SmartJoy Frag Xbox Review - December 2004 - by BenJeremy
World-Wide Reseller: Lik-Sang.com (28.9USD / 32.9EUR (EU taxes included))
As an avid PC deathmatcher, I've grown very accustomed to using my trusty MS Trackball and keyboard. I've been using trackballs way back to my first cartridge game system, a ColecoVision. I also had a nice trackball controller for my C=64 computer, way back before many of you were even born (ahem). I later found a comfortable alternative to the venerable 3-button mouse with the Logitech Trackman. I mention that because this particular style of trackball is one I've found comfortable, and gives fluid control over "looking" in an FPS. In contrast, the thumbsticks on the Xbox controller (or any controller, for that matter), tend to cause overshooting when aiming. I know I am not the only person who has desired the ability to use a trackball (or mouse, for some) in Xbox FPS games... since the early days of the scene, people have asked about using a USB keyboard and Mouse in games, only to be met with the unfortunate reality - no, it could not be done - that is, until now.
The SmartJoy Frag allows a PS/2 keyboard and PS/2 mouse combination to emulate an Xbox Controller. This is different from simply plugging in a USB-based mouse or keyboard, since those options would require the game have embedded drivers for those USB devices, and those libraries must be compiled into the games themselves; while homebrews may do this, commercial games cannot be certified with these libraries compiled in. Additionally, the SmartJoy Frag allows the user to configure their keyboard/mouse combination in a variety of ways or use preset configuratons already fine-tuned for several popular Xbox titles.
The SmartJoy Frag is very sturdily constructed, it looked like I could whack the thing HARD and it wouldn't crack (erm, I wasn't going to try that test). Squeezing it in various ways didn't reveal any obvious cheapness in the case. The cable was well anchored in the unit, and not likely to get pulled out by normal wear and tear. The cable also had the standard "breakaway" plug that most Xbox controllers have. Additionally, as PS/2 keyboard and mouse connectors are physically the same, pin-wise, the connectors are color coded (purple for keyboard and green for mouse). These ports are also marked with symbolic indicators.
The SmartJoy Frag also has an Xbox controller expansion port mounted on the top, for your memory cards. While not slotted, as in most controllers, the fit was still nice and snug for memory cards, Live headset adapters and, ironically enough, the PSO keyboard USB adapter!
Setup could not be easier... simply plug in your keyboard and mouse to the adapter, and plug in the device into your Xbox. For my review, I grabbed a simple multimedia keyboard and my trusty MS Trackball.
There are directions for setting it up - the included "Quick Start Guide", a multi-lingual guide with about 4 pages worth explaining the gist of running it, but honestly, there isn't much to running this device - it's plug-and-play; or almost...
Turning on the Xbox, I encountered my first problem.... not a big problem, but as the Xbox was running a Xenium mod chip, and I had not updated the XeniumOS from 1.0, the Xbox refused to boot up with the Adapter plugged in. As I said, not a big problem, since this happens with anything but a genuine MS Xbox controller with that firmware... so off to the PC to get the firmware updated. After updating the XeniumOs to 1.1 (and then 2.0), I encountered no problems booting with the SmartJoy Frag plugged in.
I suspect any early Linux-based OS will have problems with this controller adapter, so keep that in mind, and be sure to update the software in these cases.
Out of the box, it comes with a number of games pre-configured: Halo, Medal Of Honor: Frontline, Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay, Counter Strike, James Bond: Nightfire, Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six 3, Return To Castle Wolfenstein, and Unreal Championship. Many of these presets also work for other games, for example, Halo 2 works nicely with the Halo configuration.
Configuration is pretty flexible, with the ability to swap "Look" and "Move" - in this case, "Look" refers to the Right Thumbstick (it is, by default, mapped to the mouse), "Move" to the Left Thumbstick (mapped typically to W, A, S, and D). You can use the "standard" confuguration as a reference when re-assigning the keys to your own personal preferences for a given game.
Saving custom configurations is fairly simple, and you can overwrite the factory presets, if you desire to tweak them or simply replace them. You can restore the presets to their original configuration with a simple key sequence.
Click on image for a picture of the whole setup
In all of the games I tried it on, I felt my play was greatly improved. Halo and Halo 2 worked nicely with the default Halo preset settings (Invert the look when using a trackball, for best results), but sensitivity should be adjusted to taste. I ended up playing for a few hours, doing quite a bit better than usual on FPS games on the Xbox, on my first crack at Halo 2. On some of the other games, there was a small period of adjustment, and I'm not sure I care to go back to using a standard Xbox controller to play FPS games on the console.
As I already mentioned the sensitivity, I would like to note that some games can be a bit "jumpy" with the wrong settings for sensitivity and dead zone adjustments; the presets are pretty much set, but be careful when tweaking them, and try using the in-game controller tweaks, if possible, to minimize setup time.
One nice touch, by the way, is support of the scroll wheel in the mouse. There just isn't anything like it for switching weapons in a hurry on an FPS. This adapter even handles THAT.
The only other problem you may encounter arises not because of the device, but because of the keyboard and mouse. Playing a console game with PC-oriented devices is simply not natural in your living room; you'll probably have to figure out the best way to juggle using a keyboard and mouse (or trackball) while sitting in front of the big screen on your couch. I used a TV tray to good effect, but laying them on the floor, even with the advantage of using a trackball, became ergonomically difficult after a short while. Another solution might be some sort of board for your lap, or using a wireless set up with a combo trackball/touchpad or something built in to a keyboard. I didn't test a setup like that, as I wouldn't be comfortable with it, but for those with MythTV or similar living room PC environments set up, you would probably find it easy enough to handle.
The adapter works best for people who find the PC FPS environment more comfortable... my son, who spends a great deal of time on the Xbox playing against his friends, didn't care much for it. I'm not sure if that could be chalked up to his impatience for using it, or him genuinely finding the gamepads easier to use. Likewise, the device was wasted on my Japanese coworker, who believes Sony created the perfect controller for all things (He likes the SmartJoy Plus though, for obvious reasons).
The SmartJoy Frag is not for everybody, but for those who have been looking for this sort of capability, it's a godsend. Short of a gamepad that replaces the thumbsticks with trackballs, the SmartJoy Frag provides the next best thing. The purpose is to allow a PS/2 keyboard and PS/2 mouse to emulate a gamepad, and in that job, this device provides about all the functionality I can think of, including the presets and configurability.
So until SmartJoy develops my trackball-based controller, I'll happily use the SmartJoy Frag to kill the alien hordes and stomp my friends in deathmatches.
I'd also be remiss in not mentioning a few of other great products SmartJoy makes for your PC and this device's sister product for the Sony PS2. They make devices to plug in your Xbox controller (neater than a homemade cable, to be sure), Sony PS2 and Super Nintendo controllers into your PC using your USB ports. For Sony PS2 gamers who feel as frustrated as I do playing FPS games with thumbsticks, there's a version of the SmartJoy Frag just for you, too!
Get them at Lik-Sang, still one of the best places on this planet to get console-gaming goodness!
Reviewed By BenJeremy for Xbox-Scene - December 2004.