Many Choices For On-The-Go Storage

January 15, 2015       Ted Needleman      

It seems as if every time you think you have enough storage, some new application comes along or you suddenly discover your files are running out of room.

There’s no need to panic. Portable external storage offers more options than ever, and at prices that are easily affordable. Sometimes, however, you want or need something a bit different from the ubiquitous plug-in USB hard drive. Here are a few options to consider.

Two of the most popular external storage media are USB hard drives and USB Flash drives. Both of these are available from numerous vendors, can be bought in various capacities, and are, for the most part, extremely cost effective.

The downside is that as easy as they are to install, they’re just as easy to remove. And if you are using one to store sensitive data, losing one or having it stolen can be a catastrophic security problem. A secure encrypted external hard drive or Flash drive is an affordable and workable approach. Apricorn and Kingston Technology are just two of the vendors that offer hardware encryption on external storage devices.

Apricorn offers its Aegis line of devices, all of which feature hardware encryption. There’s the Aegis SecureKey Flash drive, available in USB 2 and USB 3 models starting at $69, and a slew of Aegis Padlock hard drives, including one with a SSD (solid state disk) and another with a fingerprint reader rather than a numeric keypad. These drives are priced starting at $149.

If you need a lot of extra external storage, USB hard disk drives are the most cost-effective solution. But they aren’t the only way to gain extra storage space. USB Flash Drives (also called Thumb Drives) are much more resistant to abuse like being dropped, but for the most part have much smaller capacity than a hard drive. That’s not so with Kingston Technology’s HyperX Predator Data Traveler.

It’s really expensive compared to a USB hard drive (about $500 for a 512GB model, $1,000 for a 1TB unit), but it’s very fast, and with a lipstick-sized zinc alloy case, it can probably take more of a beating than your laptop. The HyperX Predator Data Traveler is also perfect if you have a lot or large files, but very little room in your travel kit.

One problem with the above devices is that they all use USB to connect to your device. Unfortunately, not every device has a USB port. Many smartphones and tablets could use a storage boost, but lack USB support. Fortunately, almost all of these devices have Wi-Fi wireless support, and there are a number of wireless storage products that connect using Wi-Fi. Seagate, and Western Digital offer small portable hard drives which connect using Wi-Fi (though they all have a USB port for charging the internal battery).

If you don’t want to use the wireless feature, all three of these can connect using a USB cable like a standard portable USB hard drive. Seagate’s Wireless Plus drive is available in capacities ranging from 512GB to 2TB and can also serve as a wireless hub so that up to seven devices can share files contained on the drive. The 2TB drive is priced at $199, with the smaller capacity models starting at $149.

Western Digital’s My Passport Wireless is a touch more expensive, at $219 for the 2TB model, but supports up to eight devices and also includes an SC card slot so that you can load or read files such as photos contained on an SD card.

And if you don’t particularly care about having a wireless hard drive, but do want to be able to SD cards and USB Flash drives with your wireless devices, consider Kingston Technology’s $45 Mobile Wireless Flash Reader.

Finally, if you need lots of extra storage, and don’t want to lug around another piece of hardware, there’s “The Cloud.” As long as you have some form of access to the Internet, cloud-based storage is an excellent alternative. Major vendors such as Apple, Microsoft, and Google all provide some amount of free cloud storage, usually 5GB or more, with extra amounts available for a small monthly fee. Other cloud storage providers, such as Dropbox, also provide an initial amount of storage for free, with fees kicking in when you go over the free limit.

Keep in mind, though, that while the cloud potentially offers an almost unlimited amount of storage, only the first five or 10 GB are free. That’s fine if you’re going to store some photos or songs, but it pales in comparison with the other storage media discussed. For example, a 32GB USB Flash drive is available from almost everywhere for under $20.

And, cloud-based storage requires an Internet connection. You can’t access your files if you can’t connect. So for anything but casual use, modest file-sharing, or possibly as backup for your most important desktop files, cloud storage presents some considerable constraints at the present time.