Toshiba Gigabeat F40 MP3 Audio Player
The Toshiba Gigabeat is
a shirt pocket sized device that stores 40GB of music,
images, and data files.
A large and high-resolution color screen gives you the
ability to look at pictures as well as listen to music.
Other models in the series store up to a massive 60GB.
Aggressively priced compared to industry leader iPod
Apple's iPod has made MP3
players into mainstream devices for ordinary people. The
iPod and its competitors offer massive amounts of music storage
in a small form factor, and give you a convenient way to listen
Latest generation players add
the ability to display pictures and even watch video, too.
The Toshiba Gigabeat, newly released, is one of the strongest
competitors to Apple's dominance.
The Apple iPod and MP3 Players
I first wrote about an MP3 player
back in April 2002 - the 20GB Archos Jukebox Recorder
20, costing, at the time, about $250. For something
that is basically a hard drive in a case and almost nothing else,
it was expensive, but it was one of the first hard drive
based MP3 players and of course, one always pays a price premium
for the latest and greatest.
Since that time, the MP3
player market has changed extraordinarily, and also, not at all.
The extraordinary change has
been the appearance of the Apple iPod series of portable MP3
players. These have popularized the concept of MP3, and
with their stylish good looks and easily used menu system have
made MP3 music easy to enjoy for everyone (8 million iPods were
shipped in the last quarter).
Depending on how you define
the market, the iPod now has between 75% and 90% of the market
for MP3 players.
Apple has used its market dominance to keep its prices high, and
surprisingly, none of the various companies competing for the
small remaining amount of market share have chosen to compete
strongly on price.
And so, alas, the attribute
that has changed the least is the price of the players.
Three and a half years ago, my Archos Jukebox Recorder 20 cost
about $250, today an Apple iPod of the same 20GB capacity costs about $225-275.
By contrast, the retail cost of the 20GB hard drive inside such
a player, by itself, is about $65.
Clearly there are huge
profits being made on these players, and a great deal of
opportunity for prices to drop.
Current Competitors to the iPod
With as much as a 90% market
share going to Apple, plainly there are no other major players.
For a while
had been rebranding Apple's iPod and selling it as if it were
its own player. This was a strange bit of marketing (il)logic
and didn't last long before being discontinued.
Dell have four models - two
hard disk and two flash disk based. They have relatively
short battery life, and monochrome small screens.
continue to release units and some of their combined video/MP3
players are interesting, but they remain a very small player.
under Zen labels have been fairly active in promoting MP3
Sony, after several false starts, are now starting to offer
Other brands include
Samsung, iRiver and Cowon.
There had been a Rio line of
MP3 players, but in August 2005 these were discontinued.
And then there is also the
new line of Toshiba players, reviewed on this page, below.
Two Different Types of MP3
There are two main types of
MP3 player. High capacity players with tens of GB of
storage use a small hard drive to store their songs. Lower
capacity players use solid state flash memory instead.
The hard drive based players
are most commonly found in 10GB, 20GB, 40GB and 60GB capacities,
and sometimes 80GB. Flash players can be found in
capacities from as low as 128MB up to a current maximum of 4GB.
Clearly a hard drive based
player gives you much greater capacity for storing more music,
but various studies suggest that few people store even as
'little' as 10GB of
music on their player. So who needs a huge 80GB unit - or
even a more moderate 20GB unit?
The answer to this question
points to the other applications beyond simple music storage and
playback these devices can be used for. Storing pictures, regular backing up and transferring of data from/between
computers, and even storing and playing of video files all add
greatly to the need for large capacity units.
And so it seems
appropriate to look for a larger capacity rather than smaller
capacity player, the same as one generally chooses a hard disk for
one's computer to be much larger than originally needed (and
inevitably the hard drive ends up getting full long before the
computer is obsolete!).
Flash drives have the
benefit of being even smaller than the hard drive and more
physically robust - if you drop a Flash drive based player,
you're unlikely to break it, whereas there is a possibility if
you drop a hard drive player from a reasonable height onto a
hard surface, you could damage/destroy its hard disk.
Currently, flash drive based players are limited to capacities
of no more than 5GB, but this will inevitably increase as higher
density memory chips come out.
How Many Songs Can You Store?
It is common to see claims
for MP3 players in terms of how many thousands of songs can be
stored on the unit. But these numbers are variously
meaningless and even potentially deceptive.
The number of songs you can
store, per gigabyte, depends on three factors :
The average length of each
song - obviously a six minute song requires twice as much
space as a three minute song
The sampling rate used - how
many MB are needed per minute of song; with a higher
sampling rate using up more MB per minute than a lower
The type of file format the
song is stored in - MP3 or WMA or something else - differing
file formats have slightly different storage requirements
per minute at the same sampling rate
In reality, when you're
trying to compare one player with another, the number of songs
is an artificial number that has no meaning. The key
parameter is simply the size of each player's storage in GB.
But, in case you wondered, a
quick rule of thumb is that 1GB will store about 15 hours of
reasonable quality music, or perhaps 12 hours of good quality (ie
192kb sampling rate MP3) music.
And if you really want to
know how many songs this is, 12 hours equates to 180 - 200 songs
(assuming a 3.5 - 4 minute average play length). So a 20GB
player could hold 3500 - 4000 songs.
Some manufacturers claim
numbers twice as large. Shame on them.
The Toshiba Gigabeat F40
The Gigabeat MP3 player
comes in a package with a reasonable range of related
accessories, but lacks one important extra.
In the package is the unit
itself, plus an external power supply. The power supply is
multi-voltage so can be used anywhere in the world, and the cord
to the AC socket can be replaced with different cords for
different socket types (or simply add a plug adapter to the end
if you prefer).
There is a USB cable to
connect the unit to your computer so you can transfer files to
and fro; the Gigabeat has a mini USB socket.
When connected to a computer
via the USB port, the Gigabeat will also use the computer's
power to recharge its battery, which is helpful. You could
presumably also use any other type of USB charger, as well as
its regular power charger.
There is also a cradle in
which you can place the Gigabeat. The cradle connects the
unit to both a power supply and USB connection, and provides a
line out and a second USB port to be used when transferring data
from a camera or other device. This second USB port is
strangely limited to only the 1.1 specification and speed,
whereas the main port supports the faster 2.0 spec.
In addition to the controls
on the front of the unit, there is a wired remote which can be
plugged into the speaker output of the unit, with your
headphones then being plugged into the wired remote. This
is convenient if you are carrying your Gigabeat in a pouch such
that its controls aren't easily accessed.
A pair of earbuds are also
provided. They are lightweight and not as easily dislodged
as full size headphones and so are useful if you're exercising.
However, they don't give very good sound quality.
The unit comes with a CDrom
containing various software, a 74 page owner's manual (also
offered in French), a 52 page manual to explain the provided
music management software, and a quick start guide.
The manual starts off with 3.5
pages of warnings and cautions - what an extreme example of a
manufacturer's paranoia in dealing with our litigious society.
There was also an offer for
a one month free trial of the Napster music download service.
The major missing accessory?
A carry case. This is an essential extra that you should
immediately rush out and purchase. If you don't protect
the Gigabeat with a carry case you run the risk of scratching or
breaking its large screen (as well as the other less fragile
parts of the unit), plus if the unit is rattling around loose in
your carry bag, there's a chance it might accidentally turn
on and flatten its battery. Worse still, a series of
random menu selections caused by items bumping against the unit
could potentially end up with you deleting some or all of the
music and other data on the unit. Get a carry case.
The unit itself measures 4.2" by 2.5" by 0.7" inches
and weighs 5.7 oz. This contrasts with my older Archos
unit, which has half the GB capacity, but is 2.3 times the
size and more than twice the weight. So although prices
have remained high, size and weight has reduced appreciably in
the last 3.5 years.
Toshiba offer a one year
warranty on the player. They have toll free support, and
my several calls were answered quickly by competent people who
helpfully answered my questions fully.
The player sells for about
Amazon and elsewhere. In addition to the 40GB
model, the Toshiba Gigabeat also comes in 10GB, 20GB, and 60GB
sizes, and some models offer a choice of color options.
Using the Gigabeat Player
The Gigabeat has a lovely
large and bright color screen, measuring 2.2" on its diagonal,
and with a 320 x 240 pixel resolution (QVGA). This is
larger, and with a better resolution, than most other players on
the market today.
Most operations are done via
on screen prompting and the cross shaped control buttons beneath
the screen (grandly described as the Plus Touch sensor control). This cross looks fancy, but underneath it are
only five sensors - one at the end of each arm and one in the
middle. It is not always easy to activate the buttons.
You can scroll through a list by
dragging your finger down the arm of the cross, but you can't
control the speed of the scrolling, and the speed is either too
slow (for a big list) or too fast (for a small list).
There are some additional
buttons on the side of the unit - a volume control rocker, which
duplicates the operation of the cross much of the time, a menu
button, an 'A' button (for extra menu responses sometimes) and a
At the top of the unit is a
very helpful slide switch marked 'Hold'. If this is
activated, none of the other controls will work. This can
be convenient to prevent inadvertently bumping the controls.
There's also a less helpful
switch on the bottom of the unit - a master power switch which
can disconnect the batteries from the unit. There seems
little reason to ever need to do this, and if you do, you will
lose all your customized settings.
There's good news and bad
news when it comes to the battery. The good news is that
it is a high capacity Lithium Ion battery, with a claimed life
of up to 16 hours playing time on each charge. The bad
news is that when the battery needs replacing, can only be
replaced by sending the unit back to Toshiba. The manual
estimates the battery has about a 500 charge life, which is a
Music is transferred to the
Gigabeat either through Toshiba's own program (Gigabeat Room) or
through Windows Media Player (version 10 required).
The Gigabeat software is
clumsy and difficult to understand and imposes their view of the
best way to manage your software. It seems from a comment
in the manual that it may convert all files (mp3 and wav) into wma
format; a process which almost certainly embodies some loss of
quality as part of the converting, but Toshiba themselves don't
think this is actually what occurs. However, because WMA
format is usually better quality than MP3, you should perhaps,
whenever you have the choice, buy and create music files in WMA
rather than MP3 format.
Transferring MP3 files
was a slow process, probably due to the conversion
occurring at the same time.
Playing music is fairly easy
to do. From the main menu, you can access your music files
via several different logical paths - you can choose by artist,
by album, by genre, by playlists (created not on the unit but
using the Gigabeat Room or Windows Media Player software), or by
going through your file directory pathing directly to the files
you want. You can also create bookmarks that take you
direct to files.
Sound quality seemed very
similar to that provided by my older Archos player. One
wouldn't normally expect the player to have much of an impact on
sound quality - the most dominant factors being the encoding
rate used and the headphones you're listening through.
Volume levels were a bit on
the low side in quiet passages, even with the volume turned up
An annoying 'feature' that
is turned on by default is when the player has finished the
selections you've made, rather than simply stopping, it then
steps on to whatever is next on the disk, and starts playing
Looking at Pictures
The lovely bright color
screen can display jpg pictures, and software automatically
resizes pictures down to the 320 x 240 resolution of the screen.
Toshiba don't specify how
many colors the screen can display, and when I called their
support number, they said they didn't know the answer.
But, whatever the number is, it is way too few (it is at least
256 colors and maybe more than 1024 colors, but probably less
than 4096 colors). The lack of color depth on the screen
means pictures have visible banding in them rather than smooth
Choosing the pictures to
display is poorly thought out. All pictures get dumped in
one large folder, so if you end up with hundreds or thousands of
pictures on the unit (and why not do so - there's plenty of
capacity) scrolling through the tiny thumbnails to find the
particular picture you are looking for can be time consuming and
Attempting to use the photo
browser built in to the Gigabeat Room software uncovered a known
bug - if any of the files in a directory the photo browser
attempts to read are in an unknown format, the software will
simply crash. In my case, at least one of the 703 images
in the 'My Pictures' directory causes the software to crash
every time it is loaded, but short of testing each of the 703
pictures individually, I have no idea which is the guilty image
(or images) and so the photo browser can not be used.
Copy Protection and Digital
Rights Management Problems
There has been an insidious
increase in what is politely referred to as 'digital rights
management' (DRM) issues with MP3 and other types of digital
music and video players. While ostensibly designed to
prevent piracy and unauthorized copying of music, the reality is
these restrictions typically interfere with one's regular use of
the music one buys, compared to the freedoms one has when buying
'old fashioned' CDs or tapes.
Toshiba have chosen a very
aggressive and stupid approach to enforcing some sort of
peculiar and completely unnecessary gratuitous protection
scheme. You can't simply copy music files from your PC to
the Gigabeat player, and neither can you copy the music files
from the Gigabeat player back to your PC. Instead, this
all has to be directed through either the Windows Media Player
program or Toshiba's own Gigabeat Room software, making the
process more complicated and difficult and potentially much
This restriction applies to
music you own, to music you create yourself, as well as to music
you buy. It also applies to pictures, too, which gives
rise to the extraordinarily stupid situation whereby you can use
the Gigabeat to directly store images from your camera, but you
can't then view them on the Gigabeat because the images weren't
transferred via a PC with the Toshiba transfer management
This is a clear example of
totally unnecessary 'protection' that does not protect anyone or
anything, but merely mindlessly interferes with the owner's
experience and convenience.
Let's hope Toshiba rethinks
this stupidity in a future update of their firmware. To be
fair to Toshiba, they are far from alone in adopting these
controls on how we can use our music.
The Gigabeat is a
functionally effective music player, but it isn't a state of the
art device because it lacks features which some of its
A simple but handy feature
is a recorder capability, enabling you to use the unit as a
voice recorder or as a music recorder, plugging in a microphone
(or with an inbuilt microphone) or other line in source.
Some MP3 units have a built
in FM receiver, enabling you to listen to radio broadcasts as
well as stored MP3s.
And the Gigabeat's screen begs
out for displaying video, but so far there are no video playback
Some MP3 players also have
some personal information management type software integrated
into them; for example, they might allow you to take a copy of
your Outlook calendar and view your schedule on the player's
Some players also have some
'eye candy' type programs that aren't really needed, but which
add to the feel-good factor when buying a unit. A world
time clock is one such example, a stop watch is another such
example. Obviously such extra features have no impact on
the basic ability of the Gigabeat to play your music for you,
but they would be nice to have.
Stop Press - new iPods
A new generation of iPods
have been announced on 12 October. They will have larger
color screens than the Gigabeat (2.5" compared to 2.2" diagonal)
and the same screen resolution. The new iPods, available
in 30GB and 60GB capacities, will be much slimmer than the
Gigabeat units, and will also play video. Their battery
life has been extended to 20 hours. They are planned to
retail for $300 and $400.
The Gigabeat is generally
superior to earlier generation iPods, but these new units seem
to be as good or better than
the Toshiba Gigabeat in all respects, and at comparable prices.
Toshiba Gigabeat F40 is
a good portable music player with a huge amount of disk capacity
and long battery life, in a small lightweight unit. And at
Amazon, it is well priced.
For a very short while it
may have been the best choice for many people, but the unit, although new to
market, seems to have now been trumped by the latest Apple iPods.
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14 Oct 2005, last update
21 Jul 2020
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