Sony's Packed PlayStation 3: The Nitty-Gritty Details
The PlayStation 3 Controller
The new wireless, motion-sensitive SixAxis controller lacks force feedback, but it's lighter than the PlayStation 2's controller and has larger L2 and R2 triggers. And because the PS3's controller can sense motion along six axes, you can turn and tilt in three-dimensional space to steer in driving or flying games. I've had limited opportunity to test the controller's motion aspects so far. Earlier this year, I played the upcoming game War Hawk at the E3 conference, where the PS3 was shown. But a few of the launch games, such as Ridge Racer 7, should invite extensive use of the motion-sensing capability.
The controller connects to the PlayStation 3 wirelessly via Bluetooth (within a 65-foot range) and can recharge its batteries (which Sony says will last for 30 hours) when plugged in via the supplied USB cable. To check the controller's remaining battery life, you hold the "PS" button (located between the analog sticks) for 2 seconds. You'll then see a battery meter for that controller on screen, plus an option to turn the console off. You also have to press the PS button when you turn the unit on; otherwise, annoyingly enough, the console won't recognize the controller.
A second PlayStation 3 controller costs $50, and the console supports up to seven players at a time. Each controller has four little LEDs on the top; these indicate the number that the console has assigned to that controller. For controllers 5 through 7, two LEDs light up, and you simply add those numbers together.
Xross Media Bar and Web Browsing
The Xross Media Bar interface itself is surprisingly responsive, and navigating around it feels snappier than using the Xbox 360 dashboard. Though the XMB lacks the 360's colored tabs (which serve as quick identifiers of the area of settings you're in), the PS3 interface has a better, less-cluttered layout overall. That said, the XMB also has quite a few unexplained menu options that aren't exactly intuitive. Even a rocket scientist might have trouble deciphering what Key Repeat Interval (a keyboard setting) or UPnP - Enable/Disable? (Universal Plug and Play) mean without a few moments of head scratching.
Small gripes aside, Sony has made the most important features and settings extremely easy to use. The parental controls (to block access to certain games, movies, or online store content) are clear, and configuring a network connection (wireless or wired) is a breeze.
I was pleasantly surprised that you can plug in a USB keyboard (including wireless models equipped with a USB dongle) and thereby avoid the horrid pre-emptive text-entry interface altogether. Bluetooth keyboard/mouse support is supposedly slated for a future system update. I can't overstate how much easier it is to deal with network settings or to browse the Web when you use a dedicated keyboard.
Launched from the XMB, the PS3's Web browser isn't the speediest thing on the planet, but it did load pages (including Flash videos) reasonably promptly. You can set bookmarks, browse through your history, and make text bigger or smaller. I didn't like being asked whether I wanted to load a script on a Web page (seemingly) each time I visited, but I did appreciate how the PS3's controller aided my browsing experience.
For instance, you can use the D-pad to jump the cursor between page links, and one of the analog sticks functions as a mouse. You may open a maximum of six browser windows simultaneously, and the console lets you switch between them in two different ways: Pushing down on a stick enables you to preview and switch between all open windows--it's like a cross between Internet Explorer 7's Quick Tab feature and Mac OS X's Expose functionality--whereas pressing the controller's R2 and L2 buttons lets you switch between browser windows while sliding them across the screen.