Tapwave – Zodiac 2 review

Palm OS PDA and games console
Photo of Tapwave – Zodiac 2

It’s a tough choice for some between games console (such as Nintendo’s Gameboy Advance SP) and PDA. But perhaps you don’t have to make the choice at all. If you are happy with the Palm Operating System and don’t need a huge catalogue of games to choose from, the Zodiac 2 from Tapwave might fit the bill.

The Zodiac 2 runs Palm OS 5.2 and includes the base Personal Information Management applications you’d usually expect to get on a Palm PDA, such as Address, Date Book, Memo Pad and To Do List. There’s also an MP3 player, Photo viewer, the Kinoma video player and the Palm Reader, plus you get desktop synchronisation software.

But the similarities to any Palm PDA you may already be familiar with stop right there. The Zodiac 2 has a rather impressive 128MB of installed memory, two SD card slots (one with SDIO), separate graphics processing engine and good sound output to two speakers and to headphones via a 3.5mm jack.

The default screen orientation is landscape, though you can switch into portrait using an icon on the touch-sensitive screen if the application being run at the time supports that orientation. Held in the hand landscape-style, your left thumb falls naturally onto a joypad-like controller, right thumb onto four action buttons, and left and right forefingers onto a pair of trigger buttons. You are, in other words, set for mobile gaming.

The games library is relatively small, but growing, and there is a smattering of most genres from action and adventure to strategy and retro to choose from – there’s a full list at the Tapwave Web site.

We were provided with a large array of test games, including Duke Nukem, Doom II, SpyHunter, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4 and an Atari Retro games pack, all of which absorbed rather a lot of reviewing time! True to the gaming device format, the Zodiac 2 even has a vibrate mode, which really does a good job.

The 3.8-inch, 320 x 480, 65,536 colour screen provides a good viewing experience both for games and for more traditional PDA type activity. Bluetooth is built in and Tapwave has topped the whole thing off with its own user interface, based around a central wheel with spokes that link into applications. If you don’t like this you can chose a more standard icon-based interface.

The Zodiac 2 hardware comes with a drawstring carry bag, docking cable, lanyard and headset as well as a mains power adapter.

Company: Tapwave

It's probably fair to say that the Zodiac 2 will draw the attention of those wanting its gaming capability, with the PDA side of things being a nice extra. With this in mind it is worth noting that the array of games is nowhere near as large as it is for some dedicated handheld consoles, and that the battery life is probably not enough to keep the kids happy on a long car or train journey, though it might see an adult through a commute. Also, the hardware is a bit larger than you might expect from a PDA these days. But it's an interesting combination of PDA and games platform.