Tapwave Now Taking Pre-orders for the Zodiac

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Tapwave is now taking pre-orders for the Zodiac, a gaming-oriented handheld that runs the Palm OS. It is expected to begin shipping next month.

Tapwave Zodiac There are two versions of this device. One with 32 MB of RAM costs $299 and is called the Zodiac1. A second, with 128 MB of memory, costs $399 and is named the Zodiac2. Both run Palm OS 5.2 on a 200 MHz Motorola .MX1 ARM-based processor.

The Tapwave web site is going to be the only place to buy one of these, at least for some time to come. The company said it may begin to offer them in brick-and-mortar stores next year.

Bring on the Games

The main focus of this handheld is playing games and it will come bundled with two. Stunt Car Extreme allows the player to navigate hills, jumps, and obstacles in a 3-D racing game. Acid Solitaire is a handheld version of the classic Solitaire card game.

Galactic Realms on the Zodiac A number of games are expected to be released for the Zodiac at the same time it becomes available. This includes Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4, SpyHunter, Doom II, Warfare Incorporated, Galactic Realms, and Phantom Strike. Duke Nukem Mobile and Doom II should be available in 2004. The prices for these games range from $19.99 to $29.99.

Of course, the Zodiac will also be able to play the very large number of games already available for the Palm OS.

To allow users to play games head-to-head, the Zodiac will include Bluetooth short-range wireless networking. All of the games coming next month that were specially written for this device will support this. Bluetooth can also be use to wirelessly connect this handheld to a mobile phone for Internet access.

The major complaint people have with using current handhelds for gaming is the buttons are not well suited for the task. The Zodiac will have a built-in analog joystick, a full complement of action buttons, and trigger buttons on its sides. It will also offer rumble effects.

The casing will be 5.6 inches wide, 3.1 inches tall, and x .55 inches thick (143 x 79 x 14 mm). It will weigh 6.3 ounces (179 g). The Zodiac1 will be slate grey, while the Zodiac2 will be charcoal grey. Neither version will come with a cradle, but one can be purchased for $20.

The Zodiac will sport two SD slots, one of which will support SDIO, allowing it to use peripherals, like wireless networking cards, that plug into SD slots. Early information on the Zodiac indicated that it would use the Palm Universal Connector. This was dropped in the final version. Its metal stylus is held on by clips running along the top.

The Zodiac’s 320-by-480 pixel screen will offer both portrait and landscape modes. This transflective display will be 3.8 inches when measured diagonally and offer 16-bit color. It has an ATI Imageon graphics accelerator and will use the the Fathammer X-Forge 3D Game Engine.

The Zodiac uses a virtual Graffiti area for text input. The text-entry area will be broken into three divisions, rather than the usual two. One will be for uppercase letters, one for lowercase, and one for numbers. When in landscape mode, the text-entry area can appear on either the left or right side of the screen. Or the user has the option to enter text with an on-screen keyboard.

This handheld will offer strong multimedia features besides just gaming. The Zodiac has a Yamaha sound chip and will be able to play MP3s and video. It will include built-in stereo speakers and a stereo headphone jack with earbud headphones. It will be bundled with the Kinoma Player and Producer, which will allow users to convert movies in AVI, QuickTime, MPEG1, and MPEG4 for playback on their handheld.

A requirement for any gaming device is a long battery life. The Zodiac will include a 1540 mAh battery, above the average for handhelds.

More than Just Games

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. It will come bundled with a version of Blue Nomad’s WordSmith word processor that can take advantage of the larger screen.

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