Review: PhotoFast i-FlashDrive HD
Because we're likely never going to see removable storage as a feature of an iPad, iPhone, or iPod, accessory makers have developed accessories that can carry extra photos, music, movies, and documents. Nearly two years ago, we reviewed PhotoFast's Dock Connector- and USB-equipped flash drive i-FlashDriveLightning to 30-Pin Adapter -- not a cheap knockoff, but an actual retail unit, as indicated by the seemingly hand-torn front of the Apple packaging found inside the box.
i-FlashDrive HD comes in several configurations. The least expensive is the 8GB Dock Connector-only model at $100. Next is 16GB for $150, or $170 with the Lightning adapter, while $230 gets you 32GB with the Lightning Adapter, and $330 is an otherwise identical 64GB versions. PhotoFast’s higher capacity units come with the adapter pre-attached, and visible through the clear plastic packaging. While the prices have only changed a little since 2011, they are now significantly higher than current pricing for standard flash drives.
Compared to the previous i-FlashDrive, the HD version is smaller and more refined, though still made from glossy white plastic. From the end of the USB plug to the end of the 30-Pin Dock Connector, it’s about 2.9”, and only an inch wide. It tapers down around the Dock Connector, coming to the same dimensions as Apple’s 30-Pin cable for case compatibility. If you’re using the included Lightning Adapter, it pretty much matches Apple’s casing. Gone are the lips to hold the included clear plastic caps in place; now, they simply slide tightly around the plugs.
To load content onto i-FlashDrive, you plug it into your Mac or PC and treat it like any other flash drive. Connecting it to your iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch for the first time will prompt you to install the i-FlashDrive HD app; a pop-up will appear each subsequent time, asking if you’d like to launch it. The app looks essentially the same as the prior version, although improvements have been made—an important detail, as the app was the weakest element of the last iteration.
Originally, content needed to be loaded into local storage before it could be played back. This meant you needed at least that much free space on your device, and it would take quite a long time for files to transfer. Now videos load directly from the drive with just a second or two of buffering; the same goes for music; nothing is stored in your local storage unless you explicitly move it there. This is a big improvement that makes this version of i-FlashDrive much, much more useful. Unfortunately, DRM-protected content can’t be played back, so you won’t be able to load movies and TV shows purchased from iTunes.
The app is also still packed with a voice recorder, local storage, and contact backup features. Newly added is Dropbox support: once you’ve linked the app to your account, you can transfer files directly to the cloud storage service. In addition to videos and music, the app is capable of displaying dozens of file types, including Microsoft Office and iWork documents. This is particularly useful when coupled with iOS’s “Open in” feature.
PhotoFast has made modest improvements to its hardware and drastic upgrades to its software that make i-FlashDrive a much stronger accessory in concept. Unfortunately, it hasn’t kept up with the falling prices of flash memory. These days, a 32GB flash drive can easily be found for about $20, and PhotoFast’s version doesn’t have $200 worth of extra hardware to justify the price. Even comparable accessories such as Kingston Digital’s Wi-Drive are available at significantly lower prices—the 32GB version can currently be had for $60 on Amazon, and offers full wireless access and a built-in battery. Overall, i-FlashDrive is a reasonably useful product at a the wrong price, meriting a C+ rating. If it sold for a lot less, it would be a more practical option.