Learning to use new kit can often be quite a lengthy journey. That's not the case with Imation's Odyssey - even Ulysses would have thought it a walk in the park finding out how to use it, no need for a lengthy perilous voyage at all. Odyssey is Imation's removable disk storage system. It comes in 2.5-inch 40, 80 or 120GB serial ATA (SATA) capacity form. Each of these three disk types comes in a protective cartridge which is inserted in the Odyssey docking device, a desktop box smaller than an airport book shop novel.

It's two inches high and weighs about two pounds. The cartridges are built to survive a 1 metre drop onto concrete.

Installing it on my Windows system was, due to Windows plug-and-play and USB, almost ridiculously easy. A software CD is inserted. Auto-play does the rest and the software gets installed. Plug a power supply to the docking unit and then plug in the USB cable between it and the computer. USB 2.0 is the default with USB 1 being supported but, obviously, transfers are slower.

The docking unit has a button on its front right hand side which is also a status light. Red means it's not working; for example, the USB cable is disconnected. Green means it's good to go. You insert the drive cartridge, ensuring that the arrows on the cartridge are on the top side, into the dock and push it gently about three-quarters of the way in. It is then collected by the self-loading mechanism and pulled into its at-work position. Windows detects the device and a folder for it pops up on your screen.

You can re-name it to something sensible from its basic drive letter if you wish. You can also drag and drop files to it. Odyssey just works, like an external disk drive in fact. But you can take it away with you - the cartridge is easily pocket-sized - and store your data off-site.

It isn't a way of physically carrying data files between computers, not unless they both have Odyssey docking station attached, but that is not its purpose. It is a removable data protection device offering the speed of disk and the portability of tape.

Imation provides a Retrospect backup CD and you can install this software and have data backup up by any schedule you wish. The first backups will take longer because all the data is being backed up. Subsequent ones only backup changed files and take a lot less time. With Retrospect you get password protection and 256-bit AES encryption should you need it.

You can write-protect a cartridge by moving an inset red button to the lock position, indicated by a lock icon on the rear case. Because it's inset it won't get its position altered by being brushed against something. When a write-protected cartridge is put into the docking unit the status light shines blue. Dragging and dropping files onto such a drive's on-screen folder will have no effect, other than a message appearing saying you can't write files to the drive.

Restoring data from the device is easy: either use drag-and-drop; or Retrospect's restore function if the files are in a Retrospect backup set.

Really there's not much to say about the device. It works. It's easy to install. It's easy to use. It does what it says on the tin. I have a USB connected Maxtor OneTouch drive. That is larger and heavier than the Odyssey docking unit with cartridge inserted. It is a portable unit but you have to disconnect power and USB cables before you can take it away, not forgetting to use Window's 'Safely Remove Hardware' screen function first. There's none of that with Odyssey. Push in the status light/button and the cartridge is slid out enough for you to remove it. It's the work of a moment.

You can use any size cartridge in Odyssey's dock. That means that future cartridges with more than 120GB capacity will be usable. Unlike a tape drive with no forward future format capability, the USB port virtually guarantees future drive capacity support.

The product is supported by Windows XP, 2000 and Server 2003.

OUR VERDICT

If you need to protect data and find that tape cartridges are too slow and mandate backup software be used then consider using Imation's Odyssey for greater speed and much increased convenience. Think of it as a replacement for a single tape drive.