Stylish, versatile, and extremely functional, the Griffin PowerMate universal controller may look like a mere volume knob, but don't be fooled--it can also jog through video footage while editing, scroll through long text documents, and zoom in and out of Photoshop images. And those are just a few of its potentially hundreds of functions. How can a simple two-direction knob do all this? By letting users configure the functions themselves via their computers' system preferences. In other words, the PowerMate's functions are defined almost entirely by the user's imagination and creativity.
The PowerMate works by sending keyboard shortcuts, called key commands, to your computer. For example, users can set the PowerMate to open a new Microsoft Word document by inputting [command + D], or highlight text by inputting [command + shift + left arrow]. Each setting corresponds to one of the PowerMate's six main movements: rotate left, rotate right, click, long click, rotate left with click, and rotate right with click. The default configuration controls your computer's volume, along with specific audio applications such as iTunes. However, the PowerMate also comes with several preset configurations for such programs as iPhoto, iMovie, Final Cut Pro, and Adobe Acrobat Reader, and allows the user to change the settings or add new ones (for virtually any application) based on their needs.
Design and Setup
With its heavy-duty, black housing that sits atop a pulsing blue light, the PowerMate just looks cool. Many owners have compared it to the volume knobs on high-end stereo receivers, and the description is apt. It's also cleverly engineered, as the blue light responds to your commands, brightening when the volume increases, for example, and dimming when you turn it down. Its main cord is only 22 inches long, but it comes with a 40-inch extension so you can position it either next to your mouse or on the opposite side for two-handed control.
The PowerMate, which connects to your computer's USB port, includes an installer CD, with separate folders for Mac OS 9; OS X; Windows 98, 98 SE, and Me; and Windows 2000 and XP, along with an Acrobat user's manual. Griffin has been making Apple accessories since 1992, so it shouldn't come as any surprise that the PowerMate is a little Mac friendlier. Mac users merely need to run a basic installation and restart their computers and the PowerMate is ready to go. Windows users, on the other hand, will also have to configure their PCs to recognize the USB device and then update their drivers, among other hurdles. It shouldn't take terribly long, but it's not exactly plug-and-play either.
Features and Performance
Simply put, we dig this device. For applications such as Microsoft Word and Excel, it's mostly just a fun add-on, as it doesn't do much that a mouse doesn't do just as well (though Mac users will doubtless appreciate the scrolling function). However, the potential of the device increases exponentially when applied to editing software. In GarageBand, for instance, you can set the PowerMate to play, pause, rewind, record, and skip measures--a far more convenient method than clicking the buttons or keys. You can also use the PowerMate as a jog/shuttle dial when editing your home movies. You can even adjust the speed of the action--a slow speed will leisurely advance the frames, while a quick speed will fly right through them. We tinkered with the PowerMate in iPhoto as well, setting it to zoom in and out of images (as suggested in the manual) and rotate them left and right.
It takes a while to adjust to the PowerMate, as your first instinct is to use it like a mouse. But you'll soon realize that shifting the knob across your desk doesn't accomplish much, so you'll be forced to develop a better feel. Many music and video editors will likely opt for two-handed control, managing the PowerMate in the left hand and the mouse in the right. Users should also test a variety of key commands in each application, as it's not immediately clear which functions are merely fun and which are genuinely convenient. But the more you play with the PowerMate, the more you realize its potential.
On the whole, the PowerMate is a blast, especially if you spend a lot of time laboring in multimedia applications. That doesn't mean it's a great fit for everyone--people who work exclusively in Word or Excel might find it overhyped. But you'd be hard pressed to find a desktop peripheral with more promise for audio and video professionals. --Rivers Janssen
- Assignable knob controls virtually any function on your computer
- Ideal for audio/video editing applications, music jukeboxes, games, and more
- Easy to program; works with any application that uses key commands
- Cool black housing with glowing blue base
- PC setup is a bit cumbersome
- Takes time to realize full potential
What's in the Box
PowerMate USB controller, 40-inch USB extension cable, CD-ROM with installation software, Adobe Acrobat user's manual (on CD).