$39.99 (Comes in aluminum
The PowerMate plugs
into any USB port, including the ports on your keyboard, and is powered by the USB
connection. To program the PowerMate, you need to install the driver (supports both
OS 9 and OS X). Once the driver is installed, you go into the Control Panel (OS 9)
or System Preferences (OS X) to configure the device. Each application is fully
programmable as well as a global settings for applications that are not specifically
The PowerMate is made of a high-quality machined aluminum, and comes in two colors:
aluminum and black. The unit being reviewed is aluminum. It truly looks and feels
like a volume knob right off of your stereo unit. It glides when it turns, and is
very sturdy in construction. It also includes a click function by pressing the top
of the knob (also programmable). At the bottom of the knob is a clear plastic disc
that emits a very cool blue glow when the unit is on. Beneath that disc is a small
rubber layer that keeps the knob firmly in place on a hard surface (such as your
Programming the PowerMate is relatively simple. In the OS 9 Control Panel, for example,
you are provided a popup menu under "Setting" that includes "Global
Settings" as well as a few pre-configured applications (such iMovie, iTunes,
and Quicktime Player). You can delete a setting, and add new settings for other applications.
There are two checkboxes for "Global Only" and "Game Mode". It
was not immediately clear exactly what these buttons do, and there was no Balloon
help or mouseover help either. The PDF manual explained the Global Only box as meaning
that all other settings are ignored (basically means you are going to use the PowerMate
as a volume control knob no matter what app you are in). The Game Mode box, when
checked, means that the User Action assumes continuous key operation, specifically
designed for playing games. The Global Only setting applies regardles of what application
is showing in the settings menu, while the Game Mode setting applies only to the
application that is showing (can be different for each app). The different behaviors
of the checkboxes can be confusing, and makes for a poor interface design.
The "Action" area of the settings dialog is where the actual programming
is performed for the PowerMate. There are different PowerMate functions that you
can control, called "User Actions", such as Rotate Right, Rotate Left,
Click, and Long Click. For each function, you can define a computer behavior.
Depending upon the function selected and whether you are on OS 9 or OS X, there are
different preset behaviors, and they all include the manual "Send Key"
choice. The presets for click action include Open File, Mute Toggle, and on OS 9,
also includes Power and Eject Disk. If the preset does not do it for you, then choose
Send Key, and you can select any key and any combination of key modifiers. For instance,
you can do a Send Key command of Command-Q to define the click action to quit from
an application. In OS X, if you wanted to eject a CD on a click, you can define
the click action as F12 (since Eject Disk is not a preset).
The presets for rotate actions include volume up and down, and cursor movements.
I used the volume up and down for my Global settings, but found that for applications,
you'll want to use the Send Key manual setting. For instance, for scrolling in
Internet Explorer, I send the "Down Arrow" key for Rotate Right, and the
"Up Arrow" key for Rotate Left.
You can adjust the Sensitivity (called "Key Repeat" in OS X) of the knob
rotation, which for some applications is crucial. For iMovie, I setup the rotation
to scroll left and right along the movie play line. With any sensitivity setting
higher than the lowest setting, you get batched commands such that after you stop
turning the knob, iMovie is still moving the playhead (which defeats the purpose
of using the PowerMate). I did find, however, that on the lowest sensitivity setting,
the playhead stopped moving when I stopped turning the knob, making the PowerMate
a powerful companion in adjusting the playhead for your movie productions (behaving
just like a jog/shutter wheel).
As with all devices powered by USB, if there is not enough power in the USB port,
the device will not work. I have about 10 USB devices hooked up to my machine, so
stability was an issue, but mostly on OS 9. The PowerMate was always on in OS X,
but under OS 9, it alternated between activating and laying dead. After unplugging
a device or two, I found that it become much more reliable under OS 9.
Another problem I had in OS 9 is that changes you make do not take immediate effect.
In OS X, there is an Apply Now button, and clicking on it always activated the new
settings. That button does not exist in OS 9, and even after closing the control
panel, the changes would not take effect. What was worse is that after making a
change, my system would almost always freeze upon using the PowerMate (in fact, I
had to redo much of this review because I was testing it on OS 9 and it froze on
me, causing me to do a hard reboot, thereby loosing what I had written). The safest
way to deal with making changes on OS 9 is to immediately reboot your system after
changing any PowerMate settings (an annoying inconvenience).
One other thing you can do is tell the PowerMate when to pulsate the blue glow, and
how fast to pulsate. You can have it always pulsate, or have it pulsate when the
computer is shutdown. This is a neat eye candy feature.
The PowerMate is a
beautifully designed add-on component for your Mac, providing a fully programmable
USB powered controlling device for your favorite applications. From scrolling, to
volume control, to using the device as a jog/shutter wheel, the customization of
the PowerMate gives you a high precision tool for improving your productivity. It
would have received my highest rating if not for some significant stability problems
using the device on OS 9 (requiring a system reboot after changing the settings to
avoid freezes). If you only use OS X, the OS 9 issues are not relevant. Overall,
the PowerMate provides precision control and functional shortcuts all in a very cool
and ergonimically pleasing device. I highly recommend it.
- Solid, stylish and ergonomical
- Fully programmable for
- USB powered
- Great precision control
- Stability issues in OS
- Parts of the configuration
interface are not intuitive
- Lacks online help within
the configuration software
4 1/2 out of 5 Mice