What on earth can a jobbing reviewer find to say about something as tedium-inducingly simple as a USB flash drive? They’re supposed to be little more than a convenient replacement for the now-reviled floppy drive (if you’re offended by this remark then feel free to argue the point on the Techworld message boards and make a fool of yourself – ed). Dismissing such humble appliances as a glorified backup underestimates their purpose. Anyone who regularly takes PowerPoint presentations on the road will immediately understand why. But before you blow your ‘user laptop storage budget’ buying some drives, it is worth noting that some are much easier to live with than others.

Mighty mini
One that has recently caught our eye is Iomega’s Mini Drive, which comes in 64Mb, 128Mb and 256 Mb capacities. It plugs cleanly in any USB slot, unlike one or two designs we’ve seen that don’t take account of recessed USB slots (on, for example, some Sony Vaios) by allowing enough clearance between the body of the drive and the USB connector. The drive ships with ingenious software, allowing you to manage the drive from a pop-up control panel and, critically, to secure the drive’s contents from prying eyes with a password. The panel displays available disk space and comes with a handy backup synchronisation feature for occasions where a network drive is not available. The Mini Drive will work out of the wrapper with all desktop operating systems except Windows 98, which requires a driver update from the Iomega website.

But beware...
Home users buy these devices in buckets but network support staff beware. They’re small enough to hang on a key chain and relatively valuable; just the sort of hardware that ends up being mislaid and, inevitably, pilfered.

OUR VERDICT

Flash USB drives need decent utilities to integrate them with the desktop. Most come with nothing beyond a driver so look for added software and pay extra if need be.