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Visor Beat Plus Review
By Robert Zach
Finally! The Visor now has real audio; it's a true multimedia device - AND ONE HECK OF A GAMER!
For me, the introduction of the Beat Plus is reminiscent of the days of the AdLib card for the PC. You may not remember this card; it was beat out by SoundBlaster. But, just like the AdLib, the Beat Plus brings FM synthesis to the Visor platform. And it sounds great!
Included in this package is an instruction manual; which is a little poor (but hey it's a simple SpringBoard card - who needs it) and a CD-ROM which contains a full version of Astraware's Zap2000/Zap2016; both enhanced for the Beat Plus. These are full versions with the added bonus of excellent sound effects.
As for the module itself, it is slightly thicker than the SpringBoard slot but my Visor Prism fits perfectly snug in the Handspring provided case; I suspect it will not be obstructive to other cases and the like. It contains a mono speaker and a stereo headphone jack (headphones not included). Inserting the module into the Visor loads a small "info" app and the Beat Plus driver (BeatPlus [10K] and Pa1Lib [28K] respectively).
You'll not the asterisk comment at the bottom of the Info application main screen: "DO NOT REMOVE THE MODULE UNTIL YOU EXIT THIS APPLICATION". They're not kidding here! Doing so fill Fatal Error the Visor and cause a cycling splash screen on reset. If you've ever seen this before, you know it means bye-bye data!
In fact I found that removing the Beat Plus caused my Visor Prism to "fatal error" quite a bit. I did use the SpringBoard lover's trick of always switching to an app that doesn't use the module before removing - but this did not always help. I can install/remove the card at will with a freshly wiped Visor, so I'm assuming that some application/hack/etc. that I have installed is causing this conflict. I have yet to determine what that is however; and I'm getting tired of performing restores.
Included in the box is an instruction manual (which thankfully you don't really need, because it is a little hard to follow), a CD-ROM with a Beat Plus enabled version of Zap!2000/Zap!2016 (registered, full version), and a snap-on ferrite choke core (for attaching to the cord of your supplied headphones).
Zap! sounds phenomenal! Here's a MP3 file of the complete introduction music.
As you can see the game also has great volume control sliders and separate checkboxes for music and effects. Listening to the game through the speaker it is plenty loud enough. But, plug in a pair of headphones for VOLUMINOUS Stereo! The sound really is great.
The only other Beat Plus aware application available to date is NotePad v1.1. This is a music editing and creation application. Here are some screenshots below. Note the "play to" setting. "Invention" is a demo song that is included - it's quite impressive.
Hopefully we'll see many more games in the near future that support the Beat Plus. Hagiwara Sys-Com has established a developer program. The Zap!2016 icon has a small musical note symbol; this indicates a Beat Plus compatible application.
The only things I didn't like were the price, the fact that system sounds aren't redirected through the module, and the lack of applications available. The first issue is simple; the price includes a full copy of Zap!2000/2016 so I guess it's justified for first time buyers. It would be nice if there was an option to buy it without Zap! and those that already owned it could get a free upgrade from Astraware. The second issue is a simple matter of someone coding a hack. And, with the vast Palm Community and the available SDK I'm quite sure that will come in no time. That third issue...well that's really answered the same way as the second ;-)
I can't wait because the Visor is now one step closer to a Gameboy; maybe even better ;-)
Here's the technical details matrix below.
Go get one!
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