Not too long ago, SanDisk launched its original iXpand flash drive on our shores. Towards the end of last year we got to the review the first generation unit, which, although useful, had a few niggles in its physical side, and a few hindrances in its performance. On-the-go devices such as this have become a feature in recent months, and it’s only natural to want the best available unit competing in the market. So, as all good companies do, SanDisk went back to the drawing board and created the second generation iXpand.
A little over a year from the original’s launch, and there hasn’t been a marked improvement in the storage medium space that resulted in a complete overhaul. Unless you’re regularly using cloud-based services, which may at times be tricky in South Africa, OTG devices are still very useful right now. As with the original, the 2nd-gen unit is still available in 16, 32, 64, and 128GB capacity options, but there’s a lot more to offer in terms of its design and performance.
Build and Design
One of the most impressive features of the iXpand 2.0 is its redesign. Even with such a short time frame between the two launches, SanDisk has taken significant steps in reducing the size, and it pays off. Instead of the bulky frame and even weirder connection to your iPhone or iPad, the iXpand now fits the form of a standard flash drive, with only a small, curved extension at the back for the lightning jack. The design is made even better by the fact that the rubberised extension is designed in such a way that when connected to your iOS device, the metal USB portion fits almost flush against the rear, which allows you to carry it around in your pocket while still being plugged in.
It may protrude just on 2cm from the base of your device, but your iPhone can be used almost as you would usually. Personally speaking, I place my phone into my pocket upside down, for two reasons: one to avoid lint from my pockets getting into the exposed USB and lightning ports, and second that the device is already the right side up as I grab hold of it in my hand. This makes it ideal for me to use the iXpand without adjusting my usual habits. The unit also works well with most cases since the rubberised portion is flexible enough to expand a little further than the rear of your smartphone.
When using the iXpand on your PC or Mac, it no longer takes up the space next to it, which was a major issue on the first iteration when using more than one USB device. The USB portion is not protected by any cap or shell on the device, but flash drives rarely require that these days. The lightning connector also doesn’t have a cap, but it is more protective by means of a slight cut-out, which it is able to clip into. Overall, the iXpand 2nd-gen is a marked improvement over the original design.
When used on Windows or OSX, the device performs like any other USB flash drive, and, thankfully this time, with USB3.0. The only issue I still have with using the USB mode is its limited file format system, FAT32. If you’re going to be using this device to watch a few movies, you’ll be limited to files up to 4GB as a result of this formatting. This limitation is a direct result of the iPhone app requirements, which won’t be able to read the unit when plugged into your phone or tablet otherwise.
Aside from the limiting FAT32 restrictions, performances on the flash are still pretty good, much improved over the USB2.0 on the original. Average read and write speeds in USB mode yielded 87 and 46 MBps speeds, respectively, when transferring one large file. Read and write speeds on the iOS device is a bit more erratic, which isn’t easily tracked without an iOS benchmarking app, let alone one that is able to track via the iXpand Drive app it requires, which I will discuss below. The early indication is that file transfer speeds on your iOS device averages 16 and 8 MBps, respectively.
iXpand Drive App
And this brings me to the app itself. If you’re looking for a quick plug-in and use support for the iXpand, you will be a little disappointed when realising almost all uses for the flash drive a completed via the iOS app. In all fairness to SanDisk, most other OTG devices are also limited to this with iOS devices. Upon first connecting the iXpand to your iPhone or iPad, users are prompted to download the iXpand Drive app, which is simple enough. Getting used to the interface, functionality and support takes a little more getting used to. The black, dark grey and red make the GUI easy on the eye, and you’re easily able to navigate between menus and options. There are multiple tools for managing your backups, copying and viewing files, as well as playing music or video content. File format support is reasonable, although not all-encompassing, which includes .MOV, .WMV, .AVI, .MP4, .MKV, .OGG, .FLAC, .WMA, .WAV, .MP3, as well as a few other image formats. Interestingly, users are able to open specific files in the default app of their choosing via the iXpand Drive app, but the vise versa of saving the file back to the flash isn’t possible.
While the basic functionality of app work fine, with automatic backups playing an important role, there are some niggling issues. For starters, the app isn’t very stable, and can often crash multiple times within a few minutes, requiring a restart. Then there’s the connectivity to the flash drive, which often isn’t detected, which also requires the app to be restarted, or the device to be plugged out and in again. If you wish, you can take photos directly from within the app, but you don’t get the same amount of native options available. Taking photos using the normal camera also doesn’t allow you to save directly onto the iXpand, nor any other app for that matter, and is usually triggered by the auto-backup features, making a copy of the file, rather than a direct creation.
On the more positive side, the app does offer a few security options for your backed up files, allowing you to lock specific folders, while leaving others unlocked. Files are also stored based on formats, making it easier to navigate through, with default viewing by date, while music has the added options for viewing by song, album, or artist. The app also supports the 3D Touch, which allows you to access your files securely from the home screen via quick actions.
In just a few months after releasing the first generation iXpand, SanDisk were able to take head of reviewer and customer feedback from around the world, and create something that is more in tune with something available in 2016. While there are still a few issues and challenges to be ironed out, many of this is down to software bugs, and even firmware restraints from iOS. While I’d like to steer clear of any arguments involving iOS and Apple, there are obvious restrictions put on almost all OTG devices that really shouldn’t exist in modern technology. Given that, I’m not as harsh to the point on the FAT32 file system, but there’s just no excuse from SanDisk for the continued crashes when using the app. But, thankfully, as with all software, it only requires a patch or update to fix things. On the hardware side, there’s very little lacking on the SanDisk iXpand.
If you already own the original, I would easily suggest purchasing the second generation iXpand, as it is a lot more snug, with a few more features that make all the difference. If you’re in constant need of storage space on your device, the unit is an ideal solution. The only other real consideration here is cost.