It’s taken many a year, but Microsoft is finally figuring out how to build operating systems for handheld devices. Windows Mobile Portable Media Center 2.0, embedded in Toshiba’s Gigabeat T400 4GB digital media player, is better than anything Apple has to offer.
We’ve grown so accustomed to the iPod’s touch wheel that we didn’t think any other type of design could be as effective for browsing. But the Gigabeat’s crossbar (Toshiba calls it a PlusPad) and four-square button configuration are remarkably effective for navigating menus on the T400’s large 2.4-inch LCD. The device is also extremely easy to use with either hand.
Media Center Mobile looks and feels just like the big-screen version of the OS. Pressing the button with the familiar Windows icon brings up the main menu from which you can choose listings for TV, music, pictures, or video. Use the crossbar to move the selector to My Music, press OK, and you get a listing of your music sorted by artist, genre, album, song, or playlist. Toshiba recommends using Windows Media Player 10 or 11 to copy music to the player and create playlists, but you can also create a “quicklist” using nothing more than the player.
Although Microsoft’s PlaysForSure program has pulled a disappearing act, we had no problem syncing the player to our Rhapsody account and copying protected subscription tracks to the player. But what’s really exciting is that the device supports Microsoft’s WMA Lossless format—a rarity among portable media players of all stripes. The T400 sounds great with tracks encoded with both lossy algorithms, but it’s utterly fantastic with losslessly encoded music.
As much as we hate accepting trade-offs, we’re going to let the T400 bump SanDisk’s Sansa Connect from our Best of the Best list. The T400 doesn’t offer Wi-Fi support, but it does provide a bigger screen, a better user interface, and support for WMA Lossless. Here’s hoping Toshiba decides to build a version with a hard disk (and adds support for FLAC while they’re at it!).
Portable Media Center 2.0 kicks ass; intuitive controls; Rhapsody & WMA Lossless support.