Mini Chat-Board for PS3 Review

I’ve got a tip for you. Never attempt to open rigid, plastic clamshell packaging with a knife. You’ll be risking yourself serious injury. I nearly stabbed myself in the leg trying to butcher my way through to the Mini-Chat board. After my first few jabs with the knife the fear of injury was more than enough to persuade me to search for a pair of sturdy scissors in order to cut through the offending material. Eventually, I managed to prize the Chat Board from its tightly molded PVC-encased home, but not without scratching myself in the process on a sharp protruding edge. How hard can it be to make frustration-free packaging, eh? Okay, rant over.

Speedlink’s new Mini-Chat Board for PS3 is a keyboard add-on that attaches to your DualShock/Sixaxis, or indeed any of the German peripheral manufacturers’ branded PlayStation controllers. With the PlayStation Home beta in full swing, the Chat-Board aims to make life easier for those community members eager to strike up a text-messenging relationship with like-minded folk. As it takes far too much time to navigate the on-screen keyboard to type things such as “Can anyone tell me if there’s anything to do around here apart from waste my money buying virtual goods?” any solution to make things easier and faster is most welcome.

Retailing at £26.99 (29.99 €) and available in Europe this week, the Mini Chat-Board is only slightly cheaper than Sony’s Official Wireless Keypad, which currently costs approximately £29.99. Despite the small difference in price though, the Mini Chat-Board has less functionality than Sony’s keypad, with the main omission being a touch-pad feature (probably not a bad thing considering how poorly it was implemented in the official pad). In the package you get 2x AAA batteries to power the Chat-Board, a 2.4 GHZ USB dongle that slots into a USB port on the front of the PS3 to activate the wireless connectivity, and finally a clamp that you can slide the Chat-Board into, which then clips onto the controller.

Before we move on, this leads me to another gripe about the packaging, which should also serve as a warning to anyone who may inadvertently do the same as I did. The clamp is made of clear plastic, as transparent as the package it comes in. Unless, therefore, you’re looking for the attachment and know that it comes in the package, it’s easy to miss. I didn’t see it, I threw the packaging away and then had to rummage through the bin once I had discovered there was something missing. Still, after cleaning the baked bean juice from the clamp, I recognized that the keypad holder serves its purpose well enough, clipping tightly onto the face of the controller while holding the Chat-Board firmly in place.

A slight tilt of the controller allows you to access the entire keyboard and type messages using your thumbs. The Chat-Board is lightweight, rectangular in shape and sports a rubberized QWERTY keyboard complete with numbers and symbols that sit above each of the letters. Having bought a rubberized keyboard for my PC a few years back and indeed having spent many an hour back in the day tapping away for hours on the 48K ZX Spectrum’s rubber keyboard. I’ve learned that rubber keys aren’t always a good thing as they tend to wear quite quickly under use and the lettering fades over time. Nevertheless, the keys are easy on the fingers and they offer good feedback as well as a responsive performance.

There’s adequate space in between the letters to ensure that you don’t accidentally hit the wrong key and, aside from the standard ‘QWERTY’ layout, there’s a ‘Shift’ button, which when pressed allows you to type in any of the symbols that appear above each letter. The ‘Shift’ button can also be used in conjunction with the ‘Back Space’ to delete text and finally, a ‘Caps Lock’ key ensures that you’re able to type in such glorious modern day text language as "WTF" and "OMG" with consummate ease.

The Mini Chat-Board does boast one unique key that you won’t see on the official pad. When pressed the ‘Smile’ button allows you to choose from one of ten smiley faces. That might be ideal for MSN Messenger, perhaps, but not really applicable to the world of the PS3, which doesn’t have an application to support such a feature. In PlayStation Home, for example, choosing the happy smiling face results in “-)” being displayed on the screen. It’s pretty much a waste of a button space on the keyboard. Unfortunately, this is just one of the few irritations that I found during my time spent with the Mini Chat-Board.

On the bottom left hand side of the Chat-Board there’s a LED blue light that lights up every time you type. It’s distractingly bright and shines right in your eye every time you bring your head down to press a key. If you can learn to type without looking at the keyboard then it’s not as issue, but that’s not going to happen overnight unless you have Hobbit-sized thumbs. Another minor irritation is that the Mini Chat-Board is a European pad, yet it has the Dollar sign and not the Euro or Sterling symbols on its keyboard. Perhaps it’s an indication that the pad will launch Stateside, although I’m thinking it’s more likely to be a design decision based on the fact that the number keys don’t have their own row, so symbol omissions have had to be made.

What is unforgivable, however, is that some of symbols above the letters are mapped to the wrong keys. Hold down ‘Shift’ and press ‘@’ and you get a speech mark and vice versa. Press exclamation mark and you get a question mark. Activating the keypad’s special character layout, achieved by pressing down ‘Smile’ and ‘A’ totally messes things up. Press ‘Y’ and you get ‘Z’ for goodness sake. It was at this point that I turned off the Chat-Board and plugged in the Logitech Cordless Mediaboard Pro. If the Mini Chat-Board can’t get the basics right, then I don’t see why I should bother trying to second guess which key is supposed type what. It’s a shame really, because it’s a nice little pad, and fairly easy to use once you get to grips with it. As it stands though, it’s hard to recommend a product that doesn’t get the basic button mapping right. I’m much happier using a standard wireless keyboard, even if it does take up more room.

PSU has informed Speedlink about the button mapping issue and are waiting for a response. We do hope it was just Steven’s keypad.



The Final Word

We can't recommend a pad that doesn't even get the fundamentals right.