Transport your mind back to 2011. Recall the first wave of smartphones, be it the iOS or Android, and we’d be discussing standards of 8GB internal storage for most. While there may have been a few 16 and 32GB devices, which, no doubt, cost a much higher premium, there wasn’t an overwhelming need to expand on this at the time. Now, in 2015, device storage has become a hot topic, and not just amongst iPhone users. Nonetheless, the iPhone has never offered a device with the option of expandable storage in the form of an SD card, or the likes. Those smartphones users typically had to rely on skills to optimise and manage their storage, backup to the iCloud, or, at long last, the addition of an external USB-OTG drive.
SanDisk is one of the few companies offering the above-mentioned USB-OTG drives. The company has recently launched the iXpand Flash Drive, as a solution to the storage problem smartphones users often face a few months after the initial purchase. The unit is available in capacities of 16, 32, 64 and 128GB (the latter is not available in SA), depending on your requirement, but doesn’t come cheap.
Build and Design
The iXpand is roughly twice the width of the standard flash drive of today, and about 10 times that of my snug thumb drive. While it is somewhat bulky, in comparison to the norm, it isn’t as straight-forward as including the flash memory alongside the USB connector at the end. Instead, fitted to the top, there is an additional Apple Lightning connector attached. The standard USB connector is protected by a transparent lid during your travels, while the Lightning connector fits into a ridge, neatly out of the way of anything that may damage it too easily.
The finish is actually very solid. It’s covered mostly in an aluminium-looking metal casing, apart from the Lightning connector’s rubber ridge, and the plastic lid. The combination of having the USB and Lightning connector means that you’re able to use it on your PC and your iOS device. This makes it fairly straightforward to copy files and photos between devices, and, if you connect both at the same time, it actually doubles up as a charger for your Apple device. Do bear in mind, however, that the rubber Lightning connector isn’t the most flexible, so you’ll be a little cramped for space whenever you attempt to double up. At the same time, though, the lack of flexibility makes it easier to keep your device upright when connecting, almost like you would by having a stand.
The width of the unit does mean that it isn’t user-friendly when you have limited USB ports, as it can easily block off another port on either side. But, at the end of the day, it’s still very portable and light, and easy to use on whichever device you choose.
Earlier I touched on the size of width of the iXpand unit, but did not mention the reasoning behind it. The unit is actually fitted with a small battery, although I’m unable to determine the capacity of the charge. Nonetheless, SanDisk claims that the unit carries a charge that will last a few days when connected continuously to any device, which is rather impressive. You can monitor the battery by means of the app, which is discussed below. The reason why SanDisk has fitted this to the flash is due to Apple’s restriction on their devices not to allow anything to consume from its battery when connected to the unit. Instead, the attachments will either require to include their own batteries, or be connected to a power source. When connected to your PC, the unit automatically charges itself. You’ll notice a small LED on the side of the iXpand drive, as an indicator to its charge…green for full (or close), orange for adequate, and red for almost depleted.
To utilise the iXpand Lightning port on your iOS device, users will have to install a 49MB app via iTunes called iXpand Sync. Apart from the annoyance of a large download, the app is quite simple to use. Files are easy to backup, and just as easy to find amongst numerous folders, by simply using the search function. If you wish, all the files could be encrypted by means of a password, which means your sensitive files are safe even if you do misplace the unit. You can also activate certain options such as the automatic backup of photos whenever you take any. One of the standout features of the app is its ability to playback music and video, supporting even the likes of Matroska formats (.mkv), including subtitles. Once you’ve located the video you wish to play, simply tap on it to begin. The experience is a lot smoother than I had anticipated, making it a joy to use, much more so than the native apps, which often lag or take some processing time to get started. There is also a useful feature that allows you to continuously play your music while still using the app for other functions, and has a “now playing” tab allowing you to pause, skip, etc while you’re browsing through other files. The large file size, at this point, doesn’t seem to matter much anymore.
While the iXpand is an impressive device in its own right, there are a few niggling factors, not because they hinder the end performance of the device, but rather because this is 2015, and there are certain things that should remain standard. For starters, the unit will only work on an iOS device by means of a FAT32 file system to sync with the app. This is acceptable on its own, but means users are unable to copy any files larger than 4GB, which, in turn, means that you won’t be able to copy any of your full HD movies often larger than this.
The second is that it doesn’t support USB3.0. This means that users will spend almost double the time copying files from their PC onto flash drive. This equates to approximately one hour of copying to fill the 32GB capacity of the unit we received for review. On the desktop, the average read and write speeds are roughly 12Mbps.
Although not entirely a limitation of the device, but rather of Apple devices, the iXpand drive cannot be seen by any other apps on your device. So you cannot install any apps directly onto the device, nor will you be able to save files from any apps without it either having to sync after, or manually be copied over.
The SanDisk iXpand is a really useful flash drive for storage expansion of your iOS device. Minus a few drawbacks, the unit has a lot of positives going for it, with even the app contributing well enough without causing any issues during use. The major driving factor will no doubt be the cost. The prices start at roughly R1,000 for the 16GB, R1,500 for the 32GB, and R2,000 for the 64GB, with the 128GB version not available in South Africa. This aligns very closely with the additional charges users would have had to decide upon when purchasing at a cash price when choosing your Apple iPhone or iPad. The biggest difference being that the iXpand has the capability of being used across multiply platforms and even swapped out with friends, making a slightly better option than having to fork out the difference on the device upfront.
At the end of the day, the SanDisk iXpand Flash Drive is one of the best storage accessories for your Lightning-based device, and becomes an essential part of your office when you do a lot of work from your iPhone or iPad.