Shaun over at PDA24/7 (a.k.a CliePlanet, a.k.a. PDANews24) alerted me to this hands-on review of the new Tapwave Zodiac by Craig Harris, a Game Boy fan at IGN.com, a gaming website. Craig has gone from thinking the Zodiac was vaoprware to being quite impressed, once he had a pre-release unit in hand. The last paragraph of his review's opening sentence says it all:
"I've got one of the first near-final versions of the system in-hand. And brother, I am impressed. The system is one of the sleekest, sexiest gaming gadgets I've seen in a long time. From its capabilities to its attention to user interface, the system is amazingly impressive. 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."
Craig was particularly impressed with the Zodiac's screen:
"The "wow factor" of the Tapwave Zodiac comes from the brilliant (literally) lit touchscreen LCD screen that has a stunning resolution of 480 by 320 pixels. In comparison, that's exactly double the Game Boy Advance's resolution of 240 by 160 pixels, and the difference in screen clarity between the two systems is almost night and day."
This is quite significant, because with gaming the screen quality is the game player's first impression. Of course the video sub-system driving that pretty screen is also critically important, and this too seems to have impressed the reviewer:
"And yes, the refresh rate on this LCD screen is stunning; we don't have anything that'll show the unit's highest framerate, but there's no ghosting or smearing going on in the quick-moving applications included with the Tapwave Zodiac."
Craig goes on to describe pretty decent battery life, a nice MP3 player, pretty good movie player (Kinoma) and decent gaming features and quality, though they were more on par with an older PC. Still, this is a handheld, and even though it might be behind the most current tricked-out PC, Craig suggests it's still better than the Game Boy Advance at this stage.
Of course, great hardware doesn't equal a lock on success -- others have tried and failed, so Tapwave does have a challenge ahead. They must get the Zodiac into the consciousness of gamers somehow (reviews like Craig's certainly help) and they must get games created for the platform and fast. In that way the Zodiac is alot like a new computing platform -- you must have the hardware, but hardware dies without compelling software.
All in all it appears the Zodiac is starting to build positive buzz, and that's encouraging. I do hope Tapwave is able to harness these positive first rumblings and get their product off to a running start. Looks like they'll need all the momentum they can get against the Ninendo Game Boy, and other competitors like Nokia's N-Guage and Sony's upcoming PlayStation Portable. Hopefully they can pull it off. :-)