The Federal Communications Commision has given Tapwave permission to release the Zodiac gaming-oriented handheld. This is an important step in the process of releasing this device in the United States.
In order to get its approval, various documents have to be submitted to the FCC. These are later posted on the FCC web site. Among these are pictures of the device and its user manual. Though Tapwave has already released a great deal of information about the Zodiac, its user manual gives a bit more.
It was already known that there are going to be two versions of this handheld. One with 32 MB of RAM will cost $299. A second, with 128 MB of memory, will cost $399. Based on information in the user’s manual, it appears that the 128 MB version will come with a cradle, while the 32MB one will not.
Tapwave has created an application launcher that takes advantage of the Zodiac’s 8-way analog controller, which is to the left of the screen. Users will be able to choose from a list of eight categories with the controller, then launch an applications by pressing down on it.
The Zodiac includes a 480-by-320 pixel screen and there will be a series of icons along one edge of this screen. These will be for Home, Menu, Find, Sound, Attention, Orientation, and Expand/Collapse. The Orientation button will switch the image on the Zodiac’s screen between portrait and landscape mode. The Expand/Collapse button allows the text-entry area can be hidden or displayed. Most of the applications that come on this device will support using the screen in its various orientations and sizes.
On the Zodiac, 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.
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.
According to Tapwave, over three hundred developers — including Atari, Activision , and THQ — plan to publish games for the Zodiac. High-end games will run for $29.95, plus the devices will be able to run all existing Palm OS games. It said 15 or 20 games written specifically for the Zodiac are expected to be available at launch.
PDArcade.com has a series of screen shots showing what Galactic Realms from Crimson Fire will look like on the Zodiac.
The Zodiac offers Bluetooth short-range wireless networking. This will allow people to take part in multi-player games, with up to eight Zodiacs going head-to-head. In addition, Bluetooth can be used to wirelessly connect to a Bluetooth-enabled mobile phone, which will allow the handheld to use the phone as a modem to connect to the Internet.
As the Zodiac will include the ability to play MP3s and video, it will have a both integrated stereo speakers and a headphone jack. The jack will be located on the lower left side. In addition, both versions of this handheld will come with a pair of earbud headphones. Users will be able to store music files directly on the Zodiac or on a memory card located in one of the two SD slots.
Both the Zodiac’s SD will be able to use Secure Digital (SD) and MultiMedia (MMC) expansion cards. In addition, the slot on the right supports SDIO expansion cards, allowing it to use peripherals, like wireless networking cards, that plug into SD slots.
Of course, the Zodiac is a fully-functional Palm OS handheld. As such, its data can be HotSynced with a Windows desktop. It will include a version pf the Palm Desktop for Microsoft Windows, but not one for Apple’s Macintosh.
The documentation filed by Tapwave with its application is available on the FCC web site.
Additional Information on the Zodiac
The Zodiac’s 320-by-480 pixel transflective display will be 3.8 inches when measured diagonally and offer 16-bit color. It will have an ATI Imageon graphics accelerator and will use the the Fathammer X-Forge 3D Game Engine.
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.
It will offer strong multimedia features besides just gaming. Its Yamaha sound chip will improve the playback of MP3s and video.
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 run Palm OS 5 on a Motorola .MX1 ARM-based processor. The processor speed is not yet known. The exact dimensions for the device are also unknown, though the company says it will weigh less than 6 ounces. The device is about the size of a large handheld and is roughly .6 inches thick.
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.
A requirement for any gaming device is a long battery life. The Zodiac will have dual rechargeable batteries that supposedly can last for up to 16 hours.
Tapwave will begin taking pre-orders for both Zodiac models in mid-September, according to information at its website. It will ship in October. However, it won’t be in stores any time soon. The device will only be available direct from Tapwave this year but may appear in retail stores in 2004.