Exspect Charging Dock
When I first got my PlayStation 3 (PS3) a few years ago I quickly realised that I would need a few accessories to go with it. One of the first things I bought was a secondary PS3 controller which was the start of a long run of 'Loser-makes-the-drinks' multiplayer gaming. This so-called offline co-op play is all great fun (providing I win) but the fun soon stops when one of the controllers starts blinking its dreaded 'low battery' warning.
For those not familiar, the PS3 controllers are wireless therefore meaning that you are not limited by a wire when choosing where to sit. Very handy indeed, except the lack of a power source means that they are vulnerable to losing power at the most inopportune moments.
Once the ticking time bomb of 'battery dying' rears its ugly head, the much needed concentration on the game at hand is diminished and the next thing you know, you've been shot in the back by your cowardly opponent (not that I'm bitter).
The solution is to either plug in your controller to the console mid-game, using the ridiculously short power cable included (and then resume playing from the floor because the sofa is too far away) or you can ensure that the situation never arises in the first place by keeping both controllers fully charged at all times.
I chose the latter option and to achieve this I came across this charging dock on amazon and thought it would be a great way to keep both my controllers charged - avoiding any future episodes of floor/sofa gameplay and eliminating once and for all the excuse of "well, I was playing from the floor wasn't I!". I originally paid about £8-9 for it but it is now reduced to the price of £4.95 on amazon.co.uk.
== Design ==
The unit consists of a circular base with a shiny chrome effect curved 'spine' which houses two docking ports for a couple of PS3 controllers which plug directly into the unit. Around each docking port is a transparent plastic shoulder which holds the controllers in place. An easily accessible on/off button is found on the side of the base along with 2 USB ports and the power cable input socket.
The metre-long power cable connects the unit to the mains supply providing the power source to charge the controllers. Therefore, the PS3 console is not required in any way to charge these up. You can also use the USB ports on the charger rather than the console to charge up other PS3 accessories such as a Bluetooth headset.
The whole unit measures 15 x 14 x 13cm (H/W/D) and fits unimposingly behind my TV unit out of sight but easily accessible when needed. The charger is made entirely from plastic but is by no means cheap looking. On the contrary, I think it looks quite attractive and if I wasn't pushed for space around my TV I would quite happily have it on show. Rubber feet on the base of the unit stop it sliding out of place when used on a smooth surface such as a table - very useful when placed on the back of my TV stand.
== Using the Dock ==
To charge your controllers when not in use, simply connect the charging unit to the mains and switch it on. Then connect the controllers to the ports on the front where they will sit in place whilst they charge. This eliminates the need for the USB cable that comes with the PS3 which was previously the only way to charge the controllers whether in use or not.
Whilst charging, the docking system will emit a soft blue glow to let you know that the charging dock is switched on and the controllers are connected. This comes from the transparent plastic shoulder where the controller connects to the dock. I really like this touch as it allows me to see when the docking station is plugged in and working. Unfortunately though the blue light will stay on after the controller has fully charged so the only way to see when a charge is complete is to look at the back of the controller and see if the red lights have stopped blinking. I would have preferred it if the blue lights alternated between flashing and solid to distinguish between charging and fully charged states. But I guess for the price, I am expecting too much.
To my knowledge the charge time is the same as it is when using the console and a USB cable. I haven't had my stopwatch out but I haven't noticed it take any longer and my controllers always seem to charge up quickly within a couple of hours from an almost flat battery. You can also connect a PSP handheld console to the dock and charge that in the same way. I have not done this though and so cannot comment on how well this works.
Another great plus point of the charging unit is that I can use it store my controllers when they are not in use, without charging them up in the process. Instead of keeping them on the floor or risking them getting lost around the house, I always put them back into the charge ports after use so I know where they are next time. The unit can remain plugged into the mains with the unit itself switched off at the base so no electricity is wasted. I only turn the unit on every so often to charge the controllers up - usually when they reach one bar (out of three) or, if I'm feeling very cautious, when they have been on two bars for a while.
== Problems ==
Unfortunately, the unit does not entirely function as it should and can be a bit fiddly to use at times. The main issue arises when connecting a controller to the dock. There is a small connector on the charger that fits into the socket on the back of the PS3 controller - it's a very similar connection to that made when connecting a digital camera to a PC. Because this is smaller than a standard USB connection it can be a bit fiddly, especially as you can't see what you are doing due to the design of the dock.
I find that keeping the controller as level as possible whilst slotting it into place is the best thing to do. Most of the time I don't have any trouble using this 'technique' but connecting the controllers still isn't as smooth as it could be.
Also, and slightly leading on from the first issue, is the delicacy of the shoulder supports which keep the controllers held in place whilst they are charging. These are made from cheap feeling plastic which looks very liable to snap off under mistreatment - not ideal given the frustration that may arise from the previous issue. Saying that though, they have remained in place for me with around a couple of years use and as long as you're careful (and have a good anger management therapist) then they should stand up to the task.
== Price and Availability ==
You can find the Exspect Docking Station on amazon.co.uk for the price of £4.95 which I think is exceptional value considering the expensive price of most console peripherals. I bought mine at almost double the price and would be very happy to do so again.
== Summary ==
Overall, I am very happy with this unit and it has proved a very useful acquisition since I bought it. As long as I remember to turn the charger on every once in a while to charge up the controllers, it eliminates those 'low battery stopped play' irritations and provides a great place to store my controllers safely when not in use. For these reasons, I would therefore thoroughly recommend this charging dock to all PS3 owners. I do have slight concerns about the build quality and durability of the plastic but given that the charging dock has lasted me around two years without fail so far, I can conclude that such fears are unjust - providing you can keep your inner Hulk at bay when trying to connect the controllers ;)
Thank you for reading :)