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The Tapwave Zodiac is a Palm OS 5-based PDA created by the US company Tapwave, and the first Palm-based device developed with gaming and multimedia as primary considerations. On July 25, 2005, Tapwave announced bankruptcy and that they would no longer provide support for the device.
Unlike the mainstream Palm PDAs like the Tungsten series and the Sony Clie series, the Zodiac had some unique features out of the box. Its alarms were polyphonic quality, sounding even richer and more realistic than current PDAs. The Zodiac can even play MP3's for alarms (a ROM update fixed the limit of being able to play only the first minute of an MP3 track). MP3's can be played off either of its 2 SD cards or internal memory (being the Zodiac 2 was the first PDA then and still one of the few Palm PDAs now to have over 100MB of user available RAM, this was quite feasible and convenient). While other Palm devices can also do this, they require 3rd party software like RAMdisk to enable MP3 playback off internal memory and Pocket Tunes to associate MP3s with alarms. The Zodiac uses the music player that's preloaded in ROM for normal use playback and alarms. While PDAs like the Tungsten T3 and certain Sony Clies also have alarm vibration, the Zodiac is the only Palm PDA to use this feature for PDA games as well. Many of these games were Zodiac exclusive titles (in other words, not available for standard Palm OS handhelds), but some titles also available for standard Palm OS handhelds also had vibration feature added in. These were added via a separate install file for Zodiac handhelds or a global file with an option to turn this on if the game detected you were playing on a Zodiac.
The system includes a standard touch screen (at 480x320, one of the highest resolutions available at the time) but has additional inputs designed for gaming. Held in a landscape configuration, there is an analog thumbstick and a function button on the left of the screen, four digital buttons on the right, and two shoulder buttons (triggers) on the top of the device. The unit accepts SD format cards as removable storage.
The Zodiac is more rugged than most contemporary PDAs because of its metal construction, although on some batches the adhesive on the shoulder buttons was known to fail, and the standard flip-top screen protector could do more harm than good if grit became trapped between it and the screen surface - various alternative cases made the ineffective default protector unnecessary. Presumably to save internal space, the stylus is clipped laterally into a recess in the rear of the device rather than locked into a slot as in most PDAs. This sometimes causes the stylus to get knocked loose when the handheld is kept inside a tight pocket or carry bag space, or when the handheld gets thrown around. Modified styli were produced which were attached to the lashing point on the rear of the case via a cord, so that they would not become lost or separated from the unit if they were shaken loose. Some of the third party alternative cases also served to hold the stylus in place while closed.
Most PalmOS 5-compatible games play on the Zodiac, as well as games designed specifically for the Zodiac's hardware. A great deal of freeware and shareware games and emulators are therefore available. For example, there are versions of Doom, Quake, HeXen, HeXen II, and Heretic as well as versions of emulators such as UAE, ScummVM, and LJZ/LJP a multi-system emulator. There have also been attempts to emulate PlayStation games onto the Zodiac, the most successful emulator being PPSX . It is, however, no where near completion and many games are not playable as of yet. A updated version is planned for release before the end of 2006.
A number of games were announced for the platform, but never released due to the Zodiac's discontinuation in July 2005. These games include: MTX Mototrax, a dirtbike racing game; Streethoops, a basketball game; Hockey Rage 2005; the Terminator 3 First Person Shooter; Tomb Raider; and Neverwinter Nights.[cite this quote]
The Zodiac's implementation of Palm OS 5 has a radial menu (the analog stick is pushed in one of eight directions to select menu options) with a side list for use without the stylus.
The device has a total battery life of about 3 hours when using audio, backlight+screen and CPU-intensive tasks, and while running as a dedicated audio player it is closer to 6 hours.
At the time of its bankruptcy, Tapwave was working an MPEG-4 update to support hardware decoding.
Several after-market DivX and XviD players have been developed for this device, such as TCPMP, which uses the Zodiac's special hardware for video playback. The default Kinoma player was limited to a proprietary file format, and only a crippled version of the necessary encoder was supplied with the device - to use it properly owners had to pay extra for the full version. It has been suggested this crippling of one of the device's two main selling points (full DVD length movie playback, after some compression) significantly diminished the Zodiac's success.
Zodiac exclusive games
Games which utilized some or all of the Zodiac's hardware/software are incompatible with standard Palm OS devices. This does exclude platforms outside of Palm OS (e.g., Doom II is also out for PC, but the Zodiac version listed here won't run on standard Palm OS handhelds). This list also excludes standard Palm OS games which are also available for Zodiac handhelds, which were either identical or slightly improved on Zodiac, called "Zodiac tuned" (e.g. a game available for standard Palm OS only has the extra features of vibration and shoulder buttons as extra usable buttons when played on Zodiac).
- Animated Dudes
- Firefly - Pacman clone
- Gloop Zero by AeonFlame - puzzle game where you direct the flow of liquid slime material to its goal by drawing platform lines and using other tools.
- Orbital Sniper - Look down from high above and shoot hostiles in a city grid layout while protecting innocent lives. (Freeware)
- Orbz - (was shareware, but is now freeware as of Sept. 2006)
- Stunt Car Extreme - 3D, 1st person or 3rd person racing game. Comes with the Zodiac off the included CD.
- Zodtris - A Zodiac only version of Tetris. (Freeware)
- Zap 'Em - A close conversion of Zoop for PC (Shareware eventually released as freeware)
Zodiac Exclusive titles also available on SD card.