With a slew of video-worthy Flash MP3 players hitting the market--the Creative Zen, iPod Nano, and SanDisk Sansa View, to name a few--it can be hard to stand out from the crowd. Toshiba's new Gigabeat, the T400, distinguishes itself with its excellent sound quality and tight integration with Windows Media Center. The company's latest Flash-based player is a wide-screen, credit-card-size device that comes in a handful of colors and offers 4GB of storage for $120. Unfortunately, the T400 is hindered by its limited capacity, but Media Center users who want a seamless experience and excellent sound quality should still take a look.
The Toshiba Gigabeat T400 has a minimal design that definitely borrows a page from its bigger brother, the hard-drive-based Gigabeat S. But in the case of the T400, you get glossy black plastic rather than brushed silver metal--it's definitely a different appeal, though not at all unattractive. In fact, both the S series and T series share nearly identical 2.4-inch QVGA screens, capable of a crisp 320x240 resolution. The Gigabeat T400 is a much smaller device than the S series, however, with a 3.37-inch by 2.13-inch by 0.4-inch body that is dominated by the wide screen.
The navigation controls taking up the bottom inch of the front panel feature Toshiba's ubiquitous 4-way PlusPad control, outlined in a blue, orange, or pink trim. Depending on the context, the PlusPad control is used to adjust volume, skip between tracks, or scroll through lists. The four buttons surrounding the PlusPad are used for jumping in and out of menus, playing or pausing, and for calling up the main menu screen. We're happy to see that Toshiba was able to consolidate all of its controls into one little square-inch of space, as it's an improvement over the sprawling side-mounted controls used on the Gigabeat S. A mini-USB port, power/hold switch, and 3.5-millimeter headphone jack are located on the bottom edge of the Gigabeat T.
Although the Windows Portable Media Center platform is somewhat antiquated, it is still one of the most intuitive and elegant user interfaces around. The main menu, which can be pulled up from any screen, is divided into five sections: TV, music, pictures, videos, and settings. The sophisticated menu system provides multiple views for sorting content by name, date, or ID3 attribute. We're happy to see that cover artwork pops up next to selections in album view and can even be viewed full screen during playback.
The Gigabeat T400 is clearly a descendent of one of our all-time favorite MP3 players, the Toshiba Gigabeat S. The only features that Toshiba didn't port over from the Gigabeat S are the FM radio tuner and direct photo importer. We definitely miss the FM radio, but there's no love lost over the photo import feature.
The Gigabeat T's music player supports MP3, WMA (including purchased and subscription files), WMA Lossless, and WAV files. In particular, the inclusion of WMA Lossless support is a rare treat that plays to the Gigabeat's strength of high-fidelity playback. Sadly, the limited internal memory lessens the appeal of this feature somewhat, given that even WMA Lossless files are still quite large. Also, there's no support for Audible audiobooks, nor are there any bookmarking or auto-resume functions that would help with long files such as podcasts.
However, Toshiba does include a handy resume function for video playback, and the T400 skips and scrubs through long video files with great precision. Video support is limited to WMV files, with a maximum resolution of 320x240. We were able to convert and transfer most of our video files within Windows Media Player without any difficulty. The photo viewer feature is fairly self-explanatory, allowing JPEG pictures to be organized and synced to the device via Windows Media Player. With its QVGA LCD display capable of displaying 262,144 colors, photos really pop off the screen and can either be browsed individually or played as a slide show.
Like the Gigabeat S, the Gigabeat T400 is strictly an MTP device that can only be used with Windows XP or XP Media Center Edition. Without a generic UMS mode, Mac and Linux users are shut out. The good news is that the Gigabeat T's MTP system plays very friendly with Windows Media Player and subscription music services such as Rhapsody and Napster To Go.
When it comes to audio quality, there's no knocking Toshiba. Just like its Gigabeat U sibling, the Gigabeat T400 delivers striking clarity and depth. While it doesn't offer as many sound enhancement options as a Cowon D2, or the Sony NWZ-S610, its seven EQ presets allow some subtle room for adjusting the sound to your taste. We were a little disappointed that the Gigabeat T400 doesn't offer the same user-definable five-band EQ found on the Gigabeat U, but truth be told, we felt the audio quality was stunning without any EQ whatsoever. Users who enjoy radically sculpting their EQ and boosting bass to skull-shaking levels should look elsewhere.
Surprisingly, one of the hidden gems of the Gigabeat T's audio quality is buried at the bottom of their general settings menu, labeled simply, Harmonics. This Harmonics setting allows users to activate Toshiba's patented H2C sound enhancement feature, which compensates for higher- and lower-range frequencies lost through WMA or MP3 data compression. Again, the effect is subtle, but valuable for those looking to squeeze the best fidelity from their digital audio.
Video quality is above average, but not quite as compelling as the player's high-fidelity audio. Content recorded natively by our Windows Media Center DVR appeared sharp and crisp. We weren't thrilled by the video artifacts introduced when Windows Media Player transcoded our high-res AVI and DivX movies, but that's no fault of Toshiba's. We found the Gigabeat T's glossy plastic screen is no stranger to glare, but users watching videos under daylight conditions shouldn't have a problem when using the Gigabeat's brightest screen setting.
With a battery rated for 16 hours of audio and 5 hours of video, the Gigabeat T's battery life is nothing to write home about. Considering that Flash-based MP3 players like the Sony NWZ-S610, and iPod Nano (third-gen) are reaching around the 30-hour mark for audio playback, the Gigabeat T400 is certainly not setting any high standards. Stay tuned for our official battery results from the CNET labs.
Ultimately, the Gigabeat T400 is Toshiba's attempt to repackage the excellent Gigabeat S into a smaller, leaner, less expensive device. It's a great idea, but 4GB of internal memory is simply too low for a multimedia player, at least without the opportunity for expansion. Still, we recommend the Gigabeat T400 to Windows Media Center users who want to take a handful of content on the go, or audiophiles looking for a WMA Lossless-compatible player that will take their breath away.