Review: FireLite Portable Hard Drive

Small, affordable, but limited to choosing FireWire or USB, not both. (February 3rd, 2005)

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Product Manufacturer: SmartDisk

Price: $149 to $319 depending on GB and USB or 1394

The Good

  • Lightweight; no AC adapter required; rapid transfer speed; good price point

The Bad

  • Lack of both USB and FireWire ports sharply limit interoperability

There was a time not too long ago that you would have had to peel me off the ceiling about this product. The whole idea of carrying around all the information stored on my computer in my pocket, at a price that did not require me to rethink my childrens' financial future, seemed unbelievable.

But that was then. This is now, and it's a sign of how far we've come in a relatively short time that what seemed wicked cool maybe a year ago now seems barely adequate today.

There is a lot that SmartDisk's FireLite portable hard drive does very, very well. I tried the 40GB version; it's the smallest of the bunch with other versions holding up to 100GB. The FireLite is meant to be very, very portable, and it succeeds. It only weighs six ounces. On a recent trip, I stored it in a small pocket of my briefcase.

Performs as Promised

I wanted to use it to store about nine gigabytes of documents and email as a backup, should the information on my PowerBook become corrupted or lost. The FireLite performed as promised; I didn't need an AC adapter, the disk mounted promptly on my both my iMac and PowerBook desktops, and the transfer rate was superb. I was able to upload and download information at a rate of more than one gigabyte a minute. Quite impressive, and far exceeding my needs. And the price point is excellent. Less than $150, which works out to about $3.75 for a gigabyte of storage space.

What's Not to Love?

So, what's not to love? Well, the FireLite is missing what I consider to be a key element in today's business world. And that's the ability to work with everybody else.

Look... for years, the Macintosh had the reputation of being unable to work with Windows computers. Documents weren't interchangeable... applications weren't available. You remember. Today, that's changed. So, why do we still have products that don't make interoperability as easy as possible?

Whaddaya Mean I Have to Choose?

The FireLite comes with either a FireWire or a USB 2.0 port. Let me say that again. FireWire or USB 2.0. Not both. Now, try finding someone in most offices who has a Windows computer with a FireWire port...it's tough. Which has the practical effect of making the FireLite (with a FireWire connection) a Mac-only product. As someone who works with clients who use Windows computers almost exclusively, that's not acceptable.

The folks at SmartDisk do understand; their CrossFire portable hard disk contains ports for both USB and FireWire. And while the CrossFires are roughly twice as big as the FireLite drives, they're still not all that large, and the price point difference is negligible (and may even be preferred): $170 for a Windows-formatted 120GB hard drive, or $1.42 per gigabyte.

Other companies, meanwhile, already produce FireWire/USB-equipped drives that compete directly with the FireLite, giving their customers the option: Other World Computing's Mercury On-the-Go 40GB portable drive only costs $146, and even comes bundled with Retrospect backup software. (I don't like Retrospect, but that's not the point.) Iomega, LaCie and FirewireDirect also make small portable hard drives that make both types of connections available.

Simply put, if you're working only in a Macintosh environment, or know beyond all doubt that everyone you're working with can access FireWire, the FireLite is a very good tool at a very fair price. It's fast, dependable and easy to take with you on the road. The problem is, there are too many other competing products on the market that do all of that, and make interoperability just a bit easier.

by Steve Friedberg


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