Hardware Review: Griffin PowerMate

by postbreak

powermateI have wanted to write a review about this little knob for quite a while. It’s the first thing you’re drawn to when you see my desk and you immediately want to try it out. I use my Powermate solely for music playback so for me it’s uses are quite limited however it supports just about every application imaginable.

The number one question besides how much it costs is usually how does it feel to turn. The resistance on this knob compared to an old receiver is much less. There is almost no resistance while turning however it doesn’t free spin. I wish there was more resistance like my fathers Sansui receiver however I feel that might get annoying or possibly make the base twist on the desk.

It’s so blue. The glowing light emitted under the device is reminiscent of the glow found on Macs while sleeping. You can change the pulse speed, keep it constantly on, and even adjust the speed via Apple Script. The Apple Script was important when I had the PowerMate pulse faster for each new email I received. That got old quick however.


Click for larger image.

The PowerMate preferences are a simple preference pane and menu bar icon allowing you quick access to settings. You have a few options when it comes to controlling the device. I use a global setting meaning the device sends the same command no matter what application has focus. The other option sends specific commands depending on what application has focus. This means that iMovie will have the commands to scrub through video and iTunes will control the volume level.

There are six different combinations for the PowerMate. Turning the knob left or right, pressing it down and turning left or right, pressing down, and pressing down for a set amount of time. Each direction you turn the knob can be a different command. For my use I have the PowerMate set to use the global setting. Turning it left or right sends specific keys that adjust my iTunes volume. I use Quicksilver’s triggers for that. Holding down the knob launches iTunes and a simple push either pauses or plays the current track.


Click for larger image.

When I started to look for this gadget I quickly realized that it had become partially discontinued. A quick search on Amazon comes up with little results and almost zero price difference than Griffin themselves. At the time of writing this the lowest price was about $42, quite steep. I picked my PowerMate up for $20 used at an Apple Store. I would highly suggest you look around before plucking down ~$45 for this device. Some say that novelty of a USB volume knob isn’t worth that much money but I can’t tell you how many times I have used it for pausing iTunes to answer a phone call or crank it to eleven to kick out the jams. You can get the same results with a hot key but you wont feel the same feedback you do with a physical knob.

If you can find a PowerMate for under $40 I would highly suggest it but for anything over that I simply write off the convenience factor.

The PowerMate works on both OS X, OS9, and  Windows. I don’t see why it wouldn’t work in Linux as well.

Glowing PowerMate src:macmerc.com