The highly anticipated third installment of Thoshiba’s hard drive based MP3player has finally been released after many months of waiting. Released in two different capacities, 30GB and 60GB, this player is graced with an amazing interface, powered by Microsoft’s Portable Windows Media Center. This platform allows for many easy to use features such as FM radio, photo browsing, on-the-go playlists, and video-out. Lacking in the file support area, the Gigabeat S supports MP3, WMA, WMV, and WMA Lossless. This media player is compatible with many different music services and some of the new video services. It also integrates with the Xbox 360, Tivo Series 2, and Windows Media Center.
The Gigabeat S comes with the standard array or accessories: earbuds, standard USB cable, USB host cable, AC wall charger, and WMP11. Hobefully, you will see additional accessories like docking stations Toshiba as well as third party manufacturers that make use of the proprietary docking port.
The design is your standard “brick” 1.8” hard drive based MP3 player with a brushed aluminum housing and a hard, smooth plastic face. The player feels solid and sturdy, but hollow and relatively light. The plastic face of the S series is scratch resistant under normal use but just from a few weeks of use the plastic buttons are starting to show scratches. The design of the front face leads to a lot of oil and dust build up around the buttons and around the edges of the player. Overall the player is a great size and fits nicely in your hand, but will show dirt and scratches easily from typical use.
Also to note that the Gigabeat S has both USB & proprietary connections, so you get the best of both worlds. The USB will allow you to travel light, not having to carry around an extra cable, and the proprietary connection will cater to add-on accessories like docking stations, speakers, and other easy to attach accessories.
The graphical user interface is powered by Microsoft’s Windows Portable Media Center which is basically Microsoft’s operating system for digital audio and video players. It is like a “lite” version of the Windows Media Center interface. Virtually anyone will be able to pick this player up and use it with no instruction. It is extremely intuitive and easy to use; every button does what you would expect it to do regardless of mode. No matter if you are listening to music, watching video, or listening to the radio the buttons perform basically the same functions.
Toshiba has ditched the touch interface from previous versions of the Gigabeat and went with all tactile controls. For me this is a very welcome change for the fact that touch style interfaces are not accurate on any MP3 player. With tactile controls like on the S series, you feel the button press and the player responds.
One of the reasons for a touch interface is for fast scrolling though long lists of possibly thousands of songs. However, the Gigabeat handles this just as well with the tactile buttons. When you fast scroll though a long list of media by holding the button, a big letter corresponding to the first letter of the current entry you are on appears on the screen. This saves your eyes from a dizzying credit-roll of titles when navigating large collections of media.
All the buttons are positioned in easy to reach places for any size hand. However, I do not like the position and style of the power button. The power button is too close to the volume controls and can easily be pressed. I found myself accidentally pressing it on many occasions. This can be fixed one of two ways: make the button a switch or change the firmware so that the buttons needs to be depressed for a few seconds before activating.
The screen is a 2.4” QVGA 320 x 240 pixel screen. I would compare the screen to something you would find on the latest Windows Mobile Pocket PC. The coloring is very natural and smooth, unlike players like the Creative Zen Vision:M which tends to be a bit oversaturated in color. The backlight is even and provides for a very bright screen. But just like most non reflective screens, you will have trouble viewing it in direct sunlight. Overall it is just a very good looking screen.
Unfortunately Windows Media Player is the primary way to get music onto your device. MTP does allow you to drag and drop files onto the player but tag information and album art does not get transferred correctly.
Windows Media Player 11 is more user friendly than WMP10, but it is still a huge system resource hog. I have a Dual Core Pentium computer with 1GB of RAM and WMP11 chokes on my 60GB collection of music. Screens lag when trying to scroll though albums or artists, making the program almost unusable.
With WMP10/11, it is not just a matter of slow software. Both versions of WMP are buggy when using MTP devices. I have found that the Gigabeat often locks up along with my computer. This is not just the Gigabeat, as it has happened to every MTP based MP3 player I have tested. Good technology or not, MTP is poorly implemented and tarnishes the user’s experience with frustrating crashes.
By making this player a UMS (universal mass storage) it would alleviate nearly all of these frustrations. It would be software and OS independent, making loading your Gigabeat as easy as dragging and dropping files from one location to another.
The battery life is lacking compared to other players in the 1.8” hard drive class. This is due to its small 700mAh battery and power drain from the graphical intensive user interface. Under strictly audio playback and under typical conditions battery times fell in between 10 and 12 hours. For video it came in slightly below the rated 2.5 hour mark.
The radio works just as expected- the reception is ok, but seemed to be dependant on what headphones you are using. There are two groups of presets, which are good for when you travel. The auto program function is fast and only presets the channels that are available. The radio, just like the overall interface, is very easy to use.
If you are into viewing photos on your MP3 player, you will not be disappointed with this player. With a nice screen and easy navigation, photo viewing and slideshow presenting is fairly textbook. When transferring photos through Windows Media Player, the photos are resized to 640×480 so they take up less space but look nice at TV resolutions. Photos can also be dropped into the “Pictures” folder without conversion and will support JPEGs of up to 9000×6000. However, I found one disappointing thing about viewing photos: the files can only be one file folder deep.
This player also has a USB host function which will allow you to dump all the photos from your camera to the Gigabeat. Unfortunately, it does not work with all cameras. I tested two Sony Cybershots, a Nikon Coolpix, and a Cannon PowerShot. Both the PowerShot and the CoolPix worked without any problems but none of the Sony camera’s worked. More camera support could possibly be implemented in firmware updates but it is uncertain if and when this would happen.
The quality of audio will suffice for your average user that will be using stock earbuds, but will fail to win over an audiophile. Compared to many other MP3 players, I found this player to be rather average. The highs are a bit exaggerated and the lows are a bit weak. But what is most disappointing is the lack of a custom 5-Band EQ, because you could at least tweak the “average sound” to something a little better. There are EQ presets, but they can only take the music so far.
There is also a “harmonics” setting. By enabling this option, it compensates for frequencies above 16kHz that may have been lost with compression schemes. While using a standard pair of headphones you won’t be able to tell the difference. I could barely tell in a blind test with a good set of headphones.
The Gigabeat is plagued with noise when navigating though the menus. These noises are clicking, popping, and whining that correspond to each button you press, and are very audible at high volumes. This is more prevalent with the navigation sound effect turned on but not so much when the effects are turned off.
Video playback looks very nice on the screen- it is smooth and clear. While it can be a personal preference of whether or not you can watch TV programs or movies on the small screen, I found it comfortable.
Despite the fact that video looks great on the Gigabeat, getting your own videos on this device is less than pleasant. WMP10/11 handled popular simple profile files just fine; they converted and transferred without any problems. However getting DivX, XviD, and Windows’ very own Media Center recorded TV files (MS-DVR) required toying with codec installations and various settings. Finally, after getting them both to work I found that converting them is painfully slow, even on a fast Dual Core Pentium machine. DivX files took about one to two times the original running time and Windows Media Center TV shows about three to four times the video length. Also, 16:9 aspect ratio videos get distorted by being stretched to fit the screen.
If you wish to watch a lot of your own media in the form of DVDs, XviD, or DivX files, this player is not for you. While video playback looks top notch; it is tedious and time consuming to convert these videos to WMV9- even on fast machines. Native file support, like on the Zen Vision:M, would have made the entire video experience enjoyable and trouble free.
When you do get video to work, the TV out function is nice to have, even though the quality is parallel to that of a VHS tape.
The Gigabeat S30 & S60 have an amazing user interface that is easily tamed by even a novice user. Navigating with smooth menu transitions viewed on an accurate and crisp LCD screen is a real delight. This interface makes for one of the best user experiences I have encountered in an MP3 player.
Unfortunately, this player lacks in several other major areas. This player could have been an amazing if it supported UMS and native file support for more codecs like DivX, XviD, OGG, and FLAC to name a few. Music would be ultra easy to transfer with UMS and I would not have to deal with the frustrations of converting video if the Gigabeat supported more than just WMV9. Sound quality is par and battery life is poor.
Overall this player is good, but it is by no means great, because I feel that the above stated are series flaws. I want to be able to use a player how I want to and not be tethered by proprietary transfer methods and monopolized file formats. If I had to use one word to describe my experience with the Gigabeat S series, it would be: disappointing.
You can find this at any online and B&M retailer. You can usually find good prices though Amazon
- Great Interface
- Nice Screen
- Great Looking Video Playback
- Great Playlist Support
- Proprietary & Standard Connections
- Wide Selection of Music Stores and Services
- Windows XP SP1 Only
- MTP – No UMS Drag and Drop
- Only WMV9 Native Video Support
- Buggy MTP & WMP11
- No Custom EQ
- Battery Life
- Black Player Shows Dirt Easily
- No Delete on-the-fly