Review: LaCie Data Watch

USB-powered drives are now available in virtually anything (March 26th, 2004)

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Product Manufacturer: LaCie

Price: $70

The Good

  • Simple design consistent with simplicity of USB storage; Watch band includes cradle for built-in USB cable; Well known and trusted manufacturer

The Bad

  • Built-in cable could show signs of wear; wristband must be replaced through LaCie; Black dial difficult to read in low light settings; Price may drive some potential buyers away

We are at the point, and it shouldn't surprise you, that you can take your information with you wherever you go, and leave your computer behind. Thumb drives have become ubiquitous; they're tiny, they're cheap and they do what they're designed to do: make it possible for you to carry lots of data with you in your pocket. They plug into any USB port, and quickly let you access the information on them.

But that's part of the problem. They're so oh-so-small that it can be oh-so-tough to keep track of them. And the last thing you want is to lose a thumb drive where someone else can find it. Wherein lies the challenge: I want the advantages that thumb drives offer, but I want them in a format where I'm pretty sure I'll be able to keep tabs on the darned thing. Even the drives that are supposed to be able to fit on my keychain just don't do it for me.

USB-powered drives are now available, embedded in virtually anything: pens, Swiss Army knives, and (according to Reuters) even a rubber duck. On the assumption that I want this capability for business, however, I'm not about to drag a rubber duck into a meeting with a client. I am far more likely to bring LaCie's new Data Watch with me.

The watch goes for $70, and for that money, you get an analog wristwatch and 128MB of flash memory. The black rubber band also has a USB cable embedded in it; the cable releases easily, and plugs right into the USB port.

My watch worked as advertised. I plugged it into one of my iMac's three native USB ports, the disc mounted, I dragged a folder to the disc, and it copied without a problem. Exactly what you'd expect; after all, it's LaCie's name on the watch, and they're not about to give Swatch a run for its money. Storage is what this company is selling.

Click to enlarge Don't kid yourself...you're paying $70 for a well made, but bare-bones gizmo if you buy the Data Watch. If you break it down into components, it's a decent but not great deal: $44 for 128MB of storage (less than 35 cents a megabyte, although other 128MB thumb drives are going for about half this price), $6 for the USB cable and less than $20 for the watch.

I did have a couple of minor nits to pick (I hesitate to call them complaints): the dial doesn't read well in low light with its black dial. A white dial or glow in the dark dial might work better. Furthermore, there's no built-in way to encrypt the data, as other companies are offering. And I thought it might be neat if LaCie had included an LCD, showing me how many megabytes of storage remain. Last but not least, the LaCie representative I talked with couldn't tell me how much it costs to replace the watchband; after all, the band that comes with the watch is unique, and it's not something where you can simply pick up a replacement at Target or even Best Buy, let alone your local jeweler. She also acknowledged that this is a first-generation product. That means, assuming this product sells well, that we should expect to see other Data Watches from LaCie capable of holding 256 or 512MB, even a gigabyte or more.

One other point: a friend, who also has several thumb drives, also questioned whether he would be willing to stop wearing his own watch to don the Data Watch. Watches are a personal adornment, he said.

At the end of the day, though, I liked the Data Watch. It's not a revolutionary product, only an extension of an existing line, but I think it's fairly priced. It does what it's supposed to do, and its form factor is pretty understated. Most of all, it provides me with a level of security I simply can't get from all those other USB-powered storage gimmicks: where's that drive? Oh yeah, it's strapped to my wrist. And try as you may, you just can't do that with a rubber duck.

by Steve Friedberg


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