SanDisk Cruzer U3 delivers the goods

For less expensive or simply more utilitarian products, packaging has become far more generic and functional. With products such as this week's object of desire, the SanDisk Cruzer U3 Flash Drive, the packaging is a standard blister pack.

We couldn't find our scissors, so we grabbed the nearest implement of destruction: a pair of pliers. Did those open the packaging? Of course, not. We just wound up with a twisted piece of plastic, so we headed for The Lab.

The Lab is actually a garage, but we call it The Lab for a good reason: Our good friend Bob C. pointed out some time ago that if you call it the garage, your wife will put junk in it. He calls his The Workshop, and his wife has so far left it alone. We now call ours The Lab because we think it sounds even more like a place that wives should not mess with. So far, the ruse has worked.

The first cutting tool we found in The Lab was a Stanley knife, so we impatiently slashed off the edges of the blister pack and voilá! The SanDisk Cruzer U3 Flash Drive was in our hands, and we discovered that plastic cut with a Stanley knife can be rather sharp.

As avid and committed readers of this column will recall, we discussed U3 technology some weeks ago. The U3 Flash Drives provide embedded encryption services that make them a secure and robust way to make your data and applications portable.

While the blister-pack packaging may be utilitarian, the SanDisk Cruzer U3 products are polished and elegant. The $129 2GB Titanium model has a thumb slide that pops out the hidden USB connector - a nice detail - and the slide glows blue when the drive is being accessed.

The drives use the latest version of the U3 Launcher Platform, and there's a noticeable performance improvement and a slicker user interface.

Beyond the basics the SanDisk U3 products come with some very useful preinstalled applications. First up is a U3 version of SignupShield, a password manager that appears to be similar to Siber Systems Pass2Go, a U3 version of the company's AI Roboform product. We wrote about Roboform just over a year ago, and from what we can see the products are close in features. Note that Signup Shield, like Pass2Go, is not really free, because after the trial period the unlicensed version lets you use only 10 logons.

The U3 drive includes Avast Antivirus, also unknown to us, which is free for "home users who do not use their computer for profit." Any input you might have on SignupShield or Avast Antivirus would be welcome.

Also on the SanDisk drive is the free U3 version of the Skype VoIP client (Version 2.0.14.85), which works as well as the regular PC version. It is available only from the U3 site and oddly isn't mentioned on the Skype Web site except in one press release.

Finally, there is SanDisk's own CruzerSync U3 Edition. This is a fully functional version of the utility and, if you are an Outlook user, this program is so good that even without any other software on the drive, CruzerSync alone justifies its purchase.

CruzerSync can manually or automatically synchronize any or all data to and or from a host PC, including e-mail, calendars, contacts, notes and so on, from either Outlook or Outlook Express. (SanDisk's CruzerSync FAQ seems to be curiously out of sync with the actual software on the topic of whether Outlook Express is supported.)

CruzerSync also synchronizes your browser favorites from Internet Explorer or Firefox. It can launch Secure Browsing for Explorer that removes all of the temporary files created during a browsing session, so the guys in the black helicopters will have no idea what you've been looking at.

Bottom line: We really like the Cruzer Titanium and the CruzerSync software. Now we need to find some bandages. That blister-pack plastic was really sharp.

Transfuse your thoughts to gearhead@gibbs.com or on Gibbsblog.

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