The PowerMate from Griffin Technology is an odd device. It seems like the perfect device for Mac users, who at times, seem to be more concerned about form, rather than function. The PowerMate attracts attention with its sleek brushed metal finish and pulsing blue LED, begging you to take this $45 gadget home. Looking past the aesthetics, the real beauty is found in the PowerMate's software and the near infinite number of configuration options.
Eye Catching DesignThe PowerMate is essentially a jog/shuttle dial, cast in a smooth, polished anodized aluminum shell. It is about two inches in diameter at its widest point and just over one inch tall. A piece of soft, translucent plastic is attached to the base to provide traction. There was enough friction between the plastic and my desktop to allow me to turn the dial with one finger. Through the plastic, you can see two LEDs, which shine nice and bright, especially in the dark. No batteries are required to power the PowerMate, it draws its power from one USB port.
A 40" USB extension cable is included to supplement the 22" cord attached to the PowerMate.
Mind Bending FunctionalitySince the PowerMate was released, Griffin has improved the driver software by adding and improving features and fixing bugs. The latest version of the software, now at version 1.5.1, finds little complaint from me. There were a few minor bugs that I encountered during testing. Clicking "Add Setting" brings up a file browser, but canceling the action causes the renaming window to appear anyway. If you attempt to dismiss that window with the Escape key, System Preferences will freeze, requiring you to force quit. Also, selecting a different group of settings, causes the Apply Now widget to become active, even if nothing is changed. Lastly, the PowerMate goes to "sleep" if the computer it is attached to goes to sleep, so you have to "wake" it separately by rotating the knob a few times.
Before you get started, it will probably take some time for you to grow accustomed to the nuances of the PowerMate. I'm not sure how they differ in feel from unit to unit, but you will eventually learn exactly how much pressure is needed to depress the knob or how much you need to turn the knob depending on sensitivity/key repeat rate. I would have liked the PowerMate button to be less stiff and have more travel. Once you get used to it, you can move on to setting it up.
The PowerMate has six configurable actions: rotate left, rotate right, click, click and rotate left, click and rotate right, and long click. In the preference pane that is installed, you can customize the actions on a per-application basis, set the pulse mode and rate, and adjust the length of the "long click". There are also toggles to enable/disable Global Only mode and Game Mode (more on this later). The sensitivity and key repeat rate of the selected action can be adjusted with a slider. Additionally, when the PowerMate is plugged into the built-in USB port of most Macs, it functions as a soft power-on button.
Without any configuration at all, the PowerMate has several default settings. Globablly (or in applications the PowerMate is not specifically configured for), it functions as a system volume control (rotate left and right). Clicking the PowerMate toggles the mute. In Internet Explorer, rotating the knob scrolls through a webpage, and scrubs through movies in iMovie and QuickTime Player. There are also presets for iPhoto, Entourage, Final Cut Pro. and Acrobat Reader.
But this is just the beginning.