The SpaceNavigator remains the best way to use Google Earth

Space NavigatorWith the LeapMotion finally launching soon (hopefully), I thought it’d be fun to once again take a look at the current king of Google Earth controls — the 3DConnexion SpaceNavigator.

It’s been nearly seven years since Frank introduced the SpaceNavigator to all of us, and I thought it was time to give it another look. I mentioned a while ago (in the comments) that the iPhone version of Google Earth (with multi-touch control) was similar to using a SpaceNavigator when compared to the single-touch version on Google Android devices (which has long since incorporated multi-touch as well). I thought I should explain what a SpaceNavigator actually is for those that don’t yet know.

In a nutshell, the SpaceNavigator is a 3D mouse. Rather than having to pan, then zoom, then pan a little more, then tilt, etc, you can do it all in one motion. You can zoom in, while panning, while tilting a little more, to really feel like you’re flying around the world. I’ve told many people that using the SpaceNavigator made Google Earth feel brand new again.

You can get a pretty good idea of what it can do by watching this video that Frank made a while ago that showed off some of the basic features of it:


You can also check out his review of Disney World 3D, which was done using the SpaceNavigator:


To be honest, I expected that we’d see some competition to the SpaceNavigator by now, and perhaps the Leap Motion is finally it. A year after the SpaceNavigator came out, Sandio released their “3D O2 mouse”, which was supposed to be even better — you could use it as a mouse, but it also had various 3D control sticks on it. However, it was a piece of junk and the SpaceNavigator remained king.

Here we are years later and I still use mine every day. It’s a wonderful tool, and Google Earth simply wouldn’t be the same without it. It works for Windows and Mac, and you can pick one up at the 3DConnexion online store, or at a handful of specialty retailers.

About Mickey Mellen

Mickey has been using Google Earth since it was released in 2005, and has created a variety of geo-related sites including Google Earth Hacks. He runs a web design firm in Marietta, GA, where he lives with his wife and two kids.



Comments

  1. Paul van Dinther says:

    Space navigator is a prominent fixture on my desk too. Use it all the time. I just wish it would have some inertia setting so I could do ultra smooth realtime movement in google earth.

  2. Steffen Weber says:

    The space navigator works under Ubuntu, too. Best way to navigate in Google Earth.

  3. The lack of feedback with the Leap Motion (I got mine yesterday) is the main difference between it and the Space Navigator. Perhaps it’s early days yet, but at the moment the Space Navigator wins with me in terms of usability when navigating Google Earth.

  4. By feedback, I mean physical feedback: You get physical resistance to your actions, and that is surprisingly useful — it allows you to forget about your hand. With the Leap Motion, the hand remains present in your mind, especially as you begin to tire after a while

  5. Corky McButterpants says:

    I don’t want to contemplate a world without my SpaceNavigator (and my Logitech MX Revolution).
    I won’t, I tell you!

  6. I have this too. I got it free from Google. I`m a “supermodeler” in Google Sketchup and building maker.
    It`s the best way to fly around the world like a helicopter.

  7. It comes at a price – around $100, or £93 upwards on-line in the UK, so you need to be a keen user :-)

  8. I’ve been using a dev Leap Motion for a couple of months now with Earth – hands down (hah!) the SpaceNav is still the controller of choice for Google Earth.

    The Leap is a cool novelty for controlling Earth. However, holding your hand “floating in the air” for minutes is very tiring.

    You can’t easily rest your hand without the Earth/Leap driver interpreting that as “spin me around & crash me into the planet”.

    You can’t point at anything on the screen, as it gets interpreted as well! Yes, I should use BOTH hands. One as controller and one for indicating stuff. But that completely defeats the point of Natural User Interfaces!

    The current control metaphor for the Leap feels like you have a giant and invisible Space Navigator sitting under your palm.

    It takes a lot longer to learn to drive with the Leap in a smooth fashion. Definitely DO NOT give it to people in front of a Liquid Galaxy rig!! People will just walk away with motion sickness.
    The SpaceNav most people can learn in a few minutes. The Leap has required hours of practice.

    The Leap for Earth should get better over time! Give Google feedback!!!
    It definitely is interesting but needs some work.

    Andrew | eResearch | University of Western Sydney

  9. SebastienP says:

    Thanks for that feedback on the motion leap. This is what I feared with your arms getting tired.
    I have a question about GE7 and the spacenavigator. How do you get it to allow you to look up? Such a shame to not be able to stare at that new starry night sky.

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