We tested three iOS-compatible flash drives from Adam Elements, Leef and Sandisk. They are made exclusively for iPad and iPhone that promise to bring plug-n-play USB storage to the Apple's mobile platform.
October 2015 Ian Chiu
|Read Speed:||21.47MB/s (Lightning)|
|Write Speed:||10MB/s (Lightning)|
|Cost per GB:|
|Storage:||16 - 256GB||16 - 256GB||16 - 200GB|
|File System Support:||exFAT||FAT32||exFAT|
|Interface(s):||Lightning, USB 3.0||Lightning, USB 2.0||802.11n (2.4Ghz), USB 2.0|
|Audio Support:||AC3, MP3, M4A, WAV, AAC, AIFF||AC3, DTS, MP3, M4A, WAV, AAC, AIFF||AC3, MP3, WAV, M4A, AAC, OGG|
|Video Support:||MP4, MOV, M4V||MKV, MP4, M4V, MOV, MPG, WMV, FLV, 3GP, AVI||WMV, AVI, MKV, MP4, MOV, FLV, MPG, RMVB, M4V, TS|
|Document Support:||PDF, TXT, DOC, DOCX, XLS, XLSX, PPT, PPTX||DOC, DOCX, KEY, NUMBERS, PAGES, PDF, PPT, PPTX, TXT, RTF, VCF, XLS||DOC, DOCX, XLS, XLSX, PPT, PPTX, PDF|
|Dimensions:||66.5 x 22 x 11.4mm||63 x 19 x 18mm||77 x 19 x 11mm|
|Build Material:||Aluminum||TPE plastic, silicon, aluminum||Aluminium|
|Color(s):||Grey, gold, red, rose gold, silver||Black||Black|
|Release Date:||July 2015||January 2015||January 2015|
|Warranty:||1 year||5 years||1 year|
This category isn’t new by any means yet these dual-headed drives featured here have improved significantly over first generation products on all fronts. Granted, there are quite a few usage restrictions, but they do come in handy in situations where all other options are exhausted. To the manufacturers’ credit, these limits are largely imposed by the iOS platform rather than the drives themselves.
At the end of the day, you will find these drives to be quite useful whether you need to access large-sized media files (especially non-Apple friendly ones) or to make crucial media backups where Internet connection might be costly, too slow or simply unavailable.
Adam Elements iKlips – Design-wise, the iKlips is no different than a regular USB 3.0 thumb drive except a closer look also reveals a Lightning port on the opposite end of the USB connector and a built-in clip on its back. iPhone or iPad cases that offer complete protection will likely block iKlips from accessing the Lightning jack.
iKlips’ app menu is divided into Photos, Music, Movies, Documents and Finder. Under each content category (except Finder), files not belonging to the same genre are magically hidden. If your files are spread across different directories, you’ll sometimes stumble upon empty folders that could catch you off guard when you expect files to be there. This approach would seem to work better when all files are stored in the same or root folder.
There’s plenty of room for improvements for iKlips on how to handle media and files in general. We would like to see ID3 tag support for MP3 and M4A as well as compatibility for MKV. Finder could also be further improved by offering different ways to sort and search files. Hopefully, these will be added in upcoming app releases.
In the performance department, the iKlips blew away the competition in both read and write tests. We were able to get 132.1MB/s read and 65.5MB/s write over iKlips’ USB 3.0 interface, and 21.47MB/s read and 10MB/s write over Lightning. This is a pretty big deal as better performance reduces the amount of time and more importantly, battery needed to complete a transfer.
Pricing for Adam Elements iKlips ranges from $59 for 16GB all the way up to $399.99 for 256GB.
Leef iBridge – This dual-interfaced iOS stick has a “J” shape design that neatly curves around the back of the iOS host. Thanks to that, it easily adapts to all kinds of protective cases and at the same time doesn’t weigh down your phone or tablet.
After plugging in the iBridge, iOS will ask you whether or not to launch its in-house app. From there, you’ll be presented with 4 action options: Transfer Files, Content Viewer; iBridge Camera; Settings. Each option is pretty self-explanatory.
Our experience with the iBridge’s photo management was satisfying but left us wanting a bit more. We were able to browse and share our snapshots in a manner similar to Apple’s Photos apps. Photos – grouped by date – are displayed in grid. There’s no album support regardless how you organize the photos in separate folders. Additional data – such as location tag and time, is also absent.
iBridge’s own camera is rather primitive in functionality. All settings appear to be defaulted to auto mode. Video capture is limited to 1080p at 30fps even though our iPhone 6 can record at 60fps. After hitting the shutter button, there’s also a few second pause waiting for iOS to save each new snapshot or video onto the iBridge.
Music player accessible thru Content Viewer generally delivers a user-friendly experience. It was able to build a library from all our MP3s and M4As across different folders on iBridge. This could take a minute or so depending on the number of songs. The player’s minimalist, yet intuitive interface lists songs, albums and artists alphabetically, complete with album art display. We were equally impressed by its built-in contextual search.
iBridge’s movie player was surprisingly capable. We were able to play 1080p MKVs with embedded subtitles, and this is a big plus. Our high bit-rate MP4s downloaded from YouTube and decade-old AVI archive also played smoothly without any hiccups. Scrubbing back and forward through clips was as responsive as one would expect. There’s one major caveat. iBridge lacks support for exFAT; this might be a deal breaker for some of us as you are limited to syncing movies under 4GB.
The Leef iBridge – in black only – is priced at $59.99 for 16GB; $79.99 for 32GB; $119.99 for 64GB; and $199.99 for 128GB.
Sandisk Wireless Connect Stick – Unlike others with Lightning plug, the Sandisk creates a personal Wi-Fi hub that shares its internal storage with up to three devices wirelessly. By design, the drive allows you to stash it away somewhere out of sight as long as it’s within range to stay connected to the network.
The Connect Stick itself isn’t that much larger than the other two drives despite the fact that the Sandisk has additional hardware components (i.e. built-in battery and Wi-Fi). The only physical connection is USB 2.0 that recharges Sandisk’s internal battery as well as copying data between the drive and the PC.
Making first connection to the wireless stick requires some technical knowledge. The tech-savvy will have an easier time figuring out the steps. To begin, you will need to download an iOS app called Connect Drive. (There’s also an Android counterpart of the same name.) You then need to connect to Sandisk Wireless Connect “network” via ad-hoc mode under your phone or tablet’s Wi-Fi settings. Upon successful connection, you can then launch the app.
There’s one caveat. In ad-hoc mode, you lose connectivity to your Wi-Fi router, and your phone or tablet will fall back to 3G or 4G for Internet. There’s an option for the stick to join the wireless network in infrastructure mode. Content on the Sandisk, however, will be made available to all other users on the same local network. For security purposes, the drive can be password-protected if needed.
Sandisk’s iOS app follows the style of an old-fashioned file explorer. Files and folders are displayed in a hierarchical tree based on their directory structure, and there are plenty of ways to customize the view options, depending on the file types. The app will also show thumbnails next to files that can be played back natively through the app.
As far as media compatibility is concerned, Sandisk offers very much what you would expect. It provides full ID3 tag readouts for artists, albums and tracks for MP3, AAC and M4A, but it lacks subtitle support for MKV. We wish there’s FLAC playback but none of the other drives come with losseless media support.
On a single charge, you can expect about six to seven hours of battery life depending usage patterns. When a maximum of three streams occur concurrently, battery depletes much quickly due to constant data transmission over Wi-Fi.
Riding the wave of iPhone 6 worldwide popularity, iOS-compatible USB sticks are popping up left and right. They promise a seamless file syncing experience for iPhone and iPad users who prefer keeping things as simple and straightforward as possible.
In the end, what we found out was that each drive has its own merits. The iKlips from Adam Elements has an overwhelming advantage of being the fastest in file transfer, thanks to USB 3.0 (now known as USB 3.1 Gen 1). So, if you plan on swapping large amount of files, this is our pick.
The iBridge from Leef has the most aesthetically pleasing design, thanks to its ergonomic J-shaped design and minimalist app interface. The Wireless Connect Stick from Sandisk is the most practical solution for media sharing as it creates a Wi-Fi access point allowing multiple simultaneous user access.