Well, they don't call it a "Play _OR_ Charge", do they?

So the Xbox 360 has wireless controllers. This is cool. Significantly cooler than the Wavebird - I have two Wavebirds and ultimately gave up on them in favor of wired controllers. When I first heard about the 360 controllers I didn't think it was a big deal because the Wavebirds left a bad taste in my mouth. There were several reasons for that, all of which the 360 controller fixes.

1) No rumble. It's true - Wavebirds lack the rumble feature. This isn't critical but it makes the Wavebird feel like a second class controller.

2) Controller identity is unclear. The way Wavebirds work is there's a dial with teeny-tiny numbers on the bottom of the controller. Under bright light you set the dial to one of sixteen possible frequencies. The receiver plugs into the Gamecube and has a similar dial. You set the dial to a matching frequency and plug it in. But these numbers aren't readable in normal operation. So I set two controllers on the table - tell me which one is controller 1. You can't. The 360 controllers have that "ring of light" thing so looking at the controller itself shows me whether it is controller one or controller two. There is one other way of identifying the Wavebirds - when one transmits it's receiver has a light that indicates reception. If you can see the receivers you can push buttons and see which controller it is. But you might not be sitting somewhere where you can see the receivers. I would settle for Wavebirds being available in colors - but they are Model T's - any color you want as long as that color is gray.

3) Batteries. The Wavebird takes regular batteries and eats them pretty quickly. Worse, there's a on/off switch on the controller (independent of the console) and if you leave it on accidentally the batteries will be dead the next time you want to play. (In all fairness the 360 controllers come with AA's as well, but they have an option to replace the AA's with a high-capacity rechargeable battery.) The 360 controllers will idle out and turn themselves off, so the on/off switch problem is avoided.

4) Aesthetics. There are a lot of things about the Gamecube aesthetics that have always confused me, but the Wavebird receivers just look bad and ugly stuck on the front of my cutesy purple Gamecube.

So anyway, about that rechargeable battery for the Xbox 360 controller. Right now the only way to charge them is by what Microsoft calls a "Play and Charge kit". The kit consists of one battery (you can buy batteries separately) and the charging cable. The cable is USB on one end and connects to the controller on the other end. The controller end has a charging light to show the charing status. So far so good. The one overwhelmingly dumb thing is this: the 360 only powers the USB ports when it is on. So you can Play and Charge sure enough, but you can't plug in the controller, turn off the system and go to bed and have a charged controller when you wake up in the morning. D'oh! As the title of this post indicates - it isn't a a "Play or Charge". You want to charge, you have to play :-)

In all fairness I'm not even sure any hardware powers the USB ports when it is turned off - I tried the PS2 and it does not. My Powerbook doesn't even seem to power the USB ports when it is in sleep mode. But since the 360 USB ports seem primarily intended to be charging stations, I wish they had addressed this.

There is a "quick charge kit" which is basically a wall wart with places for two battery packs, but that's not available for another couple of weeks (six months after system launch).