China's Shanda readies handheld gaming device

Shanda and Mitac showed off their upcoming EZ Mini handheld game console at the PT Expo in Beijing.

China's largest online games provider, Shanda Interactive Entertainment, is gearing up to launch a handheld game console equipped with Wi-Fi and the ability to play digital music and video files.

Working prototypes of the console, called EZ Mini, are on display at this week's PT/Wireless & Networks Comm China 2005 exhibition (PT Expo), which opened Tuesday in Beijing.

At first glance, the EZ Mini resembles Sony Computer Entertainment's successful PlayStation Portable (PSP) handheld console. Like the PSP, the EZ Mini has a central LCD (liquid crystal display) flanked by groups of buttons that control movement and other functions.

The console will be available by the end of this year or early next year, said Eden Lee, a product manager at the mobile communication product division of Mitac Research (Shanghai), the subsidiary of Taiwanese hardware maker Mitac International Corp. which developed the device for Shanda.

The EZ Mini will be sold only in China, where it will be available exclusively from Shanda through a cobranding agreement with Mitac, Lee said. The EZ Mini will carry Shanda's name as well as Mitac's Mio DigiWalker brand on its case.

Pricing for the EZ Mini has yet to be finalized. However, a Shanda spokeswoman said the company expects to offer the device at a price lower than Sony's PSP. The PSP, which is not currently available in China, retails for US$200 or more elsewhere.

Shanda and Mitac offered few details in terms of the EZ Mini's hardware specifications. The first version of the device will be available in white and will ship with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth wireless networking and a USB 2.0 connection. A second version, due in mid-2006, will add support for an unspecified 3G (third-generation) cellular technology, Lee said.

The device can be used with either SD (Secure Digital) or MMC (Multimedia Card) removable memory card formats, she said.

The EZ Mini will offer more than just the ability to play games. The device is also capable of surfing the Internet, playing MP3 and Microsoft. Windows Media Audio files, displaying electronic books, and playing videos in DivX, MPEG 4, and Microsoft's Windows Media Video format.

PT Expo runs through Saturday, Oct. 22.

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