Xbox 360 Messenger Kit Hands-On

We spend some hands-on time with the new chatpad and headset from the Xbox 360 Messenger Kit.

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This year's Xbox 360 Spring Dashboard Update brought MSN Messenger contact-list integration to Xbox Live, but many of us have been waiting for Microsoft to release the chatpad accessory before making full use of the service. Microsoft knows that messaging isn't going to be widely used on the Xbox 360 unless the system has an input device to make texting easier for those of us who don't keep USB keyboards on the coffee table.

Xbox 360 Messenger Kit (bike and bag not included)
Xbox 360 Messenger Kit (bike and bag not included)

Xbox representatives dangled the chatpad in front of us when they first announced the Spring Update back in April but waited until E3 2007 to announce its availability. We now know that anxious texters will be able to get their very own Xbox 360 Messenger Kit for $30 on September 6, 2007.

The Messenger Kit will include the keyboard chatpad and a new wired headset. The chatpad is designed to slide into the base of the Xbox 360 gamepad. The pad feels a little awkward as you fit it into place, but it snaps on with a satisfying click as the pad's plastic retention pegs find their corresponding holes on the gamepad. The snug fit makes the pad feel like it's a part of the gamepad. The unit adds some weight to the controller, but the heft seems manageable. We played a few games with the chatpad installed and found that it didn't interfere with game controls. The edge of your palms will rest on the left and right sides of the chatpad, but you'll still be able to use the buttons and analog sticks just fine.

The chatpad sure beats hunting and pecking on a virtual keyboard.
The chatpad sure beats hunting and pecking on a virtual keyboard.

The chatpad itself feels solid. The keys provide adequate, clicky feedback and are spaced well enough for fast typing. It uses a standard QWERTY layout, and many of the keys have special alternate values that you can activate using the green and amber keys on the bottom left and bottom right of the chatpad. The pad also has a messenger button that can open up the messaging window onscreen. For players who like to game in the dark, the pad has a built-in backlight that will illuminate the keyboard whenever a key is pressed. We tried plugging a USB Xbox 360 gamepad with the chatpad into a PC desktop system, but we couldn't get Windows to recognize the chatpad as a text input device.

The chatpad has a headset pass-thru jack at the base of the unit, but the single 2.5mm audio jack can't accept the triple-pronged connector on the old headset. That's probably why Microsoft bundled a new headset with the chatpad. Aside from the audio connector change, the new headset is almost identical to the original except the microphone mute and volume controls have moved from the base of the cable connector to an inline module. Older Xbox headsets and 2.5mm mobile headsets still work with the chatpad. We were able to plug our Plantronics Halo 2 headset into the chatpad without a problem.

The Xbox 360 Messenger Kit looks to be a solid product for system owners interested in taking advantage of the Xbox 360's communication options. Players who stick to gaming and voice chat won't need to pick up the chatpad, but the peripheral might become more compelling if Microsoft were to release more text-heavy applications on the 360, such as a Web browser, for example.

How often do you use your Xbox 360 to write messages? What do you think of the Xbox 360 Messenger Kit?

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