10/5/06 Editor's note: Toshiba has recently dropped the price of its Gigabeat V30 from $399.99 to $299.99. CNET purchased the reviewed unit for $399.99 as soon as it was available September 30.
In 2006, the supercompact Gigabeat S launched Toshiba into the MP3 player elite. The company, which is manufacturing the upcoming 30GB Microsoft Zune, has recently launched the Gigabeat V30, a 30GB Portable Media Center (PMC) device with a big screen and an original new look. As much as I appreciate the intuitive PMC interface as well as the healthy boost in battery life over that of the S, the V30 is disappointing overall. Its lack of A/V recording, a higher-capacity model, and FM radio, plus a subpar display, make the V a mediocre choice in a market full of excellent PVPs.
For the most part, the Gigabeat V30 (announced on September 1) has slipped under the radar thanks to the recent avalanche of new gadgets. Given our love of the S series, we were chomping at the bit to see what kind of true video player Toshiba could bring to a market stacked with good video players.
The V30's design is sleek but unusual. Constructed of a durable and slick plastic, the black and white device has a sloping back that ends in the right-handed grip. It measures 4.9 by 3.0 by 0.9 inches (0.7 inch at its thinnest point) and weighs 7.76 ounces, so it's definitely not the type of device you'd take jogging. Despite the odd shape, the V30 is comfortable in the hand and certainly pocketable. The boxy section of the back looks like it was designed to dock into another device for charging or A/V output. We're awaiting details from Toshiba's press corps.
Featured on the front is the 3.5-inch backlit screen with a 4:3 aspect ratio and a resolution of 320x240. The display sits behind the glossy fingerprint-friendly plastic, so you'll get some reflections (and smudgies). Despite this, the display is bright and colorful, though I think it's too pixelated to match up with the better screens out there, such as those of the Creative Zen Vision:W and the Archos 604. Movies and photos look sweet...from about two feet away. Any closer, and you'll notice screen-door effects and a lack of the sharpness one would expect from the Gigabeat (the S's smaller screen was much sharper). While viewing angle and brightness are sufficient, the screen's graininess will definitely get to videophiles.
To the right of the screen are the main controllers--a good-looking thumb stick and the requisite Windows Start and Back buttons, plus dedicated volume controls below. This is a simple right-hand-centric design that's comfortable, though two-handed use is recommended. The V30's processor is superresponsive, and the Start button will always get you to the simple main menu. Paired with the PMC GUI (version 2.11), the overall interface would be a breeze to use if not for the thumb stick-- it's not tall enough to get precise control, and personally, I think it feels too spongy. Definitely try it out before you buy--you might like it.
On top of the V30, you'll find the Power/Hold switch and tactile media playback controls. The location of these controls (away from the main controllers) makes it a bit awkward to control, though it's not too different from the Gigabeat S in this respect. The left side of the V30 features a standard mini USB port, a headphone/A/V-out jack, and a power port.
Interestingly, the V30 cannot be charged via USB. It even states on a removable sticker that: "This device can only be recharged using the AC adapter... Be sure to disconnect the USB cable when recharging the device." Did I remember to disconnect the USB while charging? No--because it's entirely inconvenient. The nonremovable battery does last a good while, though, at a rated 25 hours for audio (standard WMA playback) and 8 hours for video (at default brightness). CNET Labs got a sweet 26 hours of audio and a subpar, but still good, 7 hours of juice for video. Battery life is definitely one of this device's few strengths.