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Toshiba to offer iPod twin for PCs

The company is taking a page out of Apple's book with an upcoming music player for the Japanese market that bears more than a passing resemblance to the iPod but is geared toward Windows users.

Toshiba is taking a page out of Apple Computer's book with an upcoming music player for the Japanese market that bears more than a passing resemblance to Apple's iPod but is geared toward Windows users.

The Gigabeat MEG50JS, launching in Japan on June 22, is a palm-size aluminum-alloy device that, like the iPod, features a round controller and a backlit square display. As the first iPod did, the Gigabeat features a miniature 5GB hard drive, which Toshiba says is big enough to hold about 1,000 five-minute MP3 or WMA music tracks. The current iPod model uses a 10GB hard drive.

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Design similarities aside, the Toshiba device has several significant differences from the iPod, which stem from the lack of FireWire connectivity. The iPod uses FireWire--found in all newer Macintosh computers--to quickly transfer tracks to or from a computer as well as to recharge. Gigabeat relies on USB 2.0, which is appearing in newer PCs, for fast data transfer. The technology is backward-compatible with the omnipresent USB 1.1 standard.

USB 2.0 transfers data at 480mbps, compared with FireWire's 400mbps and a mere 12mbps for USB 1.1. Toshiba says the connector can shift a CD's worth of tracks in about 30 seconds.

Because USB conveys relatively little power, the device uses a separate AC adapter and can charge up in three and a half hours, according to Toshiba. Gigabeat contains a lithium ion battery that lasts for about 18 hours of continuous play without the screen backlight on, Toshiba said.

Gigabeat is built around a miniature hard drive wrapped in a PC card, so it can be ejected and plugged in to a laptop or any desktop machine with the interface. Consumers can also swap out different cards for extra memory, although the problem is unlikely to crop up right away.

The device's 160-by-120-pixel display uses a menu available in Japanese, English, French, Spanish and German, Toshiba said.

Gigabeat will cost about $405 (50,000 yen) in Japan, including a 5GB hard drive. Drives will also be available separately in 2GB and 5GB models, costing $162 and $324. Toshiba said the device would eventually be sold in the United States and Europe, but representatives were unaware of a European launch schedule.

Toshiba manufactures the hard drive found in the iPod.

ZDNet U.K.'s Matthew Broersma reported from London.