Sunday, 8 January 2017

Hold on, I bought one of those...

Having a rake through a couple of packing boxes that hadn't been touched since the house move, I happened across this:

Tapwave Zodiac 2 with screen cover on

A Tapwave Zodiac 2. Part Palm PDA (Personal Digital Assistant), part games console, I bought this piece of tech back in early 20005. Common with the tech of the time, it uses a custom charging connector that is in another box somewhere, so unfortunately I can't power it up. I can, however, have a bit of a reminiscence about it.

Back of the Zodiac showing logos, charging/sync connector and stylus

I have always had a fascination about technology, and when the Zodiac was announced, it caught my interest as it combined the then popular PDA fad (almost entirely taken over by mobile phones and tablets these days) and gaming. Whilst I justified the purchase because it could replace my failing Palm 515, it was the gaming part of the package that intrigued me.

Looking at the specs now, they seem very anaemic compared to modern day devices, but by the standards of the time, they are respectable. A 200MHz ARM processor, backed up by 10Mb of RAM, the model I have has a massive(!) 128Mb of storage. It also has two SD card slots for additional storage and software. The screen is a not too shabby 3.8 inch half VGA type capable of displaying 65,536 colours.

With screen protector open

What I really like about the Zodiac is the design, rounded so very comfortable to hold and made predominantly of metal, so it feels solid in your hands. It is also just about the right size for my (not overly) hands. It's comfortable to hold for reasonably long periods and, ergonomically, it is as close to perfect as it gets, at least for me.

Still with Duke Nukem game

As well as the touchscreen (resistive, hence the stylus), you get two shoulder buttons, Home, Function, Power and four Action buttons. There is also an analogue stick, spring loaded so resets to centre when not under pressure. Connectivity wise, there's the aforementioned charging/sync connector, a headphone jack bottom left, Bluetooth, an IR beamer and the two SD slots on the top edge (neatly protected a bit by the screen cover when it's closed). So, for the time, not too shabby and it was well designed.

I used the Zodiac for well over a year, and it did a fair amount of travelling too. Indeed, by the time it was replaced, the battery had reached a point where it would be good for just a couple of hours of continuous use. Replacing that was a no-go as Tapwave themselves had wound up by then, so the Zodiac went into a drawer.

Incidentally, the Duke Nukem game that I bought with the Zodiac isn't a port of the classic 3d shoot-em up, rather it is just a generic shooter with Duke artwork. Disappointing as I think the hardware was more than capable of handling the real deal.

In general, use, the Zodiac was great fun, an extra memory card held enough music for the daily commute and back, whilst I would generally get a full days use before needing to charge the batteries. Gaming, however, was a battery killer. With the screen brightness turned up anywhere near maximum, you would be looking at three hours tops (and that was brand new out of the box!). As time went by though, I was using the Zodiac less and less for gaming and more for the core PDA functionality so it wasn't too great a loss when a Sony Ericsson K800i took on music/diary/calendar duties.

In hindsight, the Zodiac was a nice piece of kit that was technologically a dead end. PDA wise, it was up against the newer ranges of feature phones coming from Nokia and Sony Ericsson, whilst gamer's were being targeted by Nintendo's DS and Sony's PSP. Tapwave was in no way big enough to compete with any of those companies, and their target market was relatively tiny. It didn't help that the tech was caught between two stools and truly was a jack of all trades, master of none.

If I ever find the charging cable, I'll fire this puppy up and see if everything still works. Having written about the Zodiac, it has reminded me of another piece of kit I used back in the day, the Nokia N-Gage, but that's another post entirely...


  1. But you can't make it go ..... so like most tech when it fails it is expensive junk

  2. Ah, you make a valid point, but slightly out of context from the wish to make it go again. To see it work would test to see if the rose tinted glasses are working overtime. 😀
    The Zodiac itself was useful and relied upon for quite a while (this being the period where most phone contracts were for 12 months so the general consensus was for a mobile device to be good for a year, no more). The fact that the tech behind it became less useful is, as technology goes, par for the course. These days however, tech generally tends to last a bit longer, either by design or by the fact that technological improvement, certainly in mobile devices, has slowed down considerably since the early 2000's.

  3. Pigeons or runners with forked sticks... almost as fast indeed faster than a dead PDA.
    The major problem with a fast evolving tech is simply that there are evolutionary blind alleys- like the panda which may be cute but they have no real place in the evolutionary ladder.

  4. Very true, and since tech seems to be pausing a bit these days, that can only be a good thing.