There's been a few deals with the recently released Xbox 360 chatpad, there's also been a simliar number of comments regarding the usefulness of the accessory when a USB keyboard is available for a few pounds. My chatpad arrived today and it's actually a bit smarter than it looks so I thought I'd write up a mini-review for those considering one.
First up, what's in the box (which is the usual impossible to open type that you need to rip into pieces to open):http://johnmcl7.smugmug.com/photos/198093725-L.jpg
As well as the chatpad there's a new headset as well, initially I thought this was an odd choice but the reason for it is to move the mute button which would normally be at the end of the cable halfway up the headset. Other than that the headset remains the same as the existing version.
The chatpad is fairly simply to attach, the jack simply needs lined up then a firm push to clip it on. It seems a little too much force to clip it on/off but there is some flexibility in the jack to prevent it being damaged. Here is the chatpad attached to the controller:http://johnmcl7.smugmug.com/photos/198093713-L.jpg
The chatpad doesn't fit quite as neatly as I expected, it's raised slightly which the base of my thumbs rest against. It feels a little uncomfortable when the controller is picked up but I found in actual use I didn't notice it.
Onto the chatpad itself, it uses a qwerty layout for the letters but the rest of it is not standard. The backspace is down at the bottom right of the chatpad and the left/right cursor keys are either side of the space bar. To use the symbols there are orange and green buttons which match with the orange and green symbols on each key. This can make it a little confusing trying to find the symbols as there's two on each key. These keys are 'sticky' and light up brighter which shows when the button is actually sticky, same with the shift key. The rest of the keyboard is also fully backlit, this is a shot of it in the dark with the green key having just been pressed:http://johnmcl7.smugmug.com/photos/198093642-L.jpg
Similar to a mobile phone, the keypad lights when used and then switches back off shortly after if no keys are pressed. In actual use I find the chatpad works reasonably well, each of the keys is a good size for a thumb-board and they have a solid click when pressed. The main problem is the symbols which is going to take some getting used to, also I tend to find I have to actually look at the chatpad if I want to type at any sort of reasonable speed.
To use the Live messenger functionality on the 360 it can be a little clumsy if you want to have a conversation while playing a game or DVD, you have to press the guide button, open up chat and messages then find your current conversation. If you press the guide button to return to your game/DVD you have to go through the whole procedure to get back to the conversation. The chatpad has an MSN button at the bottom left, when you press this it brings up a small text box with your current conversation. With another touch, it disappears again making it much easier to keep conversations going. Another nice touch is that if you have a message that you haven't opened,the MSN button flashes orange to show this. This is a conversation I was having earlier when watching an HD DVD:http://johnmcl7.smugmug.com/photos/198093629-L.jpg
The only slight problems I've noticed is that the DVD remote controls are locked out when the text window is active, you need to tap the MSN button to hide it before you can use the DVD remote.
In short, although the chatpad is comparatively expensive, uses a non standard key layout and is not as fast to use as a USB keyboard, it's very neat, doesn't use a USB port on the Xbox and allows for easier MSN usage.