When the Logitech ChillStream controller came up for review, I jumped at the chance to get back to my PC gaming roots. About 10 years ago, I played PC games exclusively, and used an old gamepad for the majority of my Sports titles and FPS. I always felt this gave me the edge when competing in side-by-side Doom matches or against the computer.
The ChillStream (MSRP $39.99) is a USB based controller that works with PC games on Windows XP or Vista. Its most unique feature is a two-speed fan (powered through USB) built into the chassis that produces a cool breeze at several different points of the controller. Box contents include the controller, User Guide, gaming software and a one-year warranty.
The controller is laid out well, and closely resembles the design of Microsoft controllers for PC and Xbox 360. The standard collection of buttons, triggers and analog sticks can be found, with only the fan control button and air intake and vents outside the norm. The three-way fan control button is located on the left hand side next to the D-Pad. Internally lit when the fan is on, it has settings for off, low and high speeds. Due to it being slightly recessed, it is unobtrusive and almost unnoticeable, which is probably what the design team had in mind. The grips are similar in angle and depth to that of a Playstation 2 controller.
The air vents are located on the top (to the outside) and the side panels of the unit. The placement emphasized the pressure points where my thumb and palms were while holding the unit, which helped create an airflow path to reach the majority of my hands. Although they seem to be made of rubber, the vents protrude slightly from the controllers edge, which caused a touch of discomfort (where they indented my hands) when playing for lengthy periods. However, I liked the overall design (aesthetically) of the vents and how they add to the controllers look. Also, the metal mesh covering the air intake (while reminiscent of an electric razor with slightly larger holes) provides a nice contrast to the predominately black underside.
The main concern I had with the layout involved the air-intake on the bottom. Because it needs depth to function and hold the motor, it seemed to steal away space that normally is reserved for your fingers to rest at. The problem is with the triangular design. It creates a channel to put your fingers in, but it is just a straight line and forces your fingers to rest against it straightened out. There needs to be some sort of rounded area in the air-intake wall to eliminate the pressure point where your fingers rest. Having average sized hands, I can’t imagine how someone with large hands could tolerate the pressure point in anything more than small time frames.
The vents and air-intake are the one area of opportunity that the ChillStream could be improved upon in future incarnations. Altering the design to improve upon the comfort of the entire grip areas would be key, including setting the vents flush with the controller chassis and mold the bottom plate and air-intake into more of an ergonomically dual channel design to allow fingers to rest more comfortably.
Despite my issues with the vents and air-intake, the controller is built extremely solid for the most part. The ChillStream is very light, but extremely rigid with not a single seam that could be considered vulnerable to breaking. All buttons and sticks functioned well and the USB connector was of good quality. The USB wire itself was a bit thin and has shown to be prone to tangling, but nothing you couldn't solve with proper storage technique.
Unfortunately, there is one weak spot, and that is the D-pad. Not only does it stick above its hole too far, but it isn't a good fit and simply feels cheap compared to the remainder of the controller. Personally, I prefer my buttons and pads anchored down thoroughly and not able to be pried up or sloppy when in use. When testing its performance, I noticed that it did not transfer from the diagonal position into the up/down or left/right all that well. It would get "hung up" while rotating. Possibly it is how I use a D-pad (tending to slide from one direction to another rather than lift and press), but it could use a little work.
To test the ChillStream in actual play, I broke out an old-school copy of NHL 2000 and put it through its paces. After playing several full games, it was apparent to me that the level of responsiveness of the analog sticks was quite good, as they were very tight with no hint of sloppiness detected. I had no problems skating, passing or making superstar moves with the analog sticks. The compact size and button layout allowed my hands to find everything with little effort. As for the air itself...it certainly lives up to expectations. I played a four-hour marathon on Season Mode in NHL 2000 and my hands stayed comfortably dry. I varied the speed between the low and high settings, and preferred the low. Not only was it less noisy, it kept my hands cool and dry, without making them feel dried out.
Overall, the ChillStream was as advertised, keeping my hands dry and providing top-notch control response. However, ergonomics and comfort are as important as responsiveness and keeping your hands cool for today's marathon gamer. For a device focused on providing an extra degree of comfort to gaming sessions, I would have expected a more comfortable grip system.