'ZuneX' gaming portable/cell phone in the works?

Rumors are rampant that Microsoft is developing a new version of its Zune music player that will serve as a mini-game console and cell phone. GameSpot analyzes the scuttlebutt.
Written by Thor Thorsen GameSpot, Contributor
Source: The blog of underground German game and puppet crossover Web show Mimbee.tv.

What we heard: It's not every day a German Web show starring a horny hand puppet makes game-industry headlines. But that's exactly what happened when the host of site Mimbee.tv posted a story with the headline "World Exclusive: ZuneX - The Microsoft Handheld!!!" on May 7.

After leering/discussing the vast numbers of booth babes that will be at the expo, the author claims to have been present at a product presentation during a two-day event at Microsoft. Referencing a Twitter post by Germany's Xbox product manager which teases a major announcement after his company's June 1 E3 Press Conference, "Mimbee" touts that only he can reveal that "the inventor of the Red Ring of Death is working on a new handheld!"

As proof, Mimbee offers up two photos--one of a presentation, another of a prototype--showcasing the handheld, called the "ZuneX." The following day, he posted what looked like slides showing a close-up of and logo for the handheld. Then, on May 12, a story bearing the headline "Hard facts about the Zunex!" appeared with scans purportedly from the handheld's instruction manual. The specs they outline point to a fully stocked multimedia handheld with gaming and cellular phone capabilities:

Zune X specs (rumored)

  • 32GB flash drive
  • Lithium ion battery with 9 hours of gaming time
  • 4-inch, 640x363 pixel multitouch display with 160 ppi resolution
  • 4 analog buttons--X, Y, A, B
  • 2 shoulder buttons
  • D-pad and optional thumbstick attachment
  • Compatibility with Xbox Live Arcade games and "ZuneX© originals" (sic)
  • Compatibility with the just-announced OnLive game-streaming service.
  • MicroSD slot
  • Built-in Microphone
  • Tray for cell phone SIM chips
  • Bluetooth 2.1
  • 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi with wireless Zune-to-Zune sharing
  • Video: WMV, H.624, MPEG-4, DiVX 3.1
  • Audio: AAC, MP3, WMA, WAV, MP3 VBR

    The official story: "Regarding the Zune rumors, we have been saying since January that we will deliver progress this calendar year on both hardware and software, so stay tuned. However, we haven't confirmed any details regarding devices, features, or timing and don't comment on rumor and speculation."--Microsoft rep.

    Bogus or not bogus?: As one might expect with any theory sourced to a muppet, the ZuneX claims have been greeted with skepticism. A reader of tech-blog Gizmodo sent in a detailed analysis of how the grainy presentation slide was faked with Photoshop. Also, the supposed Microsoft insider Mimbee.tv touted as giving "an official company tweet" confirming a device reveal at E3 now claims to merely be a "Zune fanboy."

    GameSpot hardware editor Sarju Shah is another Doubting Thomas. "The battery life claims are stunning," he explained. "Nine hours of gaming? No full netbook can pull that off--let alone at full tilt while gaming--and this is considerably smaller in every respect including battery size. The 32GB of flash is also awfully expensive; at retail it's $75 alone."

    But if the Mimbee.tv posts are bogus then what exactly is Microsoft's Zune game plan? The company has been teasing portable gaming since the 2006 Electronic Entertainment Expo, and promised it would arrive on the Zune by 2008. So far, though, the device only boasts a selection of five casual games, despite Microsoft's showing of the Galaga clone "Xuna" at the at the 2008 Game Developers Conference.

    That said, there are some interesting elements to this rumor. In 2007, Microsoft filed a US patent for a "multi-component gaming system" which described console-to-handheld functions much like game transfers from the PlayStation 3 to the PSP. Many of those downloadable offerings are original PlayStation titles reformatted for Sony's portable.

    The ZuneX logo also features the old "X" from the original Xbox logo, which Microsoft hasn't used for anything other than Xbox Originals--digital downloadable editions of games from the first Xbox. The mention of the copyrighted titled "ZuneX Originals" might hint at original Xbox games reworked for the ZuneX--if the device actually exists. And given that Microsoft hasn't copyright or trademarked the title "Zune X" or "ZuneX," or "ZuneX Originals" with the US Patent and Trademark Office, it doesn't look like it does.

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