There has not been much noise coming from Toshiba since the Gigabeat S Series hard drive based player. Well, that’s not including their recent involvement in the creation of the Zune. They are back at it with the Gigabeat U and, worth mentioning, an upcoming Windows CE based wi-fi flash player.
The U series comes in 1GB and 2GB sizes, featuring all the basics you would expect from a flash player and retailing for under $100 (commonly found for under $90). I have mostly good things to say about this Gigabeat, particularly the sound quality and simple interface. But there are a few downsides. Read on for a full look.
- Quick Look
- Capacities: 1GB, 2GB
- Rated Battery Life: 20 Hours
- Audio Codecs: MP3, WMA, WAV
- Display: 1.1″ Color OLED
- FM Radio: 10 Presets, Autoscan
- Transfer Protocol: MTP
The Gigabeat U comes with just the basics: the player, standard USB cable, and earbuds. There is also a software disk included but is just a copy of Windows Media Player 10 and 11. There are a few aftermarket accessories including a silicon skin, hard plastic case, neoprene armband, and a few chargers and FM transmitters. If you are looking for an AC charger, most any standard USB wall charger will work.
The design is quite retro, and it will depend on the individual to give it a thumbs up or down. I personally love the styling of the Gigabeat U. In a market of smooth lines and rounded edges this player proudly stands on its own distinct “best design of CES 1989″ retro styling. Love it or hate it, the design is unique.
Most parts are made of plastic including the mirrored “chrome” trim and directional pad along with the black plastic screen face and back. The main housing is crafted out of a light aluminum similar to what you would find on the older Gigabeat S. The back glossy plastic and part of the front plastic face will wear with typical use and light scratches will develop here. If you want to put a case on it to prevent this, you could, but I say let it wear since a well-worn gadget is a well-loved gadget.
The design holds up very well. The build quality is solid, feeling somewhere in between light and heavy for its size. Buttons are solid and tolerances are right on; they depress nicely with a smooth yet responsive tactile feel.
I was a big fan of the user interface on the Gigabeat S series. There were plenty of buttons to make navigation quick and easy, but not too many to confuse. The controls on the U series are further simplified, but work very well. There is a five way direction cross in the center and two other buttons–a back and a menu button – within easy reach from the directional pad. Also gracing the top of the player is a sliding switch that will power the player on and off as well as put it in hold.
Now, I am usually a big proponent of dedicated volume buttons, but in this case I’m not convinced they’re needed since the Now Playing screen can reached quickly. Putting a dedicated volume button on the side may make it a bit easier with complicating the interface; however, not much is lost with the current method.
The graphical user interface is simple and effective, tying in will with the controls. But, and there is a big but, they did a terrible job on utilizing screen real estate. Many of the main menu items fall off the end of the screen, for example. Additionally, the main Now Playing screen does not display enough characters from artist/album/track
and there is still a lot of wasted space (and much worse when an album is on). It is expected that there will be some character scrolling, but it would be possible to show more characters by rearranging and changing the font. See screenshots for examples.
Software / Transferring Media
The Gigabeat is an MTP device, so you will need Windows XP SP2 or higher. Transferring media can be done with a number of different media players as well as simple drag and drop. If you want to take advantage of the playlist feature, you will need to use a media player for managing those.
The radio has the expected features such as auto presets, 10 presets (do you really need any more than that?), and FM recording. Reception is not that great and auto presets select quite a few stations of static. Only expect to pick up the strongest stations in your area without static. FM recording worked just as expected, recording to 128kbps MP3 format.
The headphone jack also acts as a line-in jack. Connecting another audio source such as a CD player, TV, stereo, or even another MP3 player will allow you to record that source in 128kbps MP3 format. The player also has an auto split feature that will split tracks into multiple files according the silence in between tracks.
Many people ask about hooking up a microphone to MP3 player’s line-in inputs. It will not work unless you have a mic amp or the microphone is amplified itself.
There is a feature on the Gigabat U for viewing photos, although it might as well not be. It’s not so much that the OLED screen is tiny, but the color is not well represented. OLED screens in general usually don’t produce colors accurately, and this one is no exception. When considering this player, don’t factor in this photo-viewing feature since the screen makes it impractical.
The Gigabeat has all the standard playback modes including normal, repeat one, repeat all, shuffle, and shuffle & repeat. Additionally, the player does have the standard A-B repeat as well, for what it’s worth.
Unfortunately, there is no way to create playlists on the go; you will need to do that from your computer. The player does have bookmarks, though,and lots of them. You can put them in one of five favorite folders and each of these folders can hold 30. For those of you too lazy to do the math, that’s 150 total bookmarks.
EQ settings are preset as is one 5-band user controlled EQ. The presets are scant including only flat, rock, jazz, classic, and pop. The EQ is very responsive, but instead of boosting the bands it cuts them. So if you were thinking about pushing those sliders to the top for some extra volume, it won’t work. It is the same as the “flat” EQ setting.
The sound quality is very good and I’m surprised, since I was not at all impressed with the Gigabeat S series. It sounds very clean through the full spectrum, playing very well with my Future Sonics Atrio M5′s. While the Gigabeat U played well with most headphones, I found that in some instances there wasn’t enough power to drive slightly more demanding phones, considering lower volume recorded tracks. I found this to be the case with the M5′s paired with lower level recorded tracks. However, with other headphones I found no issues with low volume levels.
The Gigabeat U series is a solid MP3 player with great sound quality and simple and easy-to-use interface. The design is original and screams retro. Whether you like the design or not, the build quality is solid. On the downside, my major complaint is the small screen – even not so much the size, but that the small space is poorly used. Again the player does sound fantastic, but could stand a little more volume, especially to work well with the EQ feature. If you are looking for a no-nonsense, clean-sounding audio player, the Gigabeat U should be considered.
- Solid design
- Very good sound quality
- Simple and effective interface
- No on-the-go playlists
- Limited power for more demanding headphones
- Poor use of screen real estate
- Lacks audio codec support (MP3, WMA, WAV only)
- Poor quality screen for viewing photos.