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Tapwave Zodiac 2

The best handheld games console yet?

Reg Review Tapwave's Palm OS-based mobile games console, Zodiac, has been on sale in the US for ten months now, and the company feels it's time to take the handheld family to new customers in new territories. Europe's first on the list, and Tapwave popped over this month to give local hacks a look at the device.

The Register has been nagging Tapwave for a review unit for longer than Zodiac has been available, and with the European launch, I finally got my hands on one. Tapwave offers two Zodiac models, the Zodiac 1 and Zodiac 2 - all that separates them are their storage capacities (32MB and 128MB, respectively) and their colour (grey and black) - and I spent some time with the latter.

Tapwave Zodiac 2 mobile games console

Tapwave can't be faulted for its hardware design. The Zodiac's highlight is its gorgeous 3.8in, 480 x 320 16-bit colour transflective LCD. It's not the brightest display I've seen, but without a doubt the best one on a games-oriented device. The screen is surrounded by an anodised aluminium shell that gives the Zodiac a solid, robust feel. On either side of the screen are stereo speakers and the controls: a console-style analog joystick, and on/off and Home buttons on the left-hand side, and a circular cluster of four coloured game buttons on the other.

Holding the Zodiac in two hands, the stick and game buttons are perfectly sited for thumb operation, while your two index fingers sit above to further buttons mounted flush with the casing in its unexpectedly slim top side. The unit is just 1.4cm thick. Face-on it's 14.3 x 7.9cm. The whole thing weighs an eminently portable 178.6g.

The base of the Zodiac is home to Tapwave's proprietary data and power connectors, and, on the far left-hand side, the 3.5mm earphone socket. The 'phones themselves have a curved jack mount which fits comfortably against both the curved edge of the Zodiac and your palm.

The Zodiac's screen is touch-sensitive - the stylus clips into a shallow recess on the back of the machine. Above it, Tapwave has placed a removable fold-over screen cover which also protects the two hot-swap MMC/SD slots mounted in the top of the device, and the Bluetooth activation button, which cutely pulses with blue light when pressed. One of the SD slots supports SD IO cards.

Inside the Zodiac is an Motorola ARM-compatible MXi processor clocked to 200MHz. There's a further 8MB of RAM dedicated to the ATI Imageon W4200 graphics accelerator. The sound is handled by a custom Yamaha chip.

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