Review: Iomega SuperHero Backup & Charger for iPhone
Several of our previous iPod and iPhone accessory reviews have explored the difference between "problems in search of solutions" and "solutions in search of problems," or products that fulfill actual consumer needs versus ones that don't. While well-intentioned, Iomega's SuperHero ($70) walks directly down the center of that line, and will strike you as falling on one side or the other depending on your response to a single question: do you want an extremely slow standalone device to back up your iPhone's or iPod touch's contacts and photos, or will iTunes do?
Inside SuperHero’s nice cardboard box is a plastic and metal dock with a total of three connectors: an iPhone and iPod touch-ready Dock Connector at the top, a power port in the back, and an SD Card slot alongside the power port. You connect the dock to a wall adapter, insert an included 4GB SD Card, then plug in an iPhone 3G/3GS/4 or fourth-generation iPod touch. Using a free Iomega SuperHero Backup app, you can automatically back up your device’s photos and/or contacts without the use of a computer. Then you can restore those photos and contacts to another device, or the same device if it’s been wiped clean.
The application is similarly designed to be dead simple. A main menu provides “backup,” “restore,” and “options” buttons, the latter enabling you to choose whether you want to back up both contacts and photos or only one of the two, whether you want encryption, and what should happen with contacts and photos—restore and/or replace—found on the target device. Backup and restore collectively allow, say, a wife to clone her contacts list to her husband’s cell phone, or a parent to clone contacts and photos to several iPod touches. Notably, the copied photos are ones that were taken by the device and left on it rather than the ones that were transferred to it by iTunes, so this isn’t the way to transfer a family album to multiple devices.
At this point, most readers will have an obvious question: “why not just use iTunes?” iTunes can back up your contacts and photos every time you sync your iPhone or iPod touch. Programs such as iPhoto further let you copy all of your photos into a persistent collection with a single “Import” button press. We’re not going to attempt to justify SuperHero’s existence; if you’re the sort of iPhone or iPod touch owner who understands how to use a computer, then SuperHero’s feature set won’t have much appeal. Moreover, it’s worth underscoring the fact that this particular SuperHero isn’t The Flash—it took a staggering 7 minutes for the accessory to back up a meager 4MB of data, consisting of only 82 contacts and 10 screenshots. Most computers would plow through this task in seconds. If you have an iPhone 4 and a lot of pictures, you might want to get out a comic book and read it a few times while waiting for the transfer to complete; in a separate test, SuperHero took literally 2-3 minutes to copy each full-resolution iPhone 4 photo we threw at it. Thirty-eight minutes into a test with 38 photographs, it had only transferred 13 images.
On the other hand, some people hate using iTunes, don’t have frequent access to iTunes, or don’t find that iTunes makes it easy enough to transfer an iPhone’s (or iPod touch’s) photos to a memory card. Iomega suggests that having backups and getting into a backup routine is a good idea; we won’t disagree with that. So while SuperHero mightn’t be fast or broadly capable of backing up an entire device, it’s easy to use, and if you really have the need to transfer contacts or photos from one device to another, it works, and having seen Apple Stores offer contact transferring services from old iPhones to new ones using special non-computer transfer terminals, we know there’s some value in being able to clone one device’s contacts to another without iTunes. You can also take the unencrypted photos directly off of the memory card into the SD card slot of a computer.
But that’s pretty much it. Contacts are stored by default in a file called “Mybackup.mbp” rather than as individual VCF files, so you’ll need to use SuperHero to get them back onto an iOS device in useful form again. The device notably works to back up multiple devices, and the 4GB of storage space provides a fair amount of room to do so—assuming that you’re not recording large videos and have the free time. These backups are kept in folders with randomized character names, which Iomega could really improve upon for user clarity.
In the form that it’s in today, it’s hard for us to consider recommending SuperHero to most of our readers. For $70, what you’re getting is a relatively limited set of hardware and software that’s fine for backing up contacts, but incredibly slow with photos, and currently incapable of backing up anything else. While the software could conceivably expand in the future to gain additional “super” powers, the stunningly sluggish transfers would discourage some of the potentially more ambitious applications we could imagine. Most users will find that iTunes does a far better job of handling all of the data on an iPhone or iPod touch, without any additional apps to install or accessories to purchase. If the idea of occasionally backing up your device directly to your computer is either foreign or impossible, and having a standalone dock strikes you as a better idea, there’s nothing awful about SuperHero, but expect to spend a long time waiting for it to finish performing relatively menial tasks.