Tapwave’s Palm OS Gaming Device Coming in September

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Tapwave Zodiac sketch Tapwave made a big splash several months ago by giving the first glimpse of its upcoming gaming handheld that will run the Palm OS. Since that time, it has slowly been releasing more details about this device. In addition, CNNmoney was able to discover some of the company’s plans for this handheld.

Until now, this model has been known by its codename: Helix. The official name is going to be the Zodiac, according to CNNmoney.

Tapwave will begin offering the Zodiac at the end of September. Initially, it will be available only from the Tapwave web site. The company might begin to offer it in stores in 2004. There will be two versions. One with 32 MB of RAM will cost $299. A second, with 128 MB of memory, will cost $399.

Of course, with a gaming platform like this one, the device itself is only the beginning. According to CNNmoney, there will be 15 or 20 games optimized for the Zodiac at its launch, which will include “Neverwinter Nights,” “Spy Hunter,” “Tony Hawk” and “Doom II.” These are expected to cost $29.95. And it will be able to run all the games already on the market for Palm OS devices.

Of course it will be able to more than games. In addition to the standard Palm OS apps, it will come with Blue Nomad’s WordSmith word processor.

An Overview of the Zodiac

Tapwave Zodiac Diagram Though Tapwave demonstrated prototypes of the Zodiac to reporters in May, pictures were absolutely forbidden and no unauthorized images have leaked out, either. Still, the company’s site does show a small diagram of the Zodiac, giving people at least an idea of what the device will look like.

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 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.

To allow users to play games head-to-head, the Zodiac will include Bluetooth short-range wireless networking. Up to eight devices will be able to be connected together simultaneously.

It 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.

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.

The Zodiac uses a virtual Graffiti area for text input. A tap on the screen switches it between portrait and landscape modes.

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. The Zodiac will also sport two SD slots which will support SDIO, allowing them to use peripherals, like wireless networking cards, that plug into SD slots.

It employs the Palm Universal Connector, which means it potentially can use a variety of accessories already on the market, like cables, cradles, and maybe even keyboards. This is located on the bottom when the screen is in landscape mode. The 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, according to CNNmoney, can last for up to 16 hours.

Thanks to Gaurav for the tip.

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