The Good Bright and gorgeous 2.2-inch color LCD screen; direct-to-player CD ripping with included docking cradle; compatible with subscription services such as Napster To Go; eye-catching and customizable wallpaper and screen themes; available in a variety of capacities; programmable hot key.
The Bad Cradle requires separate AC connection; counterintuitive controls and confusing menus; multiple software applications needed, including the frustrating bundled Gigabeat Room software; no belt clip or in-line remote-control pad included; no FM tuner; no voice or line-in recording; no USB 2.0 support for Windows Media Player 10.0 or Napster.
The Bottom Line Toshiba adds some useful technology and features not found on the iPod, but too many unnecessary limitations, sloppy software, and counterintuitive ergonomics add up to a wasted opportunity.
Toshiba Gigabeat MEG-F
Toshiba's enigmatic Gigabeat MEG-F20K
There's a reason why the is not only the world's best-selling digital music player but also a bona fide cultural phenomenon: it works. But the reason the iPod will remain king of the MP3 player hill is the overall lackluster competition. Exhibit A: the new Toshiba Gigabeat F series, available in four capacities: the black, aqua blue, or silver 10GB MEG-F10 ($279); the silver or black 20GB MEG-F20 ($329); the brushed-aluminum, champagne-colored 40GB MEG-F40 ($399); and the 60GB brushed-aluminum MEG-F60 ($449), the only model that ships with an in-line remote control. Packed with creative technology, the silver 20GB version we tested nevertheless suffered from a plethora of overly complicated and frustrating setup and operational flaws, exemplified by the inclusion of not one but two manuals: one for the software and one for the player itself. Many of the Gigabeat's problems could be solved with a serious reworking of the firmware and software, but the remaining flaws will keep the Gigabeat F series from even pretending to reach the iPod's throne. Sleek and graceful at first glance, with just a jumbo screen and the white Plus Touch control cross on its face, the 20GB Toshiba Gigabeat F series, at 4.2 by 2.5 by 0.6 inches and 5.7 ounces, is nearly the same size and weight as the 20GB iPod; all models are the same size, with the exception of the 60GB version, which is 0.75 inch thick. However, the Gigabeat's 2.2-inch, 320x240-pixel color LCD is noticeably larger than the iPod's. In addition, the graphics-intensive interface is noticeably more colorful and alive.
Arrayed along the right spine, the Gigabeat also has cool blue backlit power and menu buttons, redundant volume controls, and a mysterious Action button; volume and other functions can also be adjusted using the primary cross control--more on those later. On top are power and headphone jacks and a hold button to lock all the controls. On the bottom are the cradle and USB connectors, along with a unique battery-on/off switch.
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