Toshiba is following in the footsteps of the likes of Apple, introducing a digital music player that stores files on a hard drive, rather than a flash memory card. Unlike other players to use this method, though, the hard drive in the Gigabeat is removable.
The 1.8in, 5GB drive is encased in a PC Card, so Toshiba says it can be used with most devices with an appropriate slot.
By opting for a hard drive, the Gigabeat offers far higher capacity and Toshiba claims that the drive can store around 1,000 MP3 files. It will also play back music stored in WMA of WAV formats.
With all this data storage space, transferring files to the player could take some time, so to avoid this problem Toshiba has implemented the new USB 2.0 interface. This transfers data at 480Mbps — a much higher speed than the 12Mbps supported by USB1.1, which is used by most digital music players today. Using the bundled application software, Toshiba says an entire CD worth of audio can be transferred to the device in 30 seconds.
With its rectangular shape, liquid crystal display and circular control panel, the Gigabeat bears a passing resemblance to Apple's iPod, which also uses a Toshiba 1.8in hard disk drive, although it's not removable.
Partly because of the hard disk slot and ejection mechanism, the Toshiba player is slightly larger than the iPod. It measures 72x22x112mm, which makes it around 10mm wider and taller than the iPod. But at 235g, with the drive inserted, it is quite a bit heavier, as the iPod is just 185g including the internal drive.
Other features include an on-screen menu in English, Japanese, French, Spanish or German. The screen has 160x120 pixel resolution and is slightly smaller than the iPod's 2in screen.
As with all things dinky, the Gigabeat MEG50JS goes on sale in Japan first. It hits the shelves there on 22 June, priced approximately ¥50,000 (£270). Toshiba will also be offering further removable drives, with a 2GB and 5GB drives priced ¥20,000 (£108) and ¥40,000 (£216) respectively.
Toshiba said it has plans to put the Gigabeat on sale in the USA and then Europe, although the company has not decided on a schedule for an overseas launch.
Toshiba has also launched the first Bluetooth SD (Secure Digital) card for Pocket PC. The card enables devices running the Pocket PC operating system to communicate wirelessly with other Bluetooth-enabled devices. The card is priced £125, and limited stock is available now.