Notes on Griffin PowerMate

Received a birthday gift from baald and Col a few nights ago — a Griffin PowerMate. I’ve lusted after this tech objet d’art et function ever since they came out, but had never gotten around to trying one out. In a nutshell, the PowerMate is a USB-connected dial for your Mac. An assist for controlling system or application volume, scrolling web pages, emails, documents, scrubbing video or audio, etc.

The PowerMate isn’t just beautiful to look at – feels solid in the hand, rolls smoothly like a big heavy amplifier volume knob. Sexy blue glow pulses from the bottom. It’s like having a second mouse — one that does all the things the mouse doesn’t do well (imagine pulling the scroll wheel from your mouse, turning it sideways, making it 20x heavier, and mounting it on the other side of your keyboard).

The PowerMate is fully programmable. Comes with built-in presets for iMovie, FinalCut, Entourage, others. Six possible actions (roll left or right, click, long click, click+roll left/right) assignable to any application. But the coolest part is that you can attach these six actions to arbitrary keyboard shortcuts within apps. So, for example, I can now scroll pages in Safari or tap the head of the PowerMate to open a new browser tab (unfortunately the click action is a bit too stiff to be quite effortless).

Takes a bit of getting used to – mouse, keyboard, PowerMate – three human input devices, two hands – but once you do, you find a new level of fluidity. It’s groovy.

My only nitpick:

When using an app for which you haven’t programmed the PM, rolling the dial affects system sound level. But program it to scroll Safari pages, e.g., up or down, and you lose the ability to control system volume with that same action. So you have to decide whether controlling system volume, arguably the device’s most-used purpose, has a higher priority for you than scrolling pages. Either that or remember which apps have been programmed to scroll with it and use the keyboard volume controls instead when those apps are at the front. Or program PM to use click+roll instead, though that’s a bit awkward.

On the other hand, I usually use spacebar for page up/down. As sexy as it is to use the PM to scroll pages, it’s not easy to scroll down exactly one page with the wheel, so maybe I should deprogram page scrolling for browsers and return to the spacebar for that, leaving PM more widely available for system volume.

Anyway, it’s a brilliant little device. Totally simple and elegant, but also with potential for great tweakery. With power comes great responsibility….

Music: Iron & Wine :: Radio War

7 Replies to “Notes on Griffin PowerMate”

  1. Grrr.

    I have a PowerMate I’m not using. If you had only asked….

    Maybe woo wants it. I’ll ask ‘er.

    But you’re right. They are nifty. Just too much latency on the G3/500 I’m now using. The lag causes me grief.

  2. Congrats. I’ve had one of these little buggers for a couple years and they’re awfully handy. I set mine up so that in quicktime player and imovie it frames back and forward through the video. Seems useful. In text fields I have it doing line-up/line down duty, as I prefer to scroll with other devices.

    -Jim

  3. “I usually use spacebar for page up/down” -SH
    Dang. Never knew about that. Yet one of the many reasons I keep coming back to birdhouse.org!

  4. I have a Contour ShuttlePro, which is very similar, but provides more than the simple knob (a dial, jog-shuttle, and a like 14 buttons which are programmable to whatever you want for a given application…

    IMHO, it’s as sexy as the PowerMate, just differently…

  5. Too much complication of the shuttle pro, the powermate mirrors the beautiful simplicity of the mac hardware.

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