Wow, what a difference a generation makes. Last year, Toshiba’s much-hyped Gigabeat digital media player
left me disappointed to say the least. After playing with the next-gen Gigabeat S30
for a week or so now, I’m glad to see Toshiba stuck with the category and went back to the drawing board. Gone are the clumsy software integration, nagging menu structure and the frustrating slider control of the first generation. In their place are the no-brainer Windows Mobile Portable Media Center platform, solid button controls and an overall impressive package.
The MES30VW Portable Media Center is a music player, video playback device, picture viewer and FM radio all rolled into one buttoned-up little box.
Design and Features
I like the design of the Gigabeat S series better than the iPod
. You have to compare the two because Gigabeat looks too much like the iPod not to. The 30-gigabyte version, which I test-drove, comes in white and the 60-gig version is black
. Gigabeat is also better proportioned than my iPod
—at least for me. Gigabeat is slightly narrower, which fits my palm better. The sides are a brushed aluminum and the screen measures 2.4 inches (the fatter iPod is 2.5 inches, with the screen is positioned in landscape mode).
Gigabeat’s controls are straightforward and uncluttered. The front panel has a back button and “Windows” button just below the screen. Directional controls surround a center “Enter” button, all of which are in a clear plastic material with a solid, responsive feel. A small power button, volume toggle switch, and track advance/reverse and play buttons line the right side of the player, and there’s a hold switch on top. It’s a clean and attractive design, and the player is surprisingly lightweight. Dimensions are a compact 2.36 x 3.93 x 0.58 inches and weight is 4.8 ounces.
Under the hood, the 30-GB version managed to store all the tunes in my music library, several photo folders and 1 ½ hours worth of video with plenty of room to spare. If I were buying a Gigabeat I’d probably buy the 60-GB version
just because, but 30-GB was more than adequate for my current needs.
The DRM-compliant Gigabeat S supports WMA, MP3 and WAV music files, including Microsoft PlaysForSure files from compatible media websites. The resident video decoder supports WMV files, and the photo viewer supports JPEG digital imaging files. An FM tuner is included.
In the box with the player are a quick start guide, USB cable, AV cable, USB conversion cable, AC adapter, AC adapter cable, software CD-ROM and earbuds that were surprisingly comfortable and impressive sounding for standard earphones.
Image Courtesy of Toshiba
Setup and Use
I had two annoyances during setup: the battery set step and the multi-cable AC charger. When you charge the player for the first time you have to slide a microscopic battery switch at the bottom of the unit to the “On” position. It’s not like Toshiba doesn’t warn you with a big sticker on the back of the player, but in my haste to get up and running fast, I just started charging the unit (my bad). After a day when it hadn’t charged at all, that’s when I discovered my oversight.
My other complaint is about the charging apparatus. Between chargers for my Treo
, digital cameras
, Bluetooth headset
, laptop PC
, and noise-cancellation headphones
, I have way too many cables and chargers hooked up to my outlet strip already. When a charger requires its own adapter cable, as the Gigabeat’s does, that nearly puts me over the edge. The extra adapter cable is the kind of thing that’s first to get lost when you’re scrambling to pack up in the hotel at the end of a business trip. (We’ll see if it makes it back from Denver this week.)
I laughed when I followed the instructions for setting up Gigabeat S remembering all the difficulties I had with the first Gigabeat
. The two are night and day. The S comes with a setup disc that has Windows Media 10 and Adobe software for the manual. But I already had Adobe Acrobat and Windows Media 11
(that works too) so I simply connected Gigabeat to the PC using the supplied USB cable, and my computer and Gigabeat hit it off like old friends. Each recognized the other, Gigabeat synched with my Windows Media Library, including playlists and album art, and all my music dumped to the portable. Sweet.
I used Windows Media Player for transferring pictures, too, but this time I cherry picked photos rather than shooting my entire imaging library to the device. That worked without a hitch, also, and the photos lined up properly in the Pictures section.
I decided to try Amazon’s new Unbox
video download service as my video source for the Gigabeat. There were a few hitches in trying to load the Unbox software—and not a lot of compelling content on the TV side–but that had nothing to do with Gigabeat. Once the Unbox problems were sorted out, it was easy to drag and drop my downloaded videos to the Gigabeat, which Unbox recognized as readily as Windows Media Player did.
The Windows interface is wonderfully simple, categorizing content according to Music, Pictures, Videos and Radio. Within each group you can choose how you want to access content. In music, you can choose from album, artist, genre and track. Within pictures, you select from date the photo was taken or by album, and videos are organized by source, name or date. You can choose to shuffle and repeat songs and change EQ settings if you’re inclined.
It’s impossible to get lost in menus in this platform, and when you want to get to the main screen, it’s a quick snap on the Windows icon. My favorite part? Being able to shuffle a playlist on the device without having to sync with the PC.
Image Courtesy of Microsoft
You’d expect a leading big-screen TV supplier to come up with an exceptional display for the small screen too, and Toshiba did just that. The 320 x 240-dot screen is incredibly sharp and bright. I downloaded an episode of I Love Lucy which translated better to the small screen in terms of brightness than the Numb3rs series which has a lot of dark scenes. The good news is you can adjust the brightness in the “Settings” section and then easily resume where you left off viewing. Overall, the LCD displayed detail and color that were remarkably viewable—even off axis.
Still, 2.4 inches is an awfully small viewing space for anything longer than a sitcom. It would be tough to maintain interest in, say, a thriller on the tiny screen. Toshiba’s upcoming player, the V series, boasts a much more video-friendly 3.5-inch display. The trade off will be in player size, something you may be willing to sacrifice on the airplane but not in your pocket when you’re walking down the street.
The off-axis viewing benefit comes in handy in picture mode. It makes it simple to show off pictures to a friend sitting next to you. And it’s fun to be able to start a slide show of all your pictures and choose your own music as the soundtrack. That could keep me entertained for hours on a cross-country trip.
Musically, the Gigabeat S30 is top notch too. Sound quality is crisp and satisfying, even with the supplied headphones. I could listen to music for long stretches without the fatiguing effects of a less capable player. The player’s support for WAV files is another reason for anyone to step up to the 60-GB version.
Toshiba gives a battery life of 12 hours in music mode and 2 ½ hours in video mode. Of course with a multi-tasker like the Gigabeat, you don’t just do one activity; you juggle several within the course of a battery cycle. In the case of a musical slideshow you’re using the screen and the music. I ran through two 25-minute Lucy’s, nearly two 45-minute Numb3rs, and played some music over a 4 ½-hour period before the battery ran out of gas. Not bad at all.
I didn’t expect much from the radio and didn’t get much either. But I’m in a tough location about 30 minutes northwest of New York City. I can’t get radio stations without an antenna from my home stereo so I can’t expect more than that from a portable music player. I was impressed, though, when I ran the Gigabeat’s Auto Tune feature and the player could at least find the stations I was supposed to get (with static) and listed them by frequency and call letters. Nice!
This time Toshiba got it right. Gigabeat S has a stellar display, idiotproof interface and broad compatibility with the Windows PlaysForSure universe. Until Apple’s very recent price drop on iPod, Gigabeat had great value going for it, too, at $299. That could well change in the wake of Apple’s move to $249 for the 30-GB iPod and $349 for the 60-GB version.
- Sharp and bright screen
- Very intuitive to use
- Supports various digital cameras for storage
- Requires a proprietary AC adapter and cable
- Will not record voice or FM radio