If you're gadget fans like we are, all of this digital content creation leads us to need more places to store the stuff we're making.
Fortunately, storage options continue to get less expensive, and more creative. Who would have thought you could wear a storage drive on your wrist? For these and other options for storage, we proudly offer our picks from the 2012 Cool Yule Tools holiday gift guide.
Note: Products are listed in no particular order or preference. Prices are also rounded-up estimates from either the product's website or Amazon.com. Better deals may be offered online during the holiday season.
Prices range from $15 (2GB) up to $24 (8GB)
The MOH Band provides USB flash memory storage for users, but instead of a hard plastic stick that can be easily lost in a bag or pocket, it's on a flexible silicone wristband (think of those Livestrong bracelets). The MOH Band comes in at least 34 style/color options, and you can even have bands that are customized for groups or businesses.
The size of the bands are aimed to fit a student's wrist - for adults this may cause for a tight fit. The units we tried had 8GB of storage, more than enough room for documents, photos or even a bunch of songs (video files might fill up the memory quickly). Smaller storage sizes are also available (2GB and 4GB).
In addition, Memory On Hand donates 10% of its profits to Scholarship America, so buying this as a stocking stuffer can help provide educational opportunities for the less fortunate.
- Keith Shaw
$15 (for 8GB) at Staples
I'll probably never be able to afford a Porsche 911 Carrera S, but I can own a 1:72 scale version of the car and get 8GB of portable storage at the same time.
The AutoDrive series of die cast metal cars are quite awesome - they have the look and feel of old-school Matchbox or Hot Wheels cars, but a slider switch on the bottom can pop out a USB port from the back of the car, letting you insert it into a free USB port on your computer for data storage transfer.
Another cool feature - the headlights on the car light up when the car is connected to the computer, and they blink whenever data is being transferred. If you're not a fan of the Porsche, you can get an AutoDrive that looks like a red Volkswagen Beetle, a white Audi R8, a yellow Lamborghini, a silver Aston Martin or a red Mini Cooper.
At only $15 a pop, these will make great stocking stuffers, and you can tell your gift recipient that you bought them a brand-new car for the holidays. After the joke/shock wears off, they'll still have a great 8GB USB flash drive.
- Keith Shaw
$130 (1TB model, Mac version)
Seagate recently changed the branding of its GoFlex portable hard drives to something more simple - the name of the product basically says what it does. In the case of the Backup Plus for Mac, the USB-enabled portable hard drive provides backup functionality for users of Macintosh computers.
The GoFlex nature of connectors, where users can switch from a USB port to something that's faster (in this case, a FireWire 800 adapter or Thunderbolt adapter), still exists, as long as you're willing to purchase those adapters separately. If you're fine with USB 2.0, then just plug it in to your Mac, and the drive will automatically mount to your system. Because this is a Mac product, the system will ask if you want to use the drive for Time Machine backup purposes. You don't have to do this, but it's nice that it can.
The "Plus" side of Backup Plus is a feature that allows you to save Facebook photos to the drive. You can download what you've already put up on the social networking site to the drive, and the software (downloaded separately from Seagate) will also automatically download any new photos that you upload. It's a cool feature that can help protect digital photos that end up being uploaded from a smartphone to Facebook, for example, without going through a PC.
Other than that it's a pretty basic portable hard drive. The 1TB of capacity should be more than enough for most people (unless you have a budding videophile on your holiday list). Backup and storage isn't usually the sexiest holiday gift, but just like we all used to receive socks and underwear in our stockings, think of this as the "socks and underwear" of technology gadgets.
- Keith Shaw
Being mobile often means sacrificing security for the benefits of convenience and ease of use, but there's no reason these need to be in conflict. We see this in the Addonics CA256USB CipherUSB - a dongle pass-through that essentially encrypts the contents of any USB device plugged into it.
How does it work? Simple. Plug a USB storage device (memory key, hard drive) into the CipherUSB, and then plug all of this into your PC (Mac software is also available). The first time you do this you'll be asked to create a security key; after that, the process is transparent. The OS will see the drive as unencrypted, but all data traffic to and from the USB storage device is encrypted in real time by the CipherUSB.
Thus, anyone getting a hold of your storage device will find it useless (encryption is 256-bit AES) unless they have a CipherUSB and your security key. Yes, this is two-factor authentication and encryption, and at a bargain-basement price!
You can even cascade CipherUSBs for even more security if you'd like (you'd have to be pretty paranoid to do that, but, hey, it's possible). One quick note - this is very important - you really need to store the CipherUSB device separate from your target drive, as there's no real-time authentication here. Someone finding both together will be able to read your data, so you've been warned.
But, then, what do you want for $30? Indeed, this product is one of the biggest bargains out there, and a great gift for your friends in the intelligence community - or anyone looking for a little security for data on the go. Highly recommended!
- Craig Mathias
Here's a very clever idea - a USB 3.0 disk drive housing that features built-in security. Once you set this up (keep in mind this involves installing a disk drive or SSD in the unit), the user enters a four-digit code via a built-in keypad on the case to access the data stored within.
The data itself is encrypted with 256-bit AES, so a thief would be at worst frustrated - at best, completely locked out. Forgetting the 4-digit code, however, is fatal, as you'll lose the data as well. Just don't use 1-2-3-4.
Setup is easy for any techie - open the unit (they even include a little screwdriver), install any 2.5-inch SATA II drive and then plug it in. After a brief initial setup, your PC will see the unit as a new drive. Format the disk (this worked great on Mac OS X), and you're off.
The housing itself is a little pricey, and perhaps you're thinking that a subscription to a cloud-based storage service might be a better choice. The cloud is probably secure and certainly convenient - as long as you have connectivity. Being able to securely carry up to 1TB of data with you anywhere - that's priceless.
- Craig Mathias
If you're really into slimming down your technology products - let's say you have a MacBook Air or other small notebook - the last thing you want is a bulky external storage drive weighing you down (and your laptop bag). Fortunately, the Seagate GoFlex Slim is there to lighten your load without compromising serious storage capacity.
This version is specifically formatted for the Mac, letting you write files to the drive from a Mac. While you can read those files via a Windows PC, writing to them requires an additional software download from Seagate (although, you could also just buy the Windows version and then download the software for Mac writing).
When you plug the unit into a free USB port on your Mac, a pop-up window asks if you want to use the drive for Time Machine backup purposes. No harm if you don't - you can use the drive and do the old-fashioned drag-and-drop to backup important files.
The unit I tested came with a USB 2.0 port - but if you have a newer Mac with USB 3.0 ports or if you prefer transferring over Thunderbolt or FireWire 800, the GoFlex nature of the drive lets you attach one of those adapters (sold separately) to the unit. This basically future-proofs the drive - you don't need to buy an additional one if the data cable transfer speeds increase.
The super-slim size of the drive creates one downside - you can only get this in a 500GB capacity - if you want to go up to 1TB, you'll need to add some bulk by looking at other models (from Seagate or others). But for the most part (unless you're doing lots of videos), 500GB should be enough for most users.
- Keith Shaw
$180 (1TB, USB 3.0)
The G Drive mobile offers a very portable hard drive unit formatted specifically for Macintosh computers - it offers a whopping 1TB of storage space in a very compact and slick silver finish. The style and design go hand-in-hand with the silvery finish of the MacBook Pro and other Apple notebooks, but it's more than just a nice-looking drive.
Out of the box, the unit has three ports for data cables - two FireWire ports and a USB 3.0 port. Three cables are included as well, so you don't have to buy a separate cable if you want to use one port over the other. Because it's formatted for the Mac, the drive pops right up on your computer screen after you plug it in - also, no additional power source is needed.
The drive works with Apple's Time Machine for providing backup for your data, or you can just open the drive and drag-and-drop files and folders as you please. With 1TB of storage capacity, you'll have a very hard time filling it up with content. Believe me, I tried.
While the unit is larger than some other portable drives I've tried, it's still not so big to be a nuisance in your travel bag. If you need the protection of data backup while traveling, this certainly wouldn't be a detriment.
A 500GB version is also available, and you can also downgrade to a USB 2.0 unit with 1TB of capacity - just check the G-Technology website for other models and configurations.
- Keith Shaw
$40 for 16GB; $70 for 32GB
The LaCie RuggedKey is a nifty portable USB thumb drive designed with extreme durability in mind. The mechanical drive is contained within an airtight orange silicon case that provides protection from the elements. LaCie advertises the drive as being able to withstand 100-meter drops, as well as being water, heat and cold resistant.
I tested the drive by dropping it from typical, everyday heights, and indeed it held up to all the abuse I threw at it. That's only applicable when the unit is ensconced within the case, however, and that's where the rub comes in: you're paying a somewhat hefty premium for that protective silicon case.
The drive is USB 3.0 compatible, which makes it much faster than its 2.0 brethren - provided you have a computer with a USB 3.0 port - but beyond that it's a fairly typical USB drive. If you find yourself transmitting sensitive information, it's worth noting it also comes with security software to encrypt the data contained on it with AES 256-bit encryption technology.
Overall I was very impressed with the drive, and enjoyed using it. I didn't have any trouble keeping track of it, given the bright orange and larger-than-typical size. Everyone needs to transport data, and if you find yourself often knocking things over or losing your USB drive, this may be the solution you've been looking for. I really like it, and highly recommend for those seeking a tough travel companion you can attach to your keychain.
- Dan Hunt