Review : 3Dconnexion - SpaceExplorer for mac

Yes, thats my blue glowing knob!After a couple of weeks of demoing, I decided to get a 3Dconnexion SpaceExplorer. 

I went with the SpaceExplorer over the base SpaceNavigator as it has more mappable buttons which would prove useful in my workflow, and the SpacePilot PRO, isn’t well supported on the mac anyway (and its an extra £100) and with my concentration on Cinema 4D, all indications are it would work great.

There’s no getting over the fact that it’s a lovely bit of kit, the main knob, has a lovely feel, and the buttons have a very reassuring click to them. 

It does work great………….. at work, where I use cinema 4D r12.5 studio, but at home on R13 something has broken within the last couple of weeks, maybe its lion, maybe its cinema, maybe it’s the driver. Whatever, for the moment I can’t map buttons in C4D R13, which is extremely frustrating and really highlights my main issue with the 3Dconnexion experience.

Its a premium hardware device and like my trusty wacom, you feel that there’s going to be a good view years of use out of it. The thought of not having access to it as I pondered whether to keep it or not did leave me feeling somewhat bereft. This is because for the first time you get a uniformity across control schemes in your 3d apps, which, when it’s working is worth every penny.

What generates that uniformity is the customisation you can use, both in travel direction of the mouse, but also in consistent mappings of functions to buttons, such as fit object etc, which makes sketchup’s navigation work, just the same as maya, just the same as Cinema 4D - bliss.

When you get the hang of driving your app using the space explorer, its a lovely feeling, being able to move or manipulate your model using a truly intuitive control method, really does ‘engage’ you with your work.

Using the 10.0.4 drivers it’s a doddle to set everything up to your liking, and even though the drivers are in BETA, 3Dconnexion are lightly pushing users towards them.

And its this thats the core of the frustration, software support, both from the 3D app vendor’s and from 3Dconnexion is from a customer’s point of view, (especially on the mac), is at best haphazard. 

Support for modo is a great example, in a nutshell there isn’t any, but using the  BETA 10.0.4 anywhere drivers, you can assign buttons to the space explorer to drive some hotkeys, which does speed you up. 

However, if you want full control of the 3D app, and the developer doesn’t want to add support for the device, even when it’s users are asking for it, does mean that you literally have a useless glowing knob in your hand, and no one wants that now do they.

There are little signs of driver ubiquity across platforms (pc drivers are more up to date, and are updated more frequently, mac drivers haven’t been updated since April 2011 (before lion). 

There do seem do be signs of life on the PC side where the anywhere drivers are at v11, with the ability for users to create their own profiles, with stabs being made in both modo and Zbrush. The PC drivers were last updated in August, and the Mac drivers haven’t been updated since April, and even then the user made app profiles aren’t platform agnostic, so mac users need to roll their own

Despite it all I am happy with my purchase, as I am using the space explorer every day on OLD software in work, and I can navigate in C4dR13 but until the driver issues are fully resolved, for now I would be hesitant to recommend any 3Dconnexion device on OS X until you have had a chance to play with it first, to really see if its compatible with your apps. I would not buy one unless you had a return policy setup with your retailer, just in case…..