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Tim Leffel

Professional Travel Expert

Best USB Drive & Best Flash Drive

Traveling for business or pleasure is not as simple as it was in the days before e-mail, digital cameras, digital video cameras, and files that need to move from computer to computer. Photos, videos, and work files all take up a lot of storage space and we often need to back them up or access them while on the road. So whether carrying a laptop or not, an external hard drive of some kind provides portability, peace of mind, and additional security.

There are essentially three kinds of external storage devices to serve most needs. A portable external hard drive holds the most data - with many models as much as your regular desktop or laptop. But the size has shrunk down to the height of a soda can. Photo storage hard drives are larger, but come with a screen for viewing photos and they can pull data directly from memory cards.

Thumb drives, or USB drives, are small devices that plug directly into the USB port of any computer. These tiny drives don’t hold as much, but they are convenient and some come loaded with software enabling you to leave your laptop at home.

Find the best USB drive for simple transfer of files from computer to computer. We suggest the best flash drive so you'll have extra space for your favorite photos, videos and work files on these portable data storage devices.

Best Portable Data Storage Devices by Tim Leffel

The Best You Can Get

  • Rebit Backup

    Tim says: Most users don’t back up their data because they don’t know how or they don’t remember to do it. The Rebit solves both these problems by being dead easy to use. If you can find your USB port you know enough to set up and run this external hard drive.

    You simply plug it in to your computer and it starts up automatically. You click “OK” on a few menu screens and then you’re set forever. You just leave the Rebit plugged in and it automatically backs up everything on your computer without using up a lot of resources and without you doing anything. You can go grab files off of it later just like you would any other external drive.

    The “leave it plugged in” doesn’t work so well for travelers with a laptop of course and can be a bit buggy with older computers. However, the device will pick up where it left off and figure out what’s been added if you go for days or even weeks without using it. The sizes up to 160GB are small and slim 7-ounce metal boxes the size of a thin stack of 3" by 5" index cards. The 320 and 500GB sizes are less travel-friendly since they are larger, require additional power, and weigh close to two pounds. So far, these all work with either Windows XP or Vista (not both) and not for a Mac.

    • Simple and painless backup
    • No software to install
    • Compact and rugged
  • Western Digital My Passport Essential

    Tim says: At 0.4 pounds and only 0.59 inches thick, it’s hard to believe something this small can hold as much data as most desktops. The thin little 320GB version can hold 91,000 photos or 140 hours of DVD quality video. It works with both Windows and Mac computers and requires no setup.

    It’s easy to match this hard drive up with your pretty laptop or bag: it comes in eleven different colors. Only one thin cord is needed for one USB port and the drive itself packs up in a slim, cushioned zipper case.

    For those who want full backup capabilities, the slightly more expensive Elite line includes automatic backup, sync and encryption, and remote access software.

    • Slim, light, and compact design
    • Simple to set up and use
    • Comes in 11 colors
  • Corsair Flash Survivor USB Drive

    Tim says: If you work takes you into extreme conditions, this drive will take Terminator-type punishment and still keep on working. Reviewers have beat it with hammers, taken it underwater, boiled it, send it through the laundry cycle, and run over it without any damage. Constructed of anodized aircraft-grade aluminum, it is water resistant to 200 meters and is protected from vibration or impact damage through the use of a molded shock-dampening collar. It can operate in a temperature range of 0˚C (freezing) to 70˚C (158˚F).

    This Corsair drive is available in a storage capacity ranging from 4GB to 32GB - the latter more than most laptops held earlier this decade. It has some security features that allow you to hide some data behind a password-protected partition and works with both Windows and Mac. As expected with something this rugged, there’s a ten-year warranty.

    • Close to indestructible
    • Waterproof to 200 meters
    • Comes in 4 to 32GB capacity
  • Ironkey Flash Drive

    Tim says: Billed as “the world’s most secure flash drive,” this storage device keeps all its data secure and tamperproof, so if you lose it in an airplane cushion seat, nobody is going to boot it up and grab what’s on there. All user data is encrypted to a level that meets government and military requirements. The “always-on” hardware encryption cannot be disabled.

    Like the Corsair model, the IronKey is built to last. It has a rugged metal casing, and internal components are sealed to protect against tampering, and the unit has passed military waterproof testing requirements.

    Don’t forget your password though: after ten failed attempts it “self-destructs” and wipes out all the data on the drive. The Ironkey comes in several models with different levels of encryption, ranging in capacity from 1 to 8GB.

    • Military-level encryption and security
    • Hard casing is waterproof and tamperproof
    • Available in 1GB to 8GB
  • Epson P-5000 Multimedia Storage Viewer

    Tim says: If you’re a serious digital photographer who would rather not lug around a laptop for backup, this 80GB hard drive, memory card reader, and photo viewer is the answer. You can store photos from any memory card and view the shots in 640 X 480 resolution on the four-inch LCD screen (a screen that supports 16.7 million colors). This enables you to clearly see which shots can be deleted, though even with a 12-megapixel camera this device will hold over 10,000 high resolution photos.

    It will support photos shot in RAW, supports the Adobe RGB format, and can also handle a variety of video or music formats.

    If you have an Epson printer, when you return, you can print photos directly from the device by simply plugging in a USB cord. If you want all these features but don’t need this much storage capacity, Epson offers a 40GB model for less.

    • Upload and view photos from memory cards
    • Supports all photo formats and popular memory cards
    • Only weighs one pound

You will be happy with any of these

  • Digital Foci Picture Porter Elite

    Tim says: For the amateur photographer who doesn’t need the absolute best screen for viewing photo details, the 3.6-inch screen on this Digital Foci is probably sufficient and the unit goes beyond its competitors in offering other functions. The device supports four music formats, five photo formats (including RAW), and four video formats (but not DivX). With units ranging in capacity from 40GB to 160GB, it’s easy to find sufficient storage.

    Built-in card slots support all common card formats, meaning you can back up as you go, set up slideshows, and share photos between friends. You can print to any PictBridge compliant printer directly from the device.

    The big draw of this storage drive is the extras, however. It has a built-in FM tuner, functions as an MP3 player through headphones or a speaker, will play videos off the hard drive or a memory card, and has a digital audio recorder with built-in microphone and line-in input. The rechargeable lithium ion battery provides up to four hours of continuous video and twelve hours of continuous music playback.

    • Versatile photo storage and viewing
    • Supports multiple cards and formats
    • Functions as music player, video player, radio, or voice recorder
  • Seagate FreeAgent Go

    Tim says: At only 6.4 ounces and under 5-by-4 inches, this Seagate portable drive is easy to carry along, though since it requires two open USB ports, the cord that goes with it is quite bulky.

    The included software syncs up folders of your choosing and, if you’re savvy enough to figure it all out, it also saves all of your private passwords, bookmarks, and settings. So you can plug this into another computer and surf more securely. The device comes with almost no instructions though and you’re likely to get lots of cryptic security warnings at set-up, so this particular model is not for the novice.

    For pure storage or backup it’s a solid device in a compact package and is a good value, especially considering the standard five-year warranty.

    • Compact and light
    • Comes with sync and security software
    • 5-year warranty
  • SanDisk Cruzer Contour

    Tim says: There are probably a few hundred USB drives on the market now, not counting the free low-capacity ones routinely given away free at trade shows. It’s worth paying a bit more for one with more performance, however, as these are much faster and often come loaded with applications you can run directly from the drive itself.

    One of the best is the Cruzer Contour line from Sandisk. It physically goes beyond most others with a retractable case design that eliminates the need for a cap, a carrying case, and a hard metal exterior. It’s what’s inside that sets it apart though. It comes preloaded with the U3 platform software, which will allow you to sync files, store passwords, sort stored photos, and make calls using Skype - all on any computer you plug into. You can also download many more applications, such as the Firefox browser, to have your own customized settings and bookmarks at any computer.

    The SanDisk Cruzer Contour is available with a capacity from 4GB to 16GB.

    • Fast read and write times
    • Retractable case with no cap
    • Loaded with software that can run from the drive
  • LaCie 250 GB Rugged Hard Disk

    Tim says: While most portable hard drives are built for travel, LaCie’s are built for abuse. Padded around the edges with rubber and made of a drop-resistant aluminum alloy shell, this model will routinely hold up to drops and bangs.

    Despite all that, it’s only slightly bulkier than its competitors, with a one-inch thickness, dimensions of 3.5 x 5.7 inches, and a weight of nine ounces. It will connect through a single USB or Firewire port and needs no other external power. (It does come with an additional USB power-sharing cable for low powered USB hubs/computers.)

    This model works with both Mac and PC computers and comes with 1-Click Backup Software for both. The 160GB or 250GB sizes only come in orange but you can buy bumpers in other colors. The main drawback is the stingy two-year warranty, which seems short for something supposedly “built like an off-road vehicle.”

    • Built to withstand drops and bumps
    • Alloy casing with rubber bumpers
    • Has Firewire connection in addition to USB
  • Maxtor OneTouch 4 Mini

    Tim says: Maxtor’s small and portable hard drive holds 80, 120, or 160GB of data depending on model, but weighs less than half a pound and is 5.24 x 3.54 x 0.79 inches. Maxtor goes for a no-nonsense look, with a metal case surrounded by black plastic.

    It is easy to set up and run from the stored software and includes functions to allow folder sync, full hard drive backup, and data protection with AES 256-bit encryption. For Windows (XP and Vista) users with NTFS-formatted hard drives, it is also designed to be a disaster-recovery backup.

    This is a solid portable hard drive for normal use, at a good price. The OneTouch 4 Mini has a five-year warranty, far more generous than most of the other portable hard drives on the market.

    • Good value for the price
    • Backup and data recovery software included
    • 5-year warranty

Related Articles

Choose the best USB drive with plenty of room to transport photos, videos, work file and other files that you need on the go. We suggest the best flash drive for your situation, including portable external hard drives that hold most data. These portable storage devices are always the best price for the size and quality of USB drive that plugs directly into your computer.