Find us on Google+ My First 'Product Review' 3D Connexion Space Pilot ~ Inventor Tales

Monday, August 10, 2009

My First 'Product Review' 3D Connexion Space Pilot

“A wise man makes his own decisions, an ignorant man follows public opinion” Chinese Proverb

So, on a note a little separate from my typical CAD Geek stuff, I've decided to post my thoughts on my SpacePilot Pro that I've been using for about two months or so now.

My SpacePilot Pro on my desk. Yes, my desk is a typical 'designer's desk'. A mess!
(click to enlarge)

I preface this with a disclaimer. These are my thoughts with my 'user' shirt on, feel free to take them and use them to formulate your own opinion.

I've also been using 3D Connexion devices for about five years now (I started with the now discontinued Space Traveler), so I'm familiar with them. It's just the SpacePilot Pro I've been getting used to.

With that being said. What is a SpacePilot Pro?

For those of us who may not have heard of them before, they're a little hard to describe. You'll hear them called '3D orbiters' (which is what I call them), or '3D mice'.

In short, they take over the Zoom, Orbit, and Pan functions inside inside of Inventor (and other CAD products they support). 3D Connexion has a nice web video HERE.

The fancier versions (like the Pro) also have buttons that can be programmed to duplicate other Inventor functions, such as starting a new sketch, or activating assembly constraints (among a myriad of other functions).

They start out with the SpaceNavigator (the least expensive and most portable), and progress through the Space Explorer, Space Pilot, and Space Pilot Pro, each adding more functionality (and of course cost).

Now with the descriptions over, lets talk about my experience with the SpacePilot Pro.

The first thing I noticed, and liked, was the shape of it. It's very comfortable. My hand rests easily on its curved shape, and the buttons are easy to get to. The puck has feels smooth and very responsive. They've definitely been improving the sensors since my trusty old Traveler.

Another prominent feature is the LCD screen. It has applets installed that will tell you what function the programmable keys are set to do, it can preview Outlook, view RSS feeds, or even be a picture viewer. A driver update also lets it show you the properties from your Inventor files.

While it may seem a little 'gimmicky', I found that the LCD did help with some of the little things, like seeing if that e-mail that came in while I was away was from my boss, or a newsletter from a vendor that could wait until later.

The LCD Screen, and some of the buttons
(click to enlarge)

The unit also feels very solid. It's got some nice heft to it, which for the most part, I like. It doesn't slide around on my desk, and lets me feel like any input I'm going to give goes straight to my model.

Last, but certainly not least, how does it affect workflow? While using Inventor, I've found that it's reduced the amount of times my left hand moves across the keyboard, especially for the orbit hot key.

The programmable buttons also unload my right hand from right clicking, or reaching for hot keys on the right hand side of the key board.

Is the change enormous? No, it's not. A model that would take me three hours to build isn't done in thirty minutes. But I do find the process of building my Inventor models to be smoother, easier, and more efficient.

Take my SpacePilot away from me, and you'll find me pawing at the left hand side of my laptop like a Golden Retriever chasing bunnies in his sleep.

As you can see, I'm a big fan of my SpacePilot Pro. If I have a bias (which I'm sure I do), you could certainly accuse me of being a big advocate.

However, as much as I like it, I can see a few drawbacks for it.

The buttons can take some practice to get used to. While this doesn't bother a geek like myself, the casual user may not get the 'seat time' to get accustomed to them. If you don't have the time or inclination for a the learning curve, it may not be for you. If you still like the functionality of having the orbiting controls, the SpaceNavigator may be a great solution though.

The price is pretty steep. With an MSRP of $499 USD, the sticker shock is pretty high. This may also cause the part time users to shy away. I think the hardcore users (like myself) will find the price more of an investment.

It's pretty hefty. While the weight makes it feel solid, it's not exactly the most portable device around, so if you highly mobile, you may not want to carry it from place to place. (I bought a ditty bag at the local camping store, and improvised a carrier from that, and the original vacuum formed packaging). A SpaceNavigator is probably the best solution for someone who is highly mobile, but doesn't want to carry the extra weight.

So in summary:

The positive:
  • It's comfortable to use
  • The buttons provide useful functionality, and are easy to reach
  • It has a solid, high-quality feel to it.
  • The LCD screen adds some subtle, but useful, functionality.
  • It improves the 'experience' of building models in Inventor
The negative:
  • They're pretty pricey
  • There's a learning curve to get used to all those buttons. It may not be for the casual CAD users (like a manager who reviews models periodically)
  • It's heavy. If you're a mobile user, it can be a lot to lug around
Ultimately, I wouldn't be without my SpacePilot Pro. I'm happy I got it, and would replace it in a heartbeat if something were to happen to it (although you have no idea how careful I am with it). I deal with the fact that it's a noticeable addition to my 'kit' when i move from place to place.

For those who want more information, you can always contact me at KETIV.

If you live in Southern California, we also have a demo station where you can try out the SpacePilot Pro for a few minutes.

Feel free to swing by if you ever want to try one out (although please let us know your coming. The unit is also used in our training labs, so we'd want to make sure it's available!).

That's it for my first product review. I hope you found it helpful.


No comments:

Post a Comment