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Sony PS3 controller charger reminds us what we hate about the PS3

Sony debuts a USB charger for PS3 controllers in Japan. But it only serves to point out some annoyances that continue to plague the PS3.

Sony USB charger for PS3 controllers

Engadget has noted the appearance of a new PlayStation 3 accessory in Japan: a USB charger that can juice up two PS3 controllers at once. While we wouldn't be surprised to see this thing appear Stateside as well, the problem is: there's really no reason it should need to exist. And if the PS3 were better designed, it wouldn't have to. In fact, the existence of this sort of accessory just serves as a reminder of some of the PS3's biggest annoyances--all the more evident because the superb gaming console/Blu-ray player/media hub is otherwise close to perfection.

Annoyance No. 1: PS3 controller batteries aren't removable. The PS3 controller's rechargeable battery is locked inside. When it eventually dies a few years down the road, you'll need to invest in a whole new controller. Compare that with the competition: both the Nintendo Wii and Xbox 360 controllers have removable batteries. The Wii uses standard AAs, so you can buy a charger and a set of batteries from the likes of Duracell or Energizer, and you no longer need to invest in an endless supply of new batteries. We've also had good luck with third-party charging solutions from Nyko and Penguin. The 360 has the best of both worlds: it uses standard AAs (or rechargeables you supply, as suggested above), or you can invest a few bucks in the 360 Quick Charge Kit (a recharger and one rechargeable battery, with additional batteries available separately as well).

Annoyance No. 2: Controllers can't charge from all USB sources. I'm a big fan of charging gadgets via USB. These days, a lot of portable products can just be plugged into any standard USB hub, USB charger, or a PC, and they'll start juicing up. The PS3 controller is much more finicky. Sure, it charges from the PS3 via that console's USB port. But plug the controller into any other USB source, and it's more of a 50/50 shot. In our experience, it needs to be something with a "brain"--a direct connection to a PC works, as well as plugging it into a satellite box, such as the Dish ViP622 or DirecTV HR20. But just plugging it into a powered USB hub (that's not connected to a PC) or a USB charger (like the iPod AC adapter) didn't work for us. (There are some dedicated third-party chargers available as well.)

Annoyance No. 3: PS3 can't charge controllers when in standby mode. OK, so you pretty much have to use the PS3 itself to charge your PS3 controllers. Fine--you'll just leave them to juice up overnight, right? Wrong. Controllers can only charge while the PS3 is powered up. Turn it off (standby mode), and the USB ports go dead. By contrast, some recent Toshiba laptops have a feature called "Sleep and Charge," which allow you to power up attached USB devices even when the laptop is turned off.

The PS3's touchy USB ports are doubly problematic, apparently, for anybody who's been trying to create compatibility with the PS3 for a standard IR remote. Adding a USB IR dongle would seem to be the way to go, but that, too, will only work when the console is powered on--so you'll still need to power up the PS3 manually, or with a Bluetooth controller. Some clever workarounds exist, but they're pretty elaborate.

Sony could've addressed the first two issues when they transitioned from the original Sixaxis PS3 controller to the newer DualShock 3 rumble controller--but the sealed battery and inflexible recharging remained, so it's clearly by design. Likewise, the current iteration of the PS3--the 80GB Core model--has plenty of other design and feature tweaks from the original 60GB model, but the company didn't see fit to add an IR receiver or allow the USB ports to draw power in standby mode. (At this point, we're assuming that's definitely a hardware limitation, and not something that can be fixed with a firmware update.) And that, fellow gamers, is how we ended up with the PS3 USB charger pictured above.

Is any of this enough to make me regret buying a PS3? No, the myriad benefits definitely outweigh the drawbacks. But it still aggravates me every time I have to reach from my PS3 controller--instead of my universal remote--whenever I want to watch a movie. After all, there's nothing wrong with wanting the PS3 to be perfect.

Do these little details interfere with your enjoyment of the PlayStation 3? Or are we just way too demanding?