Most people these days carry a USB flash drive around with them. For laptop users they’ve become as much a commodity as say sugar or oil. Flash drives are quick and easy for transferring files, but beyond that utilitarian usage they’re boring and don’t give us much to talk about. SanDisk is trying to give a little more use and durability to these handy little devices in the form of their U3 Cruzer Smart Drive series.
Sandisk Cruzer Titanium Overview
SanDisk Cruzer Titanium 2.0GB in its package (view large image)
Under review here is the Sandisk Cruzer Titanium U3 2.0GB device. The Titanium Cruzer is nothing new, SanDisk has been marketing and selling it for some time. For those not familiar though, the Cruzer Titanium is pitched as being virtually indestructible in terms of build. You can drop it, throw it or accidentally run it over with say your car, and it should hold up and keep your data protected physically. You can buy some super cheap USB flash drives on the market these days, but they’ll most certainly be made of plastic and liable to bend and break just being carried around in a bag. Not so with the Titanium Cruzer. The Titanium look is fantastic too — a beautiful shiny metallic reflective surface that’s tough to even scratch.
The Titanium Cruzer glows blue to indicate it is engaged with your laptop (view large image)
The Titanium Cruzer also has a nice retractable USB port, much more convenient than those horrible plastic nub covers you get with most other flash drive devices to protect the port. The flash drive also illuminates in a cool blue to visually indicate it has interfaced and connected to a PC.
The U3 platform is what makes this SanDisk storage device more than just a regular old storage device. The U3 platform is something SanDisk is rolling out on the Titanium series of Cruzer flash drive devices and certain Cruzer Micro devices.
So what is U3? U3 is a joint venture backed by Sandisk and a company called M-Systems. U3 is responsible for the development of a proprietary application design specification created for the Windows OS (sorry OS X and Linux users) that allows applications to be executed directly from a USB flash drive. These applications are allowed to write files or registry information to the host computer, but this information must be removed when the flash drive is ejected. USB flash drives adhering to the U3 specification are termed “U3 smart drives”. “U3 smart drives” differ from traditional USB flash drives because they come preinstalled with the U3 Launchpad, which emulates the Windows OS start menu, and controls program installation.
So in a nutshell, the U3 platform is basically an OS for your flash drive. It will display in the system tray on the lower right side when you plug the flash drive into a PC, simply right click the U3 system tray icon to see the various options and management capabilities you have over the U3 smart device.
Applications such as Skype and FireFox are the major programs currently available for the U3 platform. What this means is that you can install Skype and FireFox directly onto the flash drive, and once you plug the flash drive into a Windows machine you’ll be able to use those applications whether they’re installed on the host machine or not. The added benefit is that all personal browser settings in an application like FireFox are strictly kept to the flash drive and never written to the host machine, so it’s a great way to be secure if you’re using a computer other than your own.
Screenshot of FireFox being installed on the SanDisk Cruzer U3 device (view large image)
Installing a new application on the drive is easy, you simply click the “Add Programs” menu item (as seen in the above screen shot of U3) and it will then run you through a wizard that downloads the U3 package from U3.com and installs the application on the flash drive. Visit the U3.com software section to see what’s currently available, some apps are free some cost money — you can’t just install any application on the flash drive it has to have been specially packaged and meet U3 standards.
As a bonus, SanDisk preinstalled Skype on the Cruzer Titanium for you. There’s also a nice synch application that allows you to customize folders and files you’d like synched from your PC to the flash drive each time it is plugged in. Outlook email and information along with desktop settings can also be synched to the drive.
If you don’t like the idea of U3 or just want to use the flash drive as a regular old storage device that can be opened in Windows Explorer, you can do that too and just disable U3.
Flash drives are a commodity and pretty cheap these days, but it pays to get one that’s durable, will last and protect your data properly. For this reason it’s wise to invest in a durable device such as the Titanium Cruzer. The price varies with memory capacity of course, choose the amount of memory that fits your needs and budget. The 2.0GB device I had to test is plenty enough for my need to transfer office and music multimedia files, the cost is $109.99. The 1.0GB Titanium device is $69.99. The U3 platform integration in this device will certainly be attractive to some buyers and prove very useful, but even without that you’ve got one of the nicer flash drives on the market.
Note: The U3 platform is also available on the Cruzer Micro series of flash drive devices, prices range from $34.66 for a 512MB Micro drive to $179.99 for a 4.0GB Micro drive (1.0GB Cruzer Micro pictured below)