Toshiba Gigabeat F20 HDD player review

Toshiba Gigabeat F20 HDD player review

Toshiba MP3 players can be classified as products that many have heard about, but few have seen. They enjoy well-deserved popularity in Japan and, like all Japanese equipment that is not supplied in large volumes to Europe, are of particular interest to "advanced users". Until now, Toshiba's product reviews in the field of personal audio were absent on our site, but now we will correct this unfortunate misunderstanding. Interest in the Gigabeat series from Toshiba is also spurred on by the fact that one of the devices of this particular series served as a prototype for the heavyweight Microsoft Zune, recently presented to the general public by the Redmond giant.

The Toshiba Gigabeat F20 is already a veteran player, and another model has taken its place in the company's lineup. Be that as it may, during the first year of its existence, it was sold only in Japan and was not available to buyers from other countries until the end of 2005 and the beginning of 2006. Despite the fact that the player was originally introduced about two years ago, it still looks very advantageous against the background of modern devices, largely due to technical solutions that are somewhat ahead of world trends.

The device lacks video functionality, but otherwise it provides quite decent features, the list of which looks quite expected. The F20 plays MP3 and WMA, connects to Napster's music buying service, and allows you to view photos. There are no functions for recording a signal from a microphone and receiving radio broadcasts, here the F20 copies the iPod, which, apparently, was conceived by a competitor.

The F-series includes three models with 1.8-inch drives with 10, 20 and 40 GB, made naturally by Toshiba.

Due to the fact that the player was released quite a long time ago, the purpose of this material is not to get acquainted with the new device, but to create some foundation against which in the future it will be possible to trace the development of the Gigabeat line up to the appearance of Microsoft Zune.

Body and design

The player is dressed in a rectangular case in a silvery color scheme. The body materials are plastic and metal alloy. Moreover, the metal used in the design practically does not give itself away: a similar effect occurs from time to time in portable electronics, for the first time I met it in the process of testing iRiver H10. To make sure that the back panel and part of the front panel are really metal, only careful “tapping” with a female fingernail and applying it to the cheek and other sensitive places helps.

Side inserts, ends and a decorative insert on the front panel are made of plastic. This fact does not prevent the case from demonstrating the high quality of workmanship, assembly and fitting of parts. Despite the fact that the quality of the bodies of today's players made in China has seriously increased and is in most cases quite worthy (of course, we are talking about well-known brands), picking up the F20, you involuntarily remember that the player was made in Japan. It seems that something subtly reminds of this, or it is my love for Japanese technology that speaks in me, explaining a slightly subjective approach.

Most of the front panel is occupied by a plastic decorative insert with a chrome-like mirror finish; a display and a control “cross” are inscribed in it, which are discussed below. The use of smooth mirror surfaces in portable technology, such as players and mobile phones, has not been really successful in my memory. Naturally, not in terms of attractive appearance, but purely in a utilitarian sense. Such a coating is instantly covered with fingerprints, easily scratched, wiped off and worn out in every possible way, while all neoplasms on the body become visible at a glance. On the other hand, of course, mirror inserts make the appearance of the device more catchy, bright, attractive, that is, in general, directly affect the level of sales in a favorable way. Fortunately, many people of both sexes are more likely to “peck” on a bright little thing that glares in a shop window under a bright lamp than on a matte “fuzzy”.

If you forget for a moment about the need to frequently wipe the front panel, then the player looks really very good. Shades of silver in technology are generally a win-win option, but if Hand Cream in Nigeria did not fail the design, then the device literally starts to catch the eye in a normal setting (not in a shop window). The rectangular shape of the body, the vertical orientation of the display and the control cross harmonize well with each other, giving the player a solid look that is appropriate in almost any environment.

On the front side there is only a display and a “cross”, the back side of the case is left empty. The same goes for the left sidebar. Additional controls and connectors are placed on the right side panel and ends. The top end contains connectors for headphones and AC adapter, on the bottom there is a universal branded connector, as well as a standard USB and a miniature battery switch. This is the first time I have encountered such a function, I have not seen anything like this on any of the players before. Finally, on the right panel there was a place for three buttons and a rocker for additional control.


Due to the fact that the player was created with a clear aim to "wrestle" with the iPod for the Japanese, and then for the European market, its designers could not help but try to sculpt something that could at least not lag too far behind ClickWheel in terms of level " wow factor. Naturally, the choice fell on touch control. So, the F20 has a “cross” on the front panel called Plus Touch, which in one form or another migrated to other players of the company. It accounts for the lion's share of manipulation, but it differs from ClickWheel in the way it works. First of all, Plus Touch is not pressed in any way, that is, none of its parts has a horizontal or vertical stroke, it is firmly fixed. The best way to work with it can be explained by the example of a five-way joystick. To move through the vertical (menu) and horizontal (songs) lists, you need to touch the Plus Touch part with your finger. If you hold your finger, then, accordingly, the list will scroll, or rewind will turn on. The central part of the "cross" partly performs the functions of the central ClickWheel key, although the menu item is selected by "pressing" to the right. The main difference from the iPod approach is that there is no need to move your finger: all actions are carried out with a short or long touch.

The sensitivity of the "cross" is at a quite acceptable level, from time to time it happens that it does not react the first time, but such a frequency of failures is within comfortable limits and does not cause irritation.

The rest of the controls are located on the right sidebar and are represented by three round buttons, complemented by a rocker. The latter serves to adjust the volume, while the remaining buttons control power, menus and tagging/bookmarking. One of them can be additionally programmed to call various functions.

The size of the buttons is average, there are no problems with pressing them, since the buttons have a medium-length stroke and fix clicks with a click.

In addition to the "cross" and buttons, there are two more sliding switches on the F20 body: one of them is responsible for blocking the keyboard, the second – for battery activity. The first switch evokes almost no emotions: it clearly performs its function, and similar blocking tools can be found in any modern player.

But the battery switch is as rare as it gets. To be honest, its purpose seems very vague, perhaps it serves to disconnect the battery from the player's circuits in order to avoid accidental activation or fatal full discharge when stored for a long time.

The player control scheme as a whole is quite successful, its creators managed to embody something new, previously unseen in the hardware, but at the same time provide sufficient convenience for controlling the device.

Display and Menu

The display of the F20 at the time of the appearance of the device in Japan was noticeably ahead in terms of characteristics of the displays of all the players available on the market. Today it has not lost its relevance, but it has become less advanced, the efforts of other manufacturers, in particular Apple, have “pulled up” the average level of performance higher. Toshiba F20 is equipped with a bright display with a diagonal of 2.2 inches, based on a TFT-matrix with a resolution of 320×240 pixels. The colors on the display are very saturated and contrasting, the image quality is worthy of all praise. True, a good impression of the display is facilitated by a large number of well-drawn and pre-installed wallpapers and screensavers. Often, very decent displays in players do not open up their full potential precisely because there is nothing corny for it to open up.

On the other hand, there are often situations when, pardon the tautology, against the background of the background image you can't see the numbers of the counters of the elapsed and remaining playback time. There is a kind of conflict between color schemes, background images and splash screens that are superimposed on these images.

Otherwise, the display is quite ordinary (taking into account today's realities): in direct daylight, the image fades, but remains readable, graphic files look pretty decent (more on that in the appropriate section). System fonts are quite balanced, there are no problems with reading information from the display.

The player's menus have a rather unusual organization: there is no menu screen as such, and the items and sections themselves appear in a separate "window" on top of the background and splash screen of the display. The high resolution of the display allows you to minimize the number of contractions.

The items and sections of the main and additional menus are represented by labels. Main menu composition: Artist, Album, Genre, Playlist, Folder, Bookmark, Recycle Bin, Photo, Demo Music, Setup. The main menu is called by pressing the power button, oddly enough.

Artist, Album, Genre. Sort the contents of the hard drive according to the artist name, album name or genre of the work.

Playlist. Section for working with playlists.

Folder. Browse folders on your hard drive.

Bookmark. Bookmark tools.

Recycle Bin. Just like the battery switch, a feature I've never seen before. Its essence boils down to the role of the Recycle Bin in Windows.

Demo music. Demo mode of the player.

Setup. Settings menu, from here you can configure all aspects of the player.

In particular, all timers are configured here, the function of a programmable button is assigned, PC connection modes, Plus Touch operation, playback and slideshow are selected. Here you can also manually adjust the equalizer, select a preset, limit the sound volume, select a background image and interface theme, set the system time, select a menu language and view firmware information.

Complete Setup menu: Sleep Timer, Backlight Off Time, A-Button Function, Operation Guide, Beep, Auto Power Off, USB Priority, PC Connections, Play Mode, Intro, Equalizer/SRS WOW, User Setting EQ, Preset Volume, Plus Touch, Wallpaper, Screen Theme, Slide Interval, Slideshow Effect, Sort, Time Format, Date/Time, System, Language.

Working with the player's menu is somewhat unusual compared to more "European" models, but on the whole it is quite comfortable. You need to get used to the location of the items, the menu cannot be called transparent and intuitive. However, it takes a couple of tens of minutes maximum to master Plus Touch and the menu, so the F20 interface cannot be called complicated either.

Power and PC connection

The player is powered by a built-in lithium-ion battery, the manufacturer does not provide data on its capacity. Judging by the declared operating time of 16 hours against the backdrop of a bright and probably “gluttonous” display, it is at least 700 mAh. The battery is charged via the USB bus, when installed in a cradle, or from the AC adapter supplied in the kit. True, in Russian conditions, the latter is of little use, because it has a European plug, equipped with three thick flat pins. It is possible, however, that this is only a problem of the tested sample, and in other batches the plug of the adapter is normal.

In real conditions, the player demonstrates a decent operating time, in the process of testing it worked for about 14 hours with numerous on-off and various functions; the volume level was set at about 85-90% of the maximum.

The player connects to a personal computer using a standard USB cable. The operating system defines the F20 as a removable media, so any file manipulation is carried out by standard means. True, the files recorded in this way can only be transported, played back or viewed on the player will not work. In order to record music and graphic files on the F20, you will need the proprietary software manager Gigabeat Room or Windows Media Player 10. Both of these managers “see” music and files already recorded with the help of another, with “adding” there are no problems. It is curious that the music recorded with their help is on the disk in unencrypted form and can be copied to another computer.

It is also worth noting one more nuance: when copying to the player, WMA and WAV files are converted. The former are "driven into the frame" of the WMA CBR 32-160 Kbps bitrate, while the latter are fully converted with the same parameters.

The speed of copying data to the player is at an average level and is 5-7 MB per second. At the same time, the speed of Gigabeat Room is significantly lower, the program is frankly unhurried. This can be written in the negative link F20 + program manager.

Graphic files, sound, headphones

Viewing photos (graphic files) using F20 is implemented without any complaints, according to the established "canons" and does not cause any difficulties. When viewing files, the screen is automatically oriented horizontally. All files found on the disk are displayed in a 3×4 matrix. This approach, in my opinion, is optimal, there are enough details left on the reduced images. Slideshows are supported with customizable display time for each slide and how to transition from one slide to another.

Files copied to disk are automatically transferred to the Picture folder, where they are stored in their original form. It is also nice that the player automatically "pulls up" the photos of disc covers or "apples" of records recorded in the same folder with audio files and displays them during playback. Right there, by selecting the desired item in the menu, you can view the file without switching to Photo mode.

Japanese HDD players, such as those made by Sony and Toshiba, are often praised for their high sound quality and are well-deservedly popular in this area. Toshiba F20 does not undermine the reputation of the motherland and sounds very worthy. The declared signal-to-noise ratio of 95 decibels only confirms the conclusions. The sound of the player seemed to me saturated, dense, bass. The low frequencies with the equalizer off do sound richer than on the Archos 404 or iPod 5G with the same settings. In general, the sound quality of the F20 is at a very decent level: four or five years ago it could have delighted any music lover, but today the overall "bar" of sound quality, constantly raised over the years, is really high, which cannot do not please.

The player does not have a multi-band equalizer with the ability to manually adjust, instead it is proposed to adjust the "high" and "low" frequencies, without any indication of the range, or choose from presets, which, however, are quite a fair amount.

Complete headphones are unremarkable "hammers" made of gray rubberized plastic with silver and "chrome" inserts. Their sound quality is average for headphones of this kind and is suitable only for listening to simple pop songs.

Conclusions and impressions

The main disadvantage of the player, in relation to today's realities, is a large case, especially in thickness. Although here the F20 almost coincides with Creative Zen Vision:M, apparently, rounded edges give the latter lightness in the hands.

Otherwise, the Toshiba F20 doesn't look like an outdated model, having been first introduced almost two years ago. The strengths of the device are an excellent loud sound, the ability to “pump” most headphones, a bright and high-quality display. The lack of the ability to work with video even today is not as critical as it seems, but the fact that, when creating a competitor to the iPod, the Japanese did not implement FM functionality and a voice recorder in the device is puzzling.

In general, the F20, which, due to its age, is rare, but at an excellent price of 5-5.5 thousand rubles, is quite capable of appealing to connoisseurs of high-quality sound who do not strive for bloated functionality, but are looking for a device with a good display.

Be that as it may, the F20 already shows why the Gigabeat platform was chosen by Microsoft as a prototype for its Zune. Although not too well known and widespread, these Toshiba players are quite capable of competing with HDD devices from Apple, Creative, Archos and Sony. They contain the company's own developments in the field of control and interface, and, in the end, the design of these Japanese toys is also quite good.