Toshiba grows iPod lookalike

The Japanese manufacturer is the first to copy the sleek design appeal of Apple's music player, but with the Windows PC user in mind

Toshiba is taking a page out of Apple's book with an upcoming music player for the Japanese market that bears more than a passing resemblance to Apple's iPod.

The Gigabeat MEG50JS, launching in Japan on 22 June, is a palm-sized aluminium alloy device which, like iPod, features a round controller and a backlit square display. Like the first iPod, it features a miniature 5-gigabyte (GB) hard drive, which Toshiba says is big enough to hold about 1,000 five-minute MP3 or WMA music tracks. (The current iPod model uses a 10GB hard drive.)

Design similarities aside, the Toshiba device has several significant differences from iPod that stem from the lack of FireWire connectivity. IPod uses FireWire -- found in all newer Macintosh computers -- to quickly transfer tracks as well as to recharge. Gigabeat relies on USB 2.0, which is quickly appearing in newer PCs, for fast data transfer. The technology is backward-compatible with the ubiquitous USB 1.1 standard.

USB 2.0 transfers data at 480 megabits per second (Mbps), compared with FireWire's 400Mbps and a mere 12Mbps for USB 1.1. Toshiba says the connector can shift a CD's worth of tracks in about 30 seconds.

Since USB conveys relatively little power, the device uses a separate AC adapter, and can charge up in three and a half hours, according to Toshiba. Gigabeat contains a lithium ion battery that lasts for about 18 hours of continuous play without the screen backlight on, Toshiba said.

Gigabeat is built around a miniature hard drive wrapped in a PC Card, so that it can be ejected and plugged into a laptop or any desktop machine with the interface. Users can also swap out different cards for extra memory, although the problem is unlikely to crop up right away.

The device measures 7.2cm x 2.2cm x 11.2cm and weighs 235g with the drive inserted. By comparison, iPod weighs 185g and is about 1cm less in width and height. The 160 x 120 pixel display uses a menu available in Japanese, English, French, Spanish and German, Toshiba said.

Gigabeat will cost 50,000 yen (about £270) at launch in Japan, including a 5GB hard drive. Drives will also be available separately in 2GB and 5GB models, costing 20,000 yen and 40,000 yen. Toshiba said that the device would eventually be sold in the US and Europe but representatives were unaware of a European launch schedule.

Toshiba manufactures the hard drive found in Apple's iPod.

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