If you're in the market for a new Palm and you have a bit of gamer in you, Tapwave is hoping you'll consider its Zodiac entertainment console, a groundbreaking PDA that doubles as a portable gaming device. The Tapwave Zodiac1, which has less built-in memory (32MB) than its more expensive twin brother, the 128MB Zodiac2, costs £150. That's a lot of scratch for the Game Boy Advance audience but not an outrageous sum to pay for a Palm featuring an impressively sharp, high-resolution screen with Landscape and Portrait orientation; dual expansion slots; ATI's new handheld graphics accelerator; and a built-in analogue game controller.
However, with any gaming platform, what really counts is the software, and the list of compelling Zodiac-enhanced Palm titles is pretty short. Ideally, that will change with time and eventually give deep-pocketed gamers a reason to make the Zodiac1 their next handheld -- assuming they're not holding out for the release of Sony's PSP.
While slim, the 143 by 79 by 14mm Tapwave Zodiac1 is a bit oversize compared with most Palms. But it's definitely one of the slickest-looking PDAs out there, and it makes Nintendo's Game Boy Advance SP seem like a toy. The slate-grey exterior (coloured slightly lighter than the Zodiac2) and the gaming-oriented buttons will compete for your attention, but the sharp transflective display, which offers a high resolution of 480x320 pixels and 65,536 colours, will catch your eye first.
We didn't have any serious complaints about the device's gaming ergonomics; the analogue joystick, the trigger buttons, and the gaming pad all felt very tactile. Significantly, the Zodiac1 has the ability to view images horizontally or vertically. But at 178g, the Zodiac is heavier than a Game Boy Advance SP, so you'll have to give your hands a break every so often.
The Zodiac ships with an AC adapter, a USB cable, headphones, a wrist strap, and a flip cover.
The dedicated Home button calls up the Zodiac-customised main Palm screen, which lets you easily navigate among the usual Palm organiser features; launch various apps, including multimedia programs for playing games, listening to music, viewing photos and video, and reading e-books; and access other data. The Zodiac may have the best-modified Palm interface we've seen; it's superior to that of Sony's CLIEs. This excellent functionality is especially handy, as there are no standard quick-launch keys for the address book, the calendar, and the to-do list.
We liked having a back-panel clip for the stylus, but it pops out a little too easily, and you'll very likely lose it. We're unconvinced you could make do with just the included detachable flip cover; a £150 device merits a full protective sleeve. Rest assured that Tapwave sells a separate case, along with a wireless keyboard and several other Zodiac accessories. The box also comes with a USB syncing/power cable, earbuds, and a wrist strap. You can add a Wi-Fi card, a plug-in digital camera, or another SDIO peripheral (a number are currently under development) via one of the SD/MMC expansion slots.
The Zodiac1 has a sealed-case design. As always, we would have preferred the ability to replace the rechargeable battery -- just in case. Also, the recessed audio jack may be a tight squeeze for headphones with a wider than average plug.
FeaturesRunning on a zippy 200MHz ARM processor and a modified version of Palm OS 5.2, the Tapwave Zodiac1 ships with a whopping 32MB of onboard memory, 12MB of which are reserved for system use. As you'd expect with a device called an entertainment console, the Zodiac comes loaded with multimedia applications. Along with the classic Address Book, Date Book, and To Do List Palm OS features, you get Graffiti 2.0 for handwriting recognition, Palm Reader for text, and Kinoma Video Player and Producer for video with sound. The Zodiac also accepts most existing Palm programs.
In place of RealOne Mobile Player is Tapwave's own nicely designed MP3 player, and the company created equally pleasing image-viewing applications that take over for Palm Photo. You'll also find the WordSmith Word-document viewer and Inkstorm, a Bluetooth wireless chat/whiteboard program. In addition, Tapwave throws in the Power One graphing calculator and a nifty clock/alarm. The MP3 file of your choice serves as your wake-up call, blaring from the built-in Yamaha stereo speakers.