As hard as it might be for you wizened, Atari-era gamers to understand, there are plenty of people out there who think that today's gaming controllers need even more inputs; even more buttons. That's largely thanks to the inclusion of in-game messaging on most platforms, and, for those whose platform of choice is the PlayStation 3, Sony has introduced the QWERTY Wireless Keypad clip-on. It works as advertised, making text entry much easier and including some bonus touchpad functionality too, but along with those new buttons comes a few new headaches, and we're not entirely sure they're all worthwhile.
The Wireless Keypad is a small, lightweight thing that uses a spring-loaded clamp to affix itself onto your wireless controller -- whether it be of the tingly DualShock3 variety or the rather more frigid original. Once attached it covers the PS, Start, and Select buttons, which are replicated for your convenience in the same location (just a bit higher). There's the full QWERTY spread ready for prodding, plus a few extra buttons, including dedicated ones that bring up your messages list and your friends list. Logical additions, they, because most people who buy this will be sending messages to friends.
It has a smart, sophisticated look, but those buttons are awfully, awfully tiny -- touch-typing here will take a good bit of practice for even the most experienced texters. They also don't give much feedback when pressed, barely registering any movement at all, leaving you to frequently look up at the screen and see if your input has been registered (which wouldn't be a problem if touch-typing were easier). Also, the device protrudes from top of the controller, which can be a bit of a reach. Years of smartphone use has left us with freakishly elongated thumbs, yet even we found ourselves having to tilt the controller upward to reach some of the keys. This is in contrast to the Xbox 360's Chatpad, which sits below the controller and is generally more comfortable to use.
Another major difference between the two products is that, while the Chatpad relies on the Xbox 360 controller for power, the Wireless Keypad has a separate battery. In fact, beyond the spring-loaded clamp, it's completely independent of the gamepad. On one hand this means it won't put any additional strain on the controller's power (not an issue we've heard anyone complaining about), but on the other, rather more frustrating hand this means you now have yet another hungry device requiring sustenance through a Mini-USB plug -- and one more gadget to forget to turn off, too.
PlayStation 3 Wireless KeypadSee all photos
As mentioned above, the buttons aren't the easiest to hit or the most responsive we've ever used, but typing with the Keypad is still infinitely better than entering text with the D-pad and on-screen virtual keyboard. The scrolling touchpad functionality, however, is rather less usable. The concept is a bit odd to begin with: you press a key on the bottom of the keypad (the one with a picture of a finger pressing a key), which suddenly turns the whole thing into a large, rather bumpy capacitive touchpad.
The idea is to sweep your finger nimbly across the keys to navigate the XMB or web browser, and while that is a nice idea, in practice it just doesn't work very well. The precision is very poor (probably thanks to the gaping holes between the touch-sensitive keys) and your fingers tend to stick just a bit on the shiny buttons as they move from one to the next. It's only occasionally useful for running through long lists, but generally isn't even worth enabling.
So, is it a useful gadget and, more importantly, is it worth your $50? Despite its annoyances it does what it advertises: it makes the process of entering text much easier than the alternative of using the D-pad. For heavy users of the PS3's messaging system or for anyone who has already spent hours pimping out their pad at Home in preparation of nights full of text-based discussions, it may be a worthwhile investment.
Compared to the Xbox 360's Chatpad it's a bit less comfortable and a bit more clumsy, but is much lighter and has less of an impact on the ergos of the controller. Ultimately we're not particularly fond of either device, and we're guessing that love for one over the other will more or less fall along party lines -- as most console gaming discussions do. The real deal-breaker here is that $50 price, which seems steep compared to the Chatpad's $30. For that we'd rather buy ourselves (most of) a new game and stick with a wireless USB keyboard.