Verbatim U3 Smart Drive review
The U3 standard lets you install a range of applications onto a USB flash drive, and then run them from that device on any PC you’re currently using. These applications range from sophisticated synchronisation suites to Desktop wallpaper switchers to password managers. Armed with your favourite range of applications, settings and bookmarks, you can get any PC to behave as you’d like it to.
The page opposite details our favourite portable software, but first we look at the best U3 hardware here. We’ve chosen 2GB models, because that’s the current sweet spot between price and capacity, giving plenty of room for both applications and data.
How we test
We timed copying a 500MB folder of small, medium and large files to and from each USB flash drive to get a read and write speed for average usage. The host PC was completely shut down between each test to ensure any data caching was avoided. We then tested each drive for Vista’s ReadyBoost feature (using the auto-play option). Extra marks were given to any drive that came with useful software pre-installed.
The test didn’t get off to a good start with the frustratingly sluggish disgo classic; its paltry 5.6MB/sec read speed and 1.7MB/sec write speed were nowhere near fast enough for ReadyBoost. The test folder seemed to take an age to copy across, and in general use we were left watching progress windows far too much. It only comes with free or trial software and, at £26, even fails to be the cheapest drive on test.
The Verbatim U3 Smart Drive proved slightly faster with a 6.5MB/sec read speed and a pedestrian 1.5MB/sec write speed. Verbatim doesn’t supply any pre-installed software, and the drive is even more expensive than the underwhelming disgo. Like the disgo, only the solid build quality prevents a one-star score.
Things didn’t get much better with the Kingston DataTraveler Smart, which still failed the Vista ReadyBoost test. The file-transfer tests revealed why: only an 8.5MB/sec read speed and a slow 2.2MB/sec write speed. It comes with ACDSee PE for U3, Pass2Go and Zinio Reader pre-installed. The latter two are free applications anyway, and we can’t see many people finding the ACDSee photo manager a must-have application. Despite costing only £14, the plastic feels rugged enough to withstand careless use. But the sluggish file transfer speeds still make it worth spending more.
The Lexar JumpDrive Lightning is the most ostentatious flash drive on test with its mirrored chrome surface and reassuring weightiness. Lexar uses a proprietary alternative system to U3 called PowerToGo. In summary, we weren’t overly impressed. The EverNote note-taker is useful, though, and Secure II gives you a data safe, file encryption and file shredding. However, the U3 launchpad can password-protect your entire drive, which we prefer for ease of use. Add to this the thickness of the drive, which at least partially obscures neighbouring USB ports, and the ReadyBoost test failure (despite the 10.9MB/sec read speed and 3.9MB/sec write speed), and this drive doesn’t justify its high price.
The SanDisk Cruzer Titanium was the only drive to pass the ReadyBoost test, with an average read speed of 12.4MB/sec and a write speed of 4.3MB/sec. These fast transfer speeds were a boon – even if you have no use for ReadyBoost as yet. The CruzerSync synchronisation software was also helpful. It’s based on the competent DmailerSync Plus and worth the £19 (£22 inc VAT) asking price.