There's a plethora of accessories available for the Xbox 360, a great many of which are not worth your attention, let along your hard earned cash. But one recent accessory launch represents a serious "must have" addition to anyone's Xbox 360 hardware complement. The Messenger Kit really does take the Xbox Live experience to the next level, and makes the integration of MSN messenger onto the console so much more than the gimmick that it first appeared to be.
Before I get into the usability and functionality of the Messenger Kit, let's take a look at what you get in the box. Obviously the main part of the bundle is the Chat Pad. This is a full qwerty keypad that slots, relatively seamlessly into the gap at the rear of the Xbox 360 controller. Yes it does make the controller more bulky and slightly heavier (it weighs 76g), but you soon get used to it and generally forget that it's there while playing a game.
Because the Chat Pad uses the port at the rear of the controller, it leaves you with nowhere to plug your headset in. This is why the Messenger Kit also ships with a headset, equipped with a standard 3.5mm jack, which then plugs into the rear of the Chat Pad. Also, while the standard headset features a microphone switch and volume wheel integrated into the connector, the headset that ships with the Chat Pad has an in-line control. Some may complain that you'll need to take your hand away from the controller to access the mic and volume control, but I generally find that I only need to set my volume level at the beginning of a game.
Typing on the Chat Pad is surprisingly easy and intuitive - in fact if you're used to typing on a smartphone with a slide-out qwerty keyboard, it will feel completely natural to you. I found that I could manage a reasonably speedy typing rate almost immediately, and the more I use the Chat Pad, the faster I get and the fewer mistakes I make. As well as a full qwerty setup, there's also a full numeric complement across the top, while full stop and comma thankfully get their own buttons. Other symbols are accessed by using ether the green function button at the bottom left, or the orange function button at the bottom right. I found that once I became familiar with where regularly used symbols are located - like the pound sign, colon, brackets and apostrophe - I could access them intuitively. Microsoft has also ensured that the Spacebar is a decent length, making it very easy to strike when typing at speed.