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Beat Plus

Add stunning sound to your Visor with a simple module

by Kevin Brislin

January 2002, Pen Computing 43

Sometimes products introduced for handhelds are seen as revolutionary, while some are seen as a step in the right direction. The latter is the case for Hagiwara Sys-Com's Beat Plus Springboard module for the Handspring Visor.

Beat Plus is a sharp-looking blue module that is a tone generator bringing sound effects and music to applications. Based on the Yamaha LSI chip, it enables sixteen simultaneous FM tones and ADPCM sounds to be added to compatible Palm OS applications. Sadly there are few such programs to date. While the module only has an integrated mono speaker, it does include a 3.5mm stereo headphone jack (no headphones included, sorry), which greatly enhances the sound capability. Thankfully, there is no battery to replace.

Beat Plus comes with a full version of Astraware Zap!2000/2016, which has been optimized for Beat Plus. The little "beep" sounds of the original game have been totally replaced with arcade-quality sounds for every action in the game. When using headphones, the experience of playing Zap! is engrossing; even the explosions have a bit of echo on them to make them sound more realistic. To many people, this alone will make the Beat Plus a must-have module. But there's more.

The only other application that has been enhanced so far to take advantage of the Beat Plus' capabilities is miniMusic's NotePad 1.1 music application, which now allows you to create true 4-part multi-timbral music scores on your Visor. While there are no MIDI capabilities yet for the Visor due to its use of USB instead of serial connectors, hopefully it will only be a matter of time before this limitation is eliminated. However, it is nice to be able to write four-part harmonies on something as small as a Visor. It's just a shame that the works created are doomed to stay in there.

Beat Plus, to me, is a step in the right direction. Hopefully as more developers embrace it as a standard, two things will happen. First, the price of the Beat Plus will come down. At US$79.95, which includes Zap! as part of the price, it is still very high in my opinion. Second, all system alarm events and sounds from other applications should be routed to the Beat Plus. Having extremely loud alarm sounds to get my attention when my Visor Prism is in my briefcase would definitely be on my wish list, as well as having other games and utilities take advantage of the sound capabilities of Beat Plus. Even something as simple as having a swoosh sound occur when I throw away an appointment or document (shades of Newton) would greatly enhance the experience of owning a handheld.

Every Springboard module released for the Handspring Visor is a learning experience. It is interesting to see that someone thought that enhancing the sounds of the Visor was important. Hopefully, others will find that prospect important also and start working to integrate Beat Plus compatibility into their applications. US$79.95

-Kevin Brislin

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