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Hands On: Griffin Powermate Bluetooth
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MacNN Staff
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Sep 2, 2015, 03:07 PM
Look away. Look away. You don't need this, you really do not -- but you're going to want it. Here's how smitten we are with the Griffin Powermate Bluetooth: it's on our desk, it's connected to our Mac and we're using it constantly yet we still lust after it as if it were something Apple had just announced. That's a bit of a turnaround given that when we picked it up we expected it to be spectacularly pointless. It's only a knob, a round aluminium control that sits on your desk and does things like turn the volume up or down.

Exciting. Actually, it is a bit exciting because it has LED lights on the base that make it look like the aluminium is floating on a blue glow. It sits there on your desk looking definitely futuristic and possibly just a teeny bit alien. We're not suckers for blue lights, we would never bung them underneath our cars as apparently some drivers do, but it doesn't hurt when a device looks good.

It needs to do a bit more than throb thrillingly but it does. Above the LEDs there is a base and over that a rotating top that twists very satisfyingly. Rotate it left, rotate it right, tap on the top, long-press on the top, press-and-turn left or right. It has these six different motions and you just want to try them all out. Which is handy because each one can be set to do something – and very handily, those six actions can change depending on what application you've got open on your Mac.

You install the Griffin Powermate Bluetooth by downloading an application that both connects to the physical device and gives you many, many, many options for controlling your Mac. There is an overall setting plus individual ones: the app lists all your other applications and you can go through setting up completely different sets of actions within any or all of them.

So by default and with just the Finder open, rotating the knob left or right does indeed turn the volume up or down. We think that press on the knob mutes the sound but actually we can't tell any more because once we found how easy it is to customise the actions we went crazy. Right now we're listening to iTunes and if we bring that to the fore then pressing the Griffin Powermate Bluetooth pauses the current track. Pressing it again starts it playing once more. Press and turn skips to the next or previous track.

In Final Cut Pro X or Adobe Audition we scroll through video and audio tracks by rotating the knob like a dial or a genuine old-time video editing control. We've been steadily increasing its speed as we get used to it too.

Actually, we'd like it to be a tiny bit faster overall: sometimes we've found a tiny lag between us using the knob and something happening. That could well be down to our iMac -- we tested this primarily on a late 2012 27-inch iMac and it's staying on that Mac now, just you try to take it away -- so it's not the latest and greatest.

We also found that it can cause conflicts between applications. You can have the Griffin Powermate Bluetooth launch the Mac's Application Switcher, the same stripe of currently-open application icons you get when you press Shift-Tab. That's terrifically handy but we turned it off because it clashes with Keyboard Maestro. That utility, amongst a hundred other things we use a lot, changes the stripe of application icons into a two- or three-level block. So rather than having to practically walk from one end of our iMac screen to the other, we can take in the icons with one glance. Call up Application Switcher with the Griffin Powermate Bluetooth and it shows you the same Keyboard Maestro-controlled block but only allows you to scroll back and forth along the top row.

So we don't use the Powermate's Application Switcher and we don't need to. You can not only argue that we don't need to use any of it, you probably should be arguing that we don't. It's an expensive device for casual use and there is nothing, not one thing it does that you weren't already doing on your Mac without it. Yet it fits in so well. We even wondered where we'd be able to put it: we have a keyboard with a Magic Trackpad to the front and centre of that plus our arms take up all the space either side. In the end, we do move this Powermate around but it's rather found a home just under the numeric keypad on this keyboard.

It's also found a bit of a home under our hands: we find ourselves toying with it while on the phone or waiting for something to finish on our Macs. Once or twice that's been a bit embarrassing when we've accidentally both tapped and twisted it so iTunes has un-paused on a track and simultaneously whacked up the volume. That's where we really wanted it to be quicker: banging back on the top of it didn't pause the track as fast as we'd like. Possibly nothing could've been fast enough then, though.

We may have had a moment's gulping when all that happened but we've also found that we use this device as a calming anti-stress thing. Don't ask us why but the way it is so appealing that your hand is drawn to it and how it turns so smoothly means that we just keep touching it. Fortunately it switches itself off after a few minutes of inactivity so we don't always trigger embarrassment.

The power saving kicks in because this unit is powered by two AAA batteries which are provided but of course will run out. We can't begin to guess how long we've got with these yet and we do wonder how long we'll take to get around to replacing them when necessary. The price of having a unit that isn't wired into your Mac is that you have to replace the batteries so it's a tradeoff we're going to have to make.

This Griffin Powermate Bluetooth is a new version of a long-standing one that was indeed connected by wires. Those ones, launched in 2001 and reported used both constantly and imaginatively by everyone from hobbyists to television crews didn't have the speed lag and they also worked with Windows. The lag is not enough to really bother us and we're not even slightly fussed that this doesn't work with Windows yet.

Griffin Powermate Bluetooth requires OS X 10.8 or higher and Bluetooth 4.0. The later is the real limitation: the oldest iMac you can have is our late 2012 one and the oldest MacBook Air is mid-2012. The oldest MacBook Pro is also mid-2012, the minimum Mac Pro you need is the 2013 one but the Mac mini from mid-2011 does the job. It retails for $60 but a typical street price is $54 that you can get on Amazon.

Who is Griffin Powermate Bluetooth for:
No, forget this who it's for and who it isn't. What's more to the point is who wants it. You do. We do. Okay, if you do any audio or video editing, this is clearly for you. Tell your boss, your accountant or just yourself that you're going to do lots and lots of video editing.

Who is Griffin Powermate Bluetooth not for:
If you're a keyboard junkie then in theory this shouldn't appeal, but we are keyboard junkies and you've gathered we're somewhat keen.

-William Gallagher (@WGallagher)

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Grizzled Veteran
Join Date: May 1999
Location: Pasadena, CA USA
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Sep 2, 2015, 03:56 PM
I had one and I loved it. Sadly, the software was all but ignored for years and didn't work worth a damn. I've love this, but I am wondering about their commitment to keeping it up to date...
Dedicated MacNNer
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Sep 2, 2015, 04:05 PM
Totally getting one to play Tempest
"....and the capital of Nebraska is Lincoln!"

Forum Regular
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Sep 2, 2015, 04:27 PM
Still have my USB original and it is one of the most drool-worthy things you can attach to a Mac and it does important things too.
Just sayin'
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Sep 2, 2015, 04:49 PM
"THOSE ONES, launched in 2001..." Those ones? Is the MacNN editor on vacation???
Mike Wuerthele
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Sep 2, 2015, 05:18 PM
Easy, there, it's a creative turn of phrase.
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Sep 2, 2015, 05:50 PM
Strictly using the review as a source, I can't see why I would want to use this rather than using BetterTouch Tool with my Apple Trackpad. It seems that everything this does I've already accomplished for significant less.
Mike Wuerthele
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Sep 2, 2015, 06:52 PM
Depends on use case. A knob like interface has been used for a very long time in editing suites.

BTT is very nice, but not rotary. Personal preference, as reviews are.
Junior Member
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Sep 3, 2015, 01:43 AM
It glows, it's aluminum, minimalist design, only for Macs. SOLD!
Forum Regular
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Location: MA
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Sep 3, 2015, 12:06 PM
Word. Rechargeable batteries.
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