Attention Gamers: Zodiac is coming

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Attention adult gamers: Your life will soon change. In less than two weeks, Tapwave will unveil its highly anticipated Zodiac gaming handheld at the DEMOmobile conference in La Jolla, CA. Initially announced back in May, the Zodiac is the first handheld aimed at adults that is capable of providing a near desktop-like game playing experience — a GameBoy for big boys, if you will. Whether it will enjoy the incredible success of the GameBoy has yet to be seen.

Courtesy of Tapwave will begin taking pre-orders for two Zodiac models, a $299 model with 32 megabytes of internal memory and a $399 model with 128 megabytes, in mid-September, according to information at its website. It will ship in October. However, you won’t be able to find a Zodiac in stores any time soon. The device will only be available direct from Tapwave this year but may appear in retail stores in 2004.

See me. Hear me. Feel me.

While Tapwave’s mantra may be “go. do. play.”, the keys to gaming are “see. hear. feel.” And Tapwave demonstrates that it’s fully aware of this by including a top-of-the-line color display, solid stereo sound, and familiar game playing controls with the Zodiac.

The display is reasonably large for a handheld — 3.8″ measured diagonally — and at 320×480 pixels it is capable of producing high-resolution images. It’s also backed by an ATI Imageon graphics accelerator and will use the Fathammer X-Forge 3D Game Engine to ensure that it pumps out the graphics as fast as your fingers can fire rockets. It can also display in landscape mode (in fact, that’s how you’ll be playing most games) in addition to portrait mode. And it’s a transflective display, so whether you’re indoors or outdoors you’ll be able to play.

To bring the sounds of desktop gaming to the Zodiac, Tapwave incorporated a Yamaha sound chip and built-in stereo speakers. (And, yes, it doubles as a highly capable MP3 player for music lovers.) It also includes earbuds that you can pop into the stereo headphone jack for private enjoyment.

As far as specifications, the Zodiac weighs 6.3 ounces and is roughly 0.6 inches thick. It has two Secure Digital (SD) slots, which also support SDIO. This enables them to use peripherals like wireless networking cards and digital cameras that plug into SDIO-capable slots.

Tapwave also tackled the major complaint people have with handheld gaming: the buttons are not well suited for the task. The Zodiac has a built-in analog joystick, a full complement of action buttons, and trigger buttons on its sides. It will also offer rumble effects, just like the GameBoy.

Content and Fuel: Feeding the Zodiac

If you’re concerned that it will be a device without games, don’t worry. (Remember, Tapwave has been working on this for two and a half years.) Tapwave has lined up dozens of developers and expects to have up to twenty Zodiac-optimized games, including “Neverwinter Nights,” “Spy Hunter,” “Tony Hawk” and “Doom II,” available at launch. Games will sell for $29.95. Expected games for Palm OS handhelds will also run on the Zodiac.

And if you’re worry about battery life, well, you probably should be. Since this sort of device will obviously require a lot of juice, Tapwave has fitted it with dual rechargeable (but not replaceable) batteries that provide 1540 milliamp hours.

Multi-player Action

You can also play games head-to-head with other Zodiac owners, thanks to its built-in (and simplified, according to Tapwave) Bluetooth short-range wireless networking. Up to eight devices will be able to be connected together simultaneously. (The Zodiac received its Bluetooth certification earlier this week.)

Yes, it’s an organizer too

For all its gaming and multimedia capabilities, the Zodiac will still be able to run Palm OS applications, meaning it can function as a regular PDA, too. According to a Tapwave executive, the target market is 18- to 34-year-old gamers who have outgrown a GameBoy and need a device that can help organize their life. (In fact, it comes with Blue Nomad’s WordSmith word processor.)



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