It's a fact -- playing MMOs on a console often sucks for a variety of little annoying usability reasons. Among my top gripes is slow text input. The only real alternatives are using a daisy chain of USB cords to bring a PC keyboard into your living room or use the slow-as-molasses onscreen keyboard at a whopping average 6 keys per second. This is one of the reasons MMOs are a niche PC market.
We've seen weird attempts to solve this problem (bulky 3rd party hardware and awkward controllers, remember the Jaguar?) so it was a pleasant surprise to happen upon The Texter, a little dongle adapter manufactured by a Florida company exhibiting at Otronicon in Orlando this weekend. It is essentially a USB keyboard emulator -- you use the analog buttons to enter text as specified on the two guide ring stickers. We spent some time with their new 360 version and found it rather easy and unobtrusive to use for Phantasy Star Online. Alas! There is hope yet for MMOs on consoles!
The Texter is a tiny dongle that sits next to your console and comes with two pardonably ugly rainbow stickers for your existing joysticks. These stickers serve as a letter index, so the letter A would be entered by pressing the left analog towards pink and the right analog towards the letter A (left). To go in and out of text input mode, simply press the home button on the controller. We played the 360 version on Phantasy Star Universe and it was simple stupid to use; this system actually works without being intrusive at all and requires a minimal learning curve. The rep at the booth averaged 17 words per second; faster than most non-touch typists and we can presume that once you memorize the commands you can blaze through it without looking at the rainbows in your hands.
The only thing missing is my other gripe with MMOs on consoles -- no keyboard macro support. While this is a great step towards the right direction, it only solves half the problem. The Texter sells for 20-30 bucks depending on the console. Want one? Grab it on Amazon.