Pros: Look, headphone/player sound matching, screen, battery life, size and weight.
Cons: Slightly cheap feel, format support, cross touchpad is not great, only supports Windows XP.
The Toshiba Gigabeat is my fourth MP3 player and it is interesting how my progression has gone. It started with a cheesy 64 MB no-name brand that could hold one album's worth of song to a 256 MB LG MP3 player which I still use for workouts. I wanted a high capacity player so I bought the fourth generation iPOD 40 GB unit and now traded that in for the Toshiba Gigabeat.
The Gigabeat is a slim unit and my came in black on black (There is also a silver unit). It is slimmer than my 4th generation iPOD, which may not be surprising considering it has half the disk space. The finish is very nice; I really like the black metal surface as well as the matte black finish. While it does feel cheaper than my iPOD, it has held up to scratches much better.
The screen on the Gigabeat is also a revelation. It is super bright and detailed. It is also a 262K TFT screen and does not take away that much from battery time unless it is on all the time. With screen on all the time I experienced a full drain in about 8 hours. With it going into power save mode after 5 seconds, it would go for more than 18 hours. At the 20 second mode with it going into dimmer mode, it would drain in 15 hours, which is more than enough for me.
The Gigabeat comes with a dock and a charger (which can be used separately), a set of headsets and a CD that contains their sync software called Gigaroom. I find cradles to be redundant, especially the one for the Apple iPOD but the Toshiba unit is not dumb, you can sync to a source directly though the cradle, but I have not done so at this time.
The key to the ergonomics seem to be the pad. I have used the iRiver up/down slider, the MPIO diamond shaped touchpad and of course the ubiquitous Apple Touchwheel. I am not a fan of any of these. The Gigabeat uses a cross type pad with the enter button being in the middle. The first thing I found annoying on it is that it requires you to first "touch" the cross to take the unit off power save mode. You cannot use it from the get go. The iPOD allowed you to start using the touchwheel no matter whether your backlight was on or off. The other is that the cross is not accurate and does not work well with gloves.
On the side, there are more buttons. One is a power button, as well as a menu call button. There is also a shortcut (user defined button) and a redundant set of volume controls. I found the hard key volume controls to be more convenient than the cross pad and the shortcut button only handles a limited amount of key functions (I use mind to mute the music).
The software is pretty basic in the MP3 player and the unit does not include voice recording or have an FM tuner. This doesn't mean anything to me, but may be a bummer to those who want this feature. One this unit does have is a multitude of Graphic EQ features including 3 SRS setting which does greatly increase the soundstage when listening through headphones. It has nearly 35 EQ settings and you can also adjust the bass and treble yourself.
The Gigaroom software has been a great source of complaining for many people, but I simply love it. It is simple and fast (USB 2.0) and suits my simple needs. You can sync at any time or just add certain tracks. One of the limitations of the Gigabeat is that it can only play certain file types. It can only play MP3, WMA or WAV files. Those using OGG, AAC, AAC+ are SOL. I use mostly WMA and MP3 so I have no issues. Know this before you buy this player. The one thing I didn't like (and I'm sure I'm the only one) like about the iTunes software was that I didn't know how to just add tracks. Every time I would sync, it would just look at the state of the downloadable software and then add and subtract songs. So if I wanted to clear my files to clear up hard drive space and synced my iPOD, poof, all my files in the iPOD would be removed. I didn't know how to get around that.
There are also limits to the software. It only supports Windows XP. I have a computer (which I use for MP3 storage actually) that runs off Windows ME. I was SOL and had to use my 256 MP3 player to swap to my notebook which was Windows XP. That took a whole night to do (not a happy camper) and also USB 2.0 support is only for the gigaroom. If you want to download off Windows Media, you'll only get USB 1.1 support (both cables are supplied). Since I have no issues with Gigaroom, this was not too much of a problem. You can also rip CD's directly to the Gigabeat F20 as well.
Another weakness, in my opinion is the fact that you can only store 1000 songs in a folder. That means in my Rock/pop folder, I have to make another rock/pop2 folder and I cannot randomly play songs between them (I can only randomly play through one folder or all folders). Another potential weakness is that it can hold a max of 5K songs, no matter if the memory is used up or not. No big deal for me.
The Gigabeat also supports photo display and I have not used it at this time. I do not find multimedia to be all that helpful considering the size of screens. I tried to watch an episode of the Family Guy on an iPOD video and was bored after 3 minutes of squinting. Im sure looking at pictures on a 2.2 inch screen is not much better. But if you do, it does have a slideshow mode for you to look at the pix without having to change it manually.
Now, going past all this techno talk is the heart of the review: The sound. It is funny to hear all the reviews talk about the above and then provide three lines of how the unit sounds. In my opinion, this should always be the second most important thing (the first being your price range).
The big issue I had with the iPOD was the crappy headphones they bundle with the player. I mean, you expect them to spend all this money, you put all this technology in a product then cripple it with bad sounding cans? I'm sure that most iPOD listeners don't care because the phones are the cool white ones that they see in the advertising.
Well, the Gigabeat cans are truly unfashionable. They do not match the players and they are the boring old tan coloured units you see from $2 Chinese knockoffs. However, they do sound really good, not because they are a quality set of cans (they're not), but because the engineers at Toshiba obviously spent some time matching them. The Gigabeat suffers a bit from a forward sounding treble that sounds harsh with forward sounding cans. My Sennheiser MX300 ear buds suffered from this fate and they were unlistenable on some synthesized music. The Toshiba cans are more laid back with a slightly hollowed in mid-range, which suites the Gigabeat, which is more aggressive in the midrange. My Sony MDRNC6 which are laid back (boring with the iPOD) sounded very good and detailed with the Gigabeat. It also supported the bass, which is missing with the set that comes with the player. You will have to match the units well. In comparison, the IPOD has a more recessed mid-range and treble and played better with more aggressive cans like my Mx300. But overall, the iPOD was a little bit more open and detailed, but it was pretty close. The Toshiba is also non-fatiguing and I played it on a trip for 5 hours straight without the need to take a break.
If you are looking for an MP3 player and are a basic user, you will not be disappointed with the f20 from Toshiba. If you are a more advanced user, I suggest you look elsewhere since the player does not support many music formats that aren't mainstream and the cross pad may frustrate power users.