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Hands-On With The Tapwave Zodiac

simoniker posted about 11 years ago | from the tap-the-wave-of-the-future dept.

Handhelds 34

Thanks to IGN Pocket for their hands-on preview of Tapwave's Zodiac handheld gaming system. The author suggests: "Whether or not Tapwave has the marketing muscle to steal away important market share from Nintendo remains to be seen, but at the very least the company has made a huge first impression when it comes to handheld system design." This Palm-compatible handheld has custom 3D game titles, including Spy Hunter, which IGN found "...very reminiscent of the PC's early years with the 3DFX Voodoo card", but overall, concerns about lack of "hard partnerships" with big publishers and the fact that the "price [$299-$399] definitely needs to come down" have the previewer worrying that this "great handheld design with incredible technical potential" may ultimately go neglected.

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reminds of atari lynx.. (2, Insightful)

gl4ss (559668) | about 11 years ago | (#7268743)

superior but inferior(and there was already gp32 around). superior in hardware but expensive and jumping into a market that needs lots of $$$ up front for advertising if they want to make it happen in the long run(and they also need some games with long long long lasting appeal).

also having two different models, what were they thinking? i bet the games do look and feel nice though.

Re:reminds of atari lynx.. (1)

drac (13878) | about 11 years ago | (#7268748)

Difference is, the Zodiac is a PDA with better specs than anything else in its price segment.

Re:reminds of atari lynx.. (1)

Jungle guy (567570) | about 11 years ago | (#7284371)

It is a different ball park. Zodiac is a Palm OS PDA, that you can use to manage your life, and has Bluetooth, enabling you to sincrinize with your cellphone and have access to e-mail everywhere. Is also works like a Gameboy, and you can have some "kewl" games. Even if the games are a complete flop, the hardware tag is very aggressive.

Hey Nokia! (1)

Yorrike (322502) | about 11 years ago | (#7268869)

I am a huge Nintendo fan. I would probably be considered a fanboy by some.

I really want a Zodiac, and I really want it to do well. This thing is what the N-Gage should have been. With a cellphone added in, in a well designed, non-taco way, and the ability to run Linux, this thing would be the ultimate convergence device with a reasonable amount of power to boot.

Mind you, with all that said, I would quite like a GP32 [] too, if just for the ability to home brew hand held games out of the box.

I don't get it (1)

Apreche (239272) | about 11 years ago | (#7269086)

See, Nintendo pretty much has a monopoly on handheld gaming now. And usually I'll tell you that monopolies are bad, you all know the reasons. But this one is good! Nintendo doesn't use it's handheld monopoly for evil. They don't gouge us on prices. They don't make crappy games. They don't shoot puppies, lobby congress, or eat dead babies. They have a monopoly because they have in the past and continue to provide the highest quality handheld gaming experience. If they stopped doing it, they could very well lose their seat at the top.

But until then, why are these other companies even trying? If anything the GameBoy is just getting stronger, not weaker. And unless the gameboy starts sucking right now, none of these new handhelds have a chance. Especially at that kind of price point. I want to know what is going through the minds of these people when they decide to go up against the GBA. They know they are going to fail, so don't even bother, you're just throwing away money. You could have given me that money! Or you could have bought a bunch of GBAs and games for your friends. Or shiny new laptops from Japan. Wouldn't you rather have that than a useless handheld gaming system with 2 games that nobody will ever buy or play?

Re:I don't get it (3, Insightful)

Enfors (519147) | about 11 years ago | (#7269173)

I'd agree with you - if playing games was the only thing this device was good for. But a PalmOS PDA with a good processor, 32 MB RAM, 480x320 screen and Bluetooth like this for USD 299 may well be viable even without a single game. Now, add the ability to play good games, and you've got something very interesting.

Granted, I don't think this device will cut into GBA's market segment. I think it will mostly be bought by people who would otherwise had bought some other PalmOS device. And remember, there already are a lot of interesting PalmOS games out there that work on this device too. Many of them are crap, but there are so many to choose from, there's bound to be some good ones around too.

You forget. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#7269383)

"They don't gouge us on prices."

They tried.

When Advance came out, games were $40 each. Completely ridiculous. For about a year they dropped and started coming out at around $30. Now Nintendo is creeping the retail price on games back up. Expectedly popular titles are coming out at $35 now (Pokemon, FFTA, AdvWars2).

Makes me glad I bought a flash cart. I still buy all those popular titles (except for Pokemon which I will never play) I just can't afford to buy the cheaper possibly less quality ones.

The one thing I have always liked about Nintendo though, they've been smart enough to make the portable devices themselves under $100 always with real concerns for portable devices like battery life and size. I abhored the Advance when it came out, now I can't wait for the next iteration.

So I guess if you meant the price of the device you were right, but the price of the game, no.

Re:You forget. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#7270192)

I can't afford a car. Can I go over and steal yours?

I don't get it. You are complaining about the GBA's key titles getting expensive, and then you go buy them anyway and rip-off the small developers that are much more in need of sales? You sir, are an ass.

Re:You forget. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#7273332)

Where did you buy your flash cart/reader? Been thinking about getting one myself.

Re:I don't get it (1)

n0wak (631202) | about 11 years ago | (#7270242)

Do you not agree that with competition in the market, Nintendo would have a greater need to produce more high quality titles to compete than they currently "need" to? Competition is good for the consumer, and in this way, every monopoly is bad. Think about it -- competition has brought the GameCube down to $99. The GBA, with no real competition, is now more expensive than the Cube.

Competition good; monopoly bad -- irregardless of what a company does with that monopoly (and, fact is, Nintendo HAS done some shady things with that position in the past. Arguably, it's partly why they no longer have a console monopoly)

Re:I don't get it (2, Informative)

PainKilleR-CE (597083) | about 11 years ago | (#7270483)

Think about it -- competition has brought the GameCube down to $99. The GBA, with no real competition, is now more expensive than the Cube.

While I don't care to argue about the consequences of monopolies (or whether or not there is one), I do have to point this out. The GBA is about half the price of the Cube, and the GBA-SP is the same price, not more expensive (I bought a black GBA-SP not too long ago for $99, and that's the MSRP). The SP is also a significantly newer piece of hardware than the Cube, although most of it's internals are the same as those of the GBA.

The SP is basically at the price the market will pay, as is the Cube (based on the huge increases they've seen in sales since lowering the price). Lowering the price of the SP might increase sales, but not nearly in the way that lowering the price of the Cube has. On the other hand, you always have the choice of buying a standard GBA or GB Player for half the price to play GBA games.

And yes, I got a rebate in the mail from Nintendo for the things they did with the NES pricing. When all was said and done, that was a joke, too, because it was a coupon towards a game, which, of course, Nintendo made some money on (though the rebate cut into that profit somewhat).

Re:I don't get it (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#7279138)

Where do people get this insane idea that competition automatically leads to high-quality product? Competition can very easily lead to inferior product. Competition only serves to make sure that the competitors try as hard as possible to be popular, not necessarily good, unless they are satisfied with being a niche player.

Let's say Company A is known for not merely pandering to common taste. They are known by knowledgeable people for their quality product. Whether they are currently a monopoly is irrelevant.

Now say Company B wants to join the fight. They release inferior product and market it aggressively, and it sells like crazy. They take significant market share away from Company A.

Company A, in order to compete with Company B, stoops to their level. And to combat the marketing blitz, they divert product development funds towards glitzy TV/radio/print/web advertising campaigns.

What, you've never seen this before? Are you from outside of the U.S.?

Re:I don't get it (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#7297020)

But until then, why are these other companies even trying?

Because the handheld market is a huge huge market, and even if they only capture 30% or even 10% of the market, that's still a lot of sales we're talking about.

It's not like there's only room for 1 handheld, and it's not like a product has to be considered the "best" to make some money.

More games than article lists (1)

johnopolis (631035) | about 11 years ago | (#7269204)

The Tapwave has more games [] that will be available than the article makes it sound. I would really like one, but the price needs to come down by about $100 for me to buy one. I would consider it an upgrade/replacement for my current Palm that can also play good games and act as an MP3 player (I don't currently have). It looks like something that I would actually use on a daily basis. Like the N-Gage was supposed to be, but is not.

Easy to predict... (1)

Mantrid (250133) | about 11 years ago | (#7269568)

This unit is going to fail. It costs too much plain and simple. It looks really great and I wouldn't mind owning a neat little gaming system like that, but not for that price! Price is going to sink this thing back into the depths of obscurity.

Re:Easy to predict... (1)

DrEldarion (114072) | about 11 years ago | (#7270035)

Gaming is only one aspect of it. There's a lot of people out there who would pay $300 for the PDA features alone, and gaming on it is quite an added bonus.

-- Dr. Eldarion --

Re:Easy to predict... (1)

Divide By Zero (70303) | about 11 years ago | (#7271416)

The Zodiac is not in competition with GBA. The Zodiac is not a game platform, although it does have some games optimized for its hardware. The target audience is not in middle school or high school.

The Zodiac is a gaming-oriented version of common consumer electronics. The Zodiac's closest competitors are the Palm Tungsten series (PalmOS PDAs) and the Nokia N-Gage (disaster of a gaming phone). Based on what I've seen, it beats both, blowing the N-Gage out of the water.

The target audience for the Zodiac is somebody a lot like me - a twenty-something yuppie who's into games but needs a PDA as well. Comparing the pricepoint of the Zodiac to the GBA is like comparing the pricepoint of a Land Rover or Range Rover to a Jeep Cherokee. One is a luxury multifunction device. The other is a single-function device that does its one job and does it well. If you're saving up for weeks to buy a GBA game, you shouldn't be considering a Zodiac.

If you can get bored in the morning, go out on your lunch break to Best Buy or Fry's or whatever you have and buy two or three GBA games without worrying if you have the money, but you're annoyed you have to carry them all around, you're the type of person who should think about a Zodiac. Zodiac takes regular old SD/MMC cards, and you can download Tapwave games, plus any other Palm games, onto your favorite 256MB card you got off eBay and be just fine.

If PalmOS 6 weren't right around the corner, I'd've ordered a Zodiac2 (the 128MB version) already, but I don't want to have to upgrade right away. If you have major gadget lust for these things, keep an eye on eBay after PalmOS 6 comes out - the upgrade-happy will have to have the new toy immediately and they'll offload the first-gen Zodiacs.

Slightly off topic, but saves me from making a separate post for a small point: The reviewer from IGN has a misconception about the memory on these devices: the 32/128MB memory device difference won't make any difference in performance. In PC terms, the system only has about 18MB of "RAM". The rest of the space (be it 14 or 110MB) is "hard drive" space - just storage. NB: I'm not positive on the numbers, but they're close and the concept is valid.
Tapwave has been very careful to make sure that apps run just as well on the Zodiac1 as the Zodiac2. You can always upgrade your storage space by dropping a bigger SD card into the device.

a lot of promise... (1)

RevAaron (125240) | about 11 years ago | (#7269827)

The price needs to come down? Bah.

If you were comparing this with a GBA SP- yeah, $300 is a lot. But, if you compare it to other PalmOS handhelds on the market, it's not bad. Where else can you get such a machine for $300? Two SDIO slots? 320x480 screen? Sony and PalmOne machines with a screen that size go for $400 and up.

I think this device has a lot of promise, and unlike some ugly, mangled foetuses like the N-Gage, it may make it in the world- although, probably as a pretty niche player. But to me, that seems to be their goal- to provide a decent gaming system and PDA not to kids but to people with the money to spend on a PDA but still have the desire to game. Sure, you could be like me (and lots of folks here, I expect) and own a PDA as well as a GBA- but if you're already going to spend that much on a PDA, why not pay the same price (or cheaper) for one with some good gaming options?

Hell, even if it never got many of its own games, it'd still be nice to have decent game controls for all of those other PalmOS games.

Re:a lot of promise... (3, Interesting)

PainKilleR-CE (597083) | about 11 years ago | (#7270660)

Personally, as someone that has been looking at PDAs for a while, I may buy one of these eventually (though not right away, as I won't have the cash in the near future). That being said, I will purchase it as a good PDA, not as a handheld console. Whether or not it can succeed on those types of purchases remains to be seen. I may pick up some games if they have some good ones available, but it's not going to be the primary purpose of the device for me.

The only reason I see a problem here is that I haven't really seen a lot of reaction from PDA owners to this device. It seems like they may be having issues with marketing to the right people, though again I'd rather wait and see what the launch looks like and what kind of advertising comes along once it's available.

The NGage may have it's own limited success in the area of people looking for that specific type of phone, rather than people looking for handheld gaming devices. Personally, I'm more than happy with my cheap Ericsson R300D; there's nothing special about it, it's just a phone with 4 half-assed games and no really special features (like colour, polyphonic rings, etc.) or features that would force me to leave it in the car half the time (like a camera which I wouldn't be able to bring to work). Do I play games on my phone? Sure, but they're games I can play with one hand while I'm out on a smoke break or waiting in line at the store, and can shut off at any time.

Re:a lot of promise... (1)

RevAaron (125240) | about 11 years ago | (#7275918)

That being said, I will purchase it as a good PDA, not as a handheld console.

I'm the same way. I own a GBA, and do some gaming, but not that much. However, if I was looking at two different models with similar features, there is a good chance I'd still end up with the Zodiac. Just as a PDA the Zodiac is a pretty nice device for the price. It is pretty expensive, but if you want a $100 or $200 PDA with fewer features, they are available.

I may do minimal gaming, I think I'd consider a Zodiac, the gaming aspects being a small perk rather than a big draw. I think it'd be neat to have a real d-pad and decent buttons for playing general PalmOS games- the buttons on most PDAs suck bad.

It seems like they may be having issues with marketing to the right people, though again I'd rather wait and see what the launch looks like and what kind of advertising comes along once it's available.

I think you've got it there, as evidenced by a lot of the reaction to the Zodiac. Spec-for-spec, the $300 and $400 models aren't overpriced at all, compared to other models by Sony and Palm- as well as PocketPC devices. Considering the gripe about price, the marketing seems to be targeted more at gamers who are already happy with their $100 GPA or are fine without a mobile console.

Re:a lot of promise... (2, Insightful)

Henry Salt (694931) | about 11 years ago | (#7271775)

To compete with GBA, someone needs to:

- Have the same price point (or within about $30 of the GBA)
- Have a significant technological lead
- Cement a lot of software partnerships before launch
- Probably cut a better licensing deal for the software developers than Nintendo offers

I love the GBA (when I can get it out of the hands of my son :-) ), but a little *viable* competition for Nintendo would really help in that end of the market.

Re:a lot of promise... (1)

aliens (90441) | about 11 years ago | (#7272760)

Yeah I think that's where the Sony PSP will come into play.

The Zodiac is all good, but it's really 80% PDA 20% game. Which makes it perfect for those of us who need a PDA and would like to have the option to play some good games.

What's going to kill the Zodiac as a game device is that they're already talking about the next Zodiac with totally different hardware sometime late next year!!!

That totally kills the developers and fractures your market. Consoles get upgraded once every great while for a reason.

If they're going to compete with gaming devices in a serious way they can't be upgrading after a year.

Re:a lot of promise... (1)

Henry Salt (694931) | about 11 years ago | (#7273202)

You're right - the PSP shows a lot of promise (See here for technical details [] - link doesn't seem to display correctly in Mozilla). Sony also has the market clout to get the software developers lined up.

Zodiac will die if they don't maintain compatibility. One of the (many) things Nintendo got right with the GBA is that it maintains backwards compatibility, while being a big step forward.

Re:a lot of promise... (1)

RevAaron (125240) | about 11 years ago | (#7276699)

Zodiac will die if they don't maintain compatibility.

How true that statement is depends on how compatible you mean.

It's going to be pretty easy for the Zodiac to maintain backwards compatibility, especially compared to cart consoles like the GBA. The Zodiac has a relatively stable API for a lot of the programming that goes into a game, and if Tapwave was smart, the rest of the APIs, the OpenGL/DirectX analog APIs will be stable as well.

The CPU should remain stable as well, faster ARM-based chips, but an ARM IS all the same.

I don't think Tapwave will have a lot of problems maintaining compatibility- unless they're boneheads, and dumber things have happened. Though I imagine that they chose PalmOS as a platform for a mobile game console is because of the stability that implies.

Re:a lot of promise... (1)

RevAaron (125240) | about 11 years ago | (#7276296)

Do you have any info about this new hardware? How different could it be? Someone replied mentioning backwards compatibility, and frankly, I don't see this being a big problem. If backwards compatibility was lost, yes that would be a problem, but I don't think that's all too likely.

There is a lot less potential for a loss of backwards compatibility with the Zodiac than there is with traditional consoles, handheld or otherwise. Why? The Zodiac is a regular PalmOS device, with an added layer (and some extra hardware) to support gaming. That means a gaming API, for getting input and displaying the game.

This API is likely to stay the same, unlike on most game consoles. The underlying hardware may change, perhaps a different ARM CPU or a different gfx controller, but it shouldn't matter as long as the API is used, and as long as Tapwave was smart enough to have a well throught out API designed to stand the test of time. Think of it as DirectX (or OpenGL+InputSprockets) for the PDA.

Other than the gaming stuff, what else would change? The PalmOS API will stay pretty much the same, even when POS 6 comes the API will be very similar, and emulation stuff is in place for depreciated API calls. The CPU isn't going to change for at least a few years- ARM is the thing now and will be for a while. They may switch to a different ARM CPU, but that won't (shouldn't) effect compatibility.

Re:a lot of promise... (1)

aliens (90441) | about 11 years ago | (#7278277)

Well what I was thinking about is that a year isn't a lot of time to get a good base of game developers. Heck it's not a lot of time to make a game.

So in a year, you come out with better hardware, what was the point of working on a game for the old hardware? Unless you can make it run well on both, but I would think the new hardware could be a lot better. Think dedicated 3d GPU vs the 2d ATI they have now.

Then a year from then you make another revision with even better hardware. Game consoles aren't made to be upgraded yearly as PC's are. If Tapwave really wants to market this is a game console first, then they need to understand that market. But it seems like it really should be a PDA first and game second, something they don't seem to be pushing.

Just my thoughts. It's a kickass device but for $299 for the less powerful version $399 for the other, why not get a GBA:SP unless you were shopping for a highend PDA in the first place?

Wait a year and see what sony offers and what Tapwave releases next. Zodiac has great potential, but I can see it ending up in the heap of other handheld consoles that never made it. It all depends on how they push it.

Tapwaves aren't for kids, silly rabbit! (1)

superultra (670002) | about 11 years ago | (#7270597)

I don't think that the Tapwave is necessarily trying to go mass-market like the N-Gage has obviously attempted to. I think their target is 20-40 year old business people and the PC enthusiast/LAN gaming market. In terms of aesthetic design, it's obviously much better design than the N-Gage, and dare I say the standard GBA, rivaling in at least design and layout to the GBA-SP.

I think the best way to categorize the Tapwave is that it's the American wonderswan; quiet, not terribly grandeous aspirations (i.e. eliminating Nintendo, as is most likely Sony's ultimate goal with the PSP), but something that will probably succeed on a limited and specific basis.

The big question (1)

pagercam2 (533686) | about 11 years ago | (#7271430)

The big question for me is will games be limited to 32MBs or will some games allow the user to use the full 128MB? They have two versions, this is confusing to interested buyers, do I go cheap or do I go big features. The only difference that I'm aware of is the larger memory, which should only at 10-15 dollars to the price. If they wanted lots of memory for holding movies MP3s etc... they should have given all units 128MB and only made one unit. If the games will be limited to 32MB the 128 is only for program and data storage while in Palm mode which is find but probably overkill for a great portion of the market, SD cards are pretty cheap and offer better (no battery) long term storage. Having a new product with a bit open question as to which model is more appropriate was a huge marketing SNAFU (read fuck up) if there was only one price I would have bought one as soon as I saw it, now I want to wait till I see where its going before I buy!

Re:The big question (1)

Divide By Zero (70303) | about 11 years ago | (#7271704)

Both systems will be able to run the same games - the entire 32/128 isn't usable system memory - it's total memory - the sum of system and storage memory.

Maybe, maybe not... (1)

Steve525 (236741) | about 11 years ago | (#7271869)

I'll going to reiterate what I wrote in an earlier post to a related article. This product may have a chance, even if it's much more expensive than a GBA. As others have said, you need to think of it as a PDA plus gaming, not the other way around.

Consider PC's either before soundblasters. (Or you could make a similar arguement pre-3DFX). Before soundblasters came out PC's seemed like a silly place to play games. Consoles were much cheaper and had better games. Never-the-less PC's became a popular platform for games once the hardware could support it. This is despite the fact that a soundblaster costed as much as the game console did alone. That's because people need computers anyway, so they might as well have fun with them. Likewise, people need PDAs anyway, so if this isn't priced too high it has a decent chance. I haven't shopped for a PDA, but it seems (and others seem to agree) that the price is not out of line for this device as a PDA without gaming.

Now, I can't predict whether or not it succeeds. A lot will depend on marketting. The fact that there's been a number of front page stories on Slashdot about other PDA's, but this device repeattedly only appears on the gaming page is worrysome. It will also help a lot if the system is open enough to let anyone write games for it. Remember the best computer games in the early soundblaster era were shareware games from small companies like Epic, Apogee, and of course ID. Also, being able to run somewhat questionable software such as emulators, etc, would be a big win, (for me at least).

Re:Maybe, maybe not... (1)

PainKilleR-CE (597083) | about 11 years ago | (#7274014)

It will also help a lot if the system is open enough to let anyone write games for it. Remember the best computer games in the early soundblaster era were shareware games from small companies like Epic, Apogee, and of course ID. Also, being able to run somewhat questionable software such as emulators, etc, would be a big win, (for me at least).

Well, the link above that references it as a Palm-compatible PDA was blocked by the filters here (as a site with content of type 'sex' no less), but as far as I know it is PalmOS based and therefore should be able to run shareware and emulators, as well as allowing pretty much anyone to write games for it. Of course, many of those things aren't limited to the Zodiac, but they could help along with it's platform-specific titles.

I found an interesting product yesterday (1)

Kris_J (10111) | about 11 years ago | (#7276841)

The guy who made the Liberty Gameboy Emulator for the PalmOS is connected to a product [] that allows you to develop for Windows Pocket PC, Palm, Windows Smartphone and Symbian Series 60 all at once. They've recently released a licenced Atari emulation product [] that comes on one MMC and is compatible with all the platforms above. Products like these are potentially more of a challenge to the GBA than any one single product. Why buy a GBA when whatever powerful pocket device you've already got will run a game you want?

Re:I found an interesting product yesterday (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#7281572)

Because you have to do more things than stick a cartridge into a slot and turn it on.

Re:I found an interesting product yesterday (1)

Kris_J (10111) | about 11 years ago | (#7286663)

Actually, on the Palm platform, I don't think you have to turn it off to insert the card. I think it's as easy as inserting the card and tapping on the icon.
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