gigabeat G21 reviews

Review #1 submitted by Joe O.
[Notes by Alcahest in this color]

I've owned a 30GB iPOD for close to a year now and there is certainly lots to love about it - as someone with a large music collection (around 5000 CDs) that travels a lot the appeal of being able to take a large selection of music with me everywhere was too great to miss - however there are also a few things I hate:
It has suit pocket ruining dimensions (and weight)
The supplied headphones are terrible (I use a pair of Sony EX-71Ls, white of course).
The remote control looks great but is impractical - it doesn't reliably clip onto anything and the connection is unreliable too!
The PC connectivity can be a bit hit and miss - and slow. Once PC and iPOD are talking things tend to be fairly smooth but I could never be sure that the things were going to establish a link correctly.
They are likely navels and opinions - everyone has one!

Yeah, I know this last point is not valid but being a bit of a gadget lover I like having new toys that others have not managed to get hold of yet.

So while on a business trip to Tokyo recently I decided to have a look and see if there was anything that would be a bit more pocket friendly while still offering a large storage capacity - I still planned to take my iPOD on long trips but for everyday use I figured something else was called for. While strolling around Bicc Camera (a must for anyone that visits Japan - if only to see what is coming up in electronics) the Gigobeat caught my eye. After a quick trawl on the Internet to find out more info (I don't read Japanese) I found a couple of review of the G20 and it seemed worth looking at. It was on returning to the store that I realised that the model I had seen was the newer G21. Credit Card at the ready...

Initial impressions
The device is a minimal, slim and square (I have the black model which looks even more minimal because the screen blends into the body colour when the backlight is off). It feels solid and well constructed (although on mine the Hold key rattles slightly which is annoying).
Overall the design reminds me of a later model MD player and is probably close to these in size.
The box contains:
- Various manuals (discarded straight away - I don't read Japanese)
- Software CD
- Power supply (although this has a Japanese style plug it is multi-voltage so should work anywhere in the world given the right adaptor)
- Charging cradle (terrible terrible terrible - really nasty plastic construction)
- Standard clip style remote control (no screen unfortunately)
- Neck chord remote control (will talk more about this later)
- USB connecting cable
- The device itself

Notably no carrying case is included in the package.

Setup, connecting and transfer
The G21 takes about three hours to charge and can either be charged via the cradle or alternatively the power supply can be plugged directly into the device itself. The USB cable can only be plugged directly into the device. There are two full sized USB sockets on the cradle but I have no idea what these are for (have I mentioned that I don't read Japanese).
I did try connecting the cradle to the USB port on my Laptop (using a USB to USB cable) but nothing happened - if anyone knows what these USB sockets on the cradle are for then please let me know - I presume it is something to do with the LAN access capabilities but as I have not used those at all...
[Absolutely, the 2 USB ports on the cradle can only used in case of a LAN connection.]

One area where I did come unstuck was that I presumed that as the software that came with the G20 was able to install and run in English I presumed the same would be true of the software for the G21 - not so! To get music onto the G21 you need to use Toshiba's Audio Application (TAA) or install a driver (Windows Media Driver - WMD) that allows you to transfer WMA files directly using Windows Media Player.
However with the G21 both of these pieces of software have been written to install and run only on Japanese versions of Windows. At this point I decided to contact Alcahest who was very very helpful and pointed out where I could go to download the TAA version that ships with the G20. I installed this and everything connected perfectly.

Note that unlike Musimatch or Itunes which ship with the iPOD, TAA does not rip to MP3 so you will need another piece of software to do this if you are planning to convert your own CDs.
When I ripped my first CD and then transferred it across to the G21 the first thing I noticed was that the tracks were stored in alphabetical order rather than in track order. This is something that the MusicMatch/ITunes +iPOD combination handles automatically so I have never had to think about it before. Again thanks to go to Alcahest for explaining a workaround involving using a suitable program to add a track number prefix to the title tag (less complicated than it sounds).
[But really, creating a "Playlist" where the tracks are sorted and placing this playlist in the corresponding album folder is SO much faster! (well, imho)]

So once I had some suitable data (in correct order) on the device it was time to play.

In use
I won't go into detail about the buttons etc as I think Alex is planning a full review at some stage. Instead I will concentrate on the playing experience. The first I noticed was that, although as with any hard disk system it takes a while to start up the G21, the actual startup time seemed shorter than my iPOD.
The next thing I noticed was the quality of the headphones. Usually I discard supplied headphones straight away (as I did with the awful iPOD headphones) but the ones supplied with the G21 are good enough to use.
Navigation is fairly easy and can be made easier or harder according to how you organise your contents - I have each CD in a separate folder under the main directory. The TAA automatically creates a playlist for each album and creates an artist entry so that you can search for tracks by album or artist. The TAA software makes directories and directory structure fairly obvious (i.e. you are made very aware of how and where tracks are stored). At first I found this odd coming from an iPOD where all this is hidden however I now find it actually makes certain aspects easier to manage.

Soundwise I used to think that all MP3 players sounded alike but the G21 are like chalk and cheese - using the same headphones on both I find that I prefer the sound of the G21 (slightly) as it seems (to my ears) to have a warmer slightly more open sound (but this is purely my view).

One thing that deserves a special mention is the neck chord remote which is a great gimmick that is actually practical. In case you don't know what this is it consists of a neck strap which allows you to wear the G21 round your neck either dangling like some oversized pendant or, more likely, tucked into a shirt pocket. Built into the neck strap are the controls for piloting the device i.e. Volume +/-, Rew/Fwd (as well as skip back skip forward), Play/Pause/Stop. This works really well and is very convenient. My only worry is how much flexing the neck strap will cope with before it starts to malfunction - time will tell.

So what else?
Well not having the manual means that there are a few functions which I am not too clear on (Alcahest has been very helpful sorting some things out) but in general the interface is clear and easy to use. There are some things I miss on the iPOD though - it would be very difficult to come up with a simpler, more intuitive user interface and the G21 certainly does not manage it, there are some areas where it can be a bit confusing as to how to access certain functions (particularly when the device is playing). However the controls are well laid out and can be operated one-handed (pretty much).
The screen has the option to be blue on black or reversed out black on blue. In both cases the screen is easy to read - with the backlight off the screen is not quite so clear unless it is a really bright day. It is possible to alter the amount of time the backlight stays on for. As an illustration of Toshiba's thougtfullness - if you use the remote control to operate the device the backlight does not come on thus saving on battery drain - the assumption being that you are not likely to be looking at the screen if you are using one of the remote controls to pilot the device.
One thing that is odd is that the extensions of tracks get shown on the display so for example the track "Yacht Dance" appears as "Yacht Dance.MP3.SAT". It would have been much more user friendly to supress the extensions.
[Joe, there is an option to hide extensions! Press "Menu" > "Setting" > "Navi Setting" > "Tag Information" and no more extensions.]

Although almost a spur of the moment purchase the G21 has certainly justified my impulsiveness - it delivers on all the points I mentioned in the introduction (yes, even the last point - at least for the time being) and so far has proved to be reliable, easy to use and fun.
Is it an iPOD killer? In short 'No', but that's nothing to do with any shortcomings of the G21 itself. The iPOD has momentum as a design/style icon which it will be virtually impossible for any other device to overtake. the iPOD design is innovative featuring a great blend of colours and materials the G21 although not bad is certainly not an innovative design - the fact that it looks like an MD player kind of illustrates this. But it does feel good, solid and exudes quality.

Overall I would give the G21: 8.5/10

Things to like
1: The design: slim not too heavy and good quality
2: Two remote controls both of which work very well (the neck chord remote is a particularly nice innovation).
3: Easy connectivity - since the G21 appears simply as a USB storage device it connects quickly and reliably and the Toshiba Audio Aplication gives you a Windows Explorer type view of the device contents.
4: Great headphones - would you believe a pair of supplied headphones that are actually useable!
5: Battery life seems to be pretty good so far.

Things to dislike:
1: Not maintaining track ordering - the workaround is tedious when you are transferring a large amount of CDs.
2: Showing track extensions is just bizarre
[There's an option!]
3: Charging cradle looks , feels and probably is, cheap!
4: Volume could be a touch louder - on older CDs which tend to be mastered at a much lower level there sometimes is not quite enough volume.
5: Playback is not gapless - this would have been a definte advntage over an iPOD
6: Even when using the cradle the G21 still has to be connected seperately to the PC
[Yes, when not using the LAN feature that is.]


Thanks a lot for this review Joe!
If, like Joe, you want to become a star, submit your G20/G21 reviews! ^_^
I'll post them on the site asap.
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