Toshiba Gigabeat S30
At a Glance
Toshiba GigaBeat S30 Portable Media Player - Silver (2.375
The Gigabeat offers TiVo Series2 and Xbox 360 integration. Navigation could be more intuitive, however.
Toshiba's Gigabeat S30 (MES30VW) is meant to be more than just an audio player. It's a Portable Media Center, meaning that it runs Windows Mobile software and is able to download and play TV shows and movies in addition to playing music and displaying photos. The 30GB model costs $300 (as of 7/21/06); a 60GB model is also available.
The player (informally known as the Gigabeat S) is thin and lightweight--about the size of an iPod but slightly (0.2-inch) thicker. Its screen size is generous--2.4 inches diagonally--which makes watching videos as enjoyable as is possible on such a small device. The screen is bright and sharp, but even so it's too small to watch comfortably for extended periods. I'd be thrilled to watch an occasional music video, though. The player comes with Microsoft Windows Media Player 10, which can automatically convert videos into a suitable format.
In new audio quality tests conducted by the PC World Test Center, the Gigabeat S earned an overall score of Very Good. The player generated a very clean signal (its signal-to-noise ratio was the highest we measured), and it achieved a very high volume before its audio reached 1 percent distortion (an industry-standard measurement). Also, its total harmonic distortion was very low. See details on how we test audio players.
Though the front panel is clean-looking with just a few buttons, you'll need to also use the buttons on the right side panel, which are small and make one-handed navigation cumbersome. On the front panel there's a four-way controller with an OK button in the middle, a back button, and a start button (with the Windows logo on it) that returns you to the top menu. The volume control is on the side panel, as are buttons for play/pause, fast-forward, and rewind. These buttons are small (too small for my large fingers). One gripe: because the on/off button is next to the volume rocker, trying to adjust the volume without looking caused me to turn off the player mid-song. The rewind and fast-forward buttons let you skim quickly through a video to find your favorite part, and to show off the fast response of the screen.
I found navigating the menus unintuitive sometimes. For example, with the player turned sideways for watching video, the left/right selections on the four-way controller skip you backward 8 or 9 seconds and forward 30 seconds (as do the rewind and fast-forward buttons on the side of the device). But when viewing photos, the same selectors open a menu or change the viewing mode so that the file name appears; you have to use the up/down selectors to skip to other images (the rewind and fast-forward buttons do nothing in photo-viewing mode). Also, getting a video or song to play takes too many button presses: Selecting a video by pressing the OK button in the four-way toggle doesn't play the video; it takes you to another menu where you choose between "play from beginning" or "resume." This can be handy if tend to get interrupted; but similarly, selecting a song from an album takes you to a menu where "play" and "add to a quick list" are the options.
The FM radio tuner delivered clear reception in my informal tests, and the solid sound quality made listening to it enjoyable, though you can't record the broadcasts. Nor can you make voice recordings.
Navigation quibbles aside, though, the Gigabeat S offers a lot of multimedia features. It comes with Windows Media Player 10, which you can use for syncing music, photos, and video files. You also can use Windows Media Player to transfer to the device any TV shows you've recorded on a Windows XP Media Center PC or with TiVoToGo software. Also, the Gigabeat S is a PlaysForSure device, so it supports online music store and video store subscriptions as well as video downloads.
If you can tolerate watching movies and TV shows on a small screen, this device is a great way to enjoy them on the go. High audio quality doesn't hurt either.