even then, the “need” really hinges on the way you use the product. For instance, if you never analyze your site in 3D, than you probably don’t need a 3D navigation device.

Whatever the case, the new SpacePilot PRO really does raise the bar once again. It builds upon the already impressive functionality of the SpacePilot, and packages it into one incredibly comfortable and easy-to-use device.