Preview There comes a time when you must get fed up of other people taking all the credit for your hard work, and it seems that time has come for Toshiba with the announcement that its latest hard drive - a whopping 60GB model won't be destined for the iPod has we had all predicted, but instead be saved for its own MP3 player range - the Gigabeat, writes Stuart Miles.
Compact and weighty, the Gigabeat is roughly the same size as the iPod 40GB model. However, that's where the similarities stop. The front is adorned with a large 2.2in QVGA 240 x 320 colour screen that is crisp and clear, and a sliding control cross mechanism - a mix of the clickwheel from the iPod and the slider from Creative's Zen Touch.
All the menu screens are controlled using this interface and it's sort of like using a d-pad without the pad. However, in use we had trouble getting the unit to respond to our demands every time. Toshiba was keen to point out that the unit we looked at during Japan's Ceatec show was a pre-production model, and that any problems we were experiencing were due to that rather than a fault with the concept or design.
We did eventually get the hang of it, but considering our demonstrator had no problems with the unit we can't but help blame our own fingers rather than the inability of the machine to understand.
Accessing the menu system via the "Plus Cross", as Toshiba likes to call it, works well, and for most should be easier to use than the iPod's clickwheel, the Zen Touch slider or the Sony Vaio VGF-AP1's GeSense pad. Because of its flatness it won't be bogged down with the sticking-out problems of a joystick or D-pad either and overall does add a little bit of style to the unit's design. Buttons and sockets are hidden on the side of the unit: volume controls and a default menu button that resets the screen to the main menu if you get lost within the menu hierarchy.
Software is laid out in what seems to be the standardised menus you so often see on large hard drive based units and is broken down into artist, album and genre. Because of the large colour screen you can also view record covers and Toshiba is hoping to release a USB add-on that will allow you to input digital images to store or, more importantly, view on the player. It's due within the first six months of launch.
Connecting to a PC is done via USB 2.0 and a docking station, which can also be connected to a network to share. The docking station also recharges the unit and while we didn't get a chance to properly test battery life, Toshiba is stating that you should be able to get over 20 hours of playback.
When it comes to sonics, the GigaBeat seemed to be fairly quiet. We tried it with a pair of ear-muff styled headphones and we still had to have it at full volume to really hear it. There was also a whole host of pre-set equalizer settings available and while the obvious ones like bass+ where noticeably different to the pop settings for the most part they were all very much alike.
The key appeal here is the 15,000 song capacity and the battery life. The control interface is good, although our pre-production model was dogged by poor response. Whether or not it beats the iPod clickwheel, Zen Touch slider or Sony GeSense is likely to come down to personal choice, but the thought of doubling this player up as an image viewer does sound attractive. For those still struggling, the Gigabeat will also come in three colours - pink, blue and silver, just like the new Sony NW-HD2.
Will this become the new MP3 large storage king? It has potential and as long as the "Plus Cross" is as responsive as Toshiba say it will be, we can certainly see this fulfilling the storage demands of those who feel the current wave of 40GB players isn't big enough. That combined with the large colour screen to give this the edge - the question is, will customers feel it's got the style to carry it off?
|Toshiba Gigabeat F 60GB|
|Pros||— Large hard drive, colour screen|
|Cons||— Sound is very quiet even with decent headphones|
|More info||The Toshiba site|
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