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Toshiba gigabeat S30 review: Toshiba gigabeat S30

Those turned off by previous gigabeat players' messy interface should take a look at this Portable Media Center model, which shows a huge improvement in the usability stakes.

Ella Morton
Ella was an Associate Editor at CNET Australia.
Ella Morton
4 min read

The basic look of the S30 is similar to the F and X series of gigabeat players. The hallmark plus-sign navigation button lives on, although it is now operated mechanically, rather than being touch sensitive. Above the cross-shaped nav button are two rectangular keys -- the one with the arrow navigates to the previous menu layer, and one with the Windows symbol accesses the root menu. Above these two buttons is the lovely-looking 2.4-inch QVGA LCD screen. The right side of the player houses small circular buttons that play, pause and skip files. Next to these are a volume rocker and the power button.


Toshiba gigabeat S30

The Good

Support for digital camera transfers. Portable Media Center interface is a dream to use. Easy integration with a home Media Center set-up.

The Bad

Only compatible with Windows XP. No recorder for voice, radio or line-in. Chunky adaptor.

The Bottom Line

With its much improved interface and solid performance, the S30 made us very happy indeed.

Comparisons to the iPod are inevitable, so let's not mess around. Here's how the two players stack up physically: Apple's latest 30GB model measures 103.5mm by 61.8mm by 11mm and weighs in at 136 grams, whereas the S30 is 99.8mm by 59.9mm 14.7mm and 137 grams. A close contest, but the S30 has the edge, and a bigger, rotatable display to boot.

Toshiba's gigabeat series has benefited from a Microsoft touch: the frustrating software from previous players has been ditched in favour of the much simpler Windows Portable Media Center operating system, and Windows Media Player 10 replaces the troublesome "Room" music transfer application. The S30 is also compatible with the Xbox 360 -- connecting the player allows you to listen to music via the games console, and song information is displayed automatically.

The S30 is optimised for use with the Media Center edition of Windows XP, and will not work at all on pre-XP versions of the operating system. The hope seems to be that users will want to integrate their home Media Center set-up with a portable device, and, finding that the gigabeat models use the same OS, will be enticed by the ease of synching everything up. It's a canny strategy, especially the idea of recording TV content using a Media Center PC and playing it back on the gigabeat.

The S30 also moonlights as a USB storage device. Photos taken on a digital camera can be transferred to the player without the need for a PC -- a very handy feature for travellers. The downside to this is that not all cameras are compatible.

Although our reviews of the X30 and last year's F60 were mostly positive, we used up a lot of words complaining about Toshiba's proprietary music transfer software, as well as the player's counter-intuitive interface. We were therefore very enthused to see whether the switch to Portable Media Center and Windows Media Player would allow the gigabeat players to shine.

The main thing that struck us about the S30 was how easy it was to use. The Media Center root menu was simple and logically laid-out, and we never had to rummage around through multilayered menus in order to figure how to change a setting. While we don't normally advocate ignoring the user manual, we never had to consult instructions during the whole time we tested the S30. It was a completely different experience to using previous gigabeat models, which had us throwing hissy-fits over the software.

We had a few small issues when using Windows Media Player 10. Firstly, we noticed that the software had retrieved online data related to our music (such as album cover art) without requesting authorisation or offering the option to decline. While finding album images seems an innocuous task, it makes us wonder what other data is being sent and retrieved without us knowing about it. Also, one of the images retrieved did not match the song. Granted, it was a relatively obscure track we're ashamed to admit owning (Australian reality TV pop band Bardot's chart-topper Poison from a few years back), but it was still irksome to have a heavy metal band cover associated with the song.

Video and audio playback was impressive, with image quality especially pleasing. We'll make the call: in terms of video, we liked it better than the iPod. This was mostly due to the option of viewing photos and video in landscape mode, a feature we really appreciated.

The FM radio tuned into stations quickly and easily, with its auto-scan feature locking on target to deliver clear reception.

Battery life was around 12 hours for audio playback and just under 4 for video content. Not too shabby for those long stretches on public transport or during more intrepid travels.

We were very happy with the S30, but can understand why some would be reluctant to commit to a very Microsoft-heavy product (limited file formats, for instance). Basically, if you use Media Center at home, and want a media player to take on the road, this model would be a fantastic choice. If you have a basic XP set-up, the S30 is still a great pick, and looking ahead, it will should slot in nicely with Vista, too.

For those wanting more room for their media, Toshiba's gigabeat S series also includes a 60GB model, the S60, available in black for AU$569.