U3 USB Memory Card review

When is a memory stick not just a memory stick? When it's a U3 memory stick of course. But what's so different? We take a closer look and find out.

Compared to normal USB sticks which are just data storage devices, the U3 USB smart drive can carry software applications and personal settings that you can take from machine to machine without the need to install the software on every device you plug into.

The idea is that by allowing users to carry their files and folders, software applications, passwords and preferences and giving users the means to interact with them, the U3 smart drives mobilise workspace and create a private and protected experience on any computer. A sort of laptop in your pocket.

The idea is that when the U3-powered smart drive is removed, the computer remains unaltered and the user has the full confidence and assurance that no personal information will be left behind.

U3 is available from a number of memory manufacturers and aside from the odd design tweaks and memory sizes the sticks are identical in their offering. We looked at two models from Kingston Technology Company and Memorex, although you can buy them from M-Systems, SanDisk Corp and Verbatim.

On plugging in the USB stick to a computer the software runs automatically. No drivers were needed and within 20 seconds we had an icon appear in our desktop toolbar tray. Click the link and you are offered a menu system similar to the Windows Start Menu. Called the Lanchpad, from here you can manage your programs, view status and settings as well as explore your drive and its files.

While the idea is one that we endorse the current offering of applications for the U3 drives is fairly limited. You can't just load up your copy of Office on to the drive and the programmes have to have been specifically designed to fit in with the U3 drive. Memorex, hoping to kick start usage, have included McAfee anti virus software as well as Mozilla's Thunderbird mail client. Kingston weren't so forthcoming with the software however.

Depending on what you chose to download to your stick will depend on whether or not you are prepared to pay for the program. Thunderbird for example is free, however an email client called PocoMail PE will set you back $45 (£23).

Verdict

This system is certainly a good idea, but need a lot of fleshing out if it is going to succeed. The inclusion of Thunderbird is a good idea if you want to take your email with you on the go and once Firefox is translated - its supposedly coming soon - it will mean that you won’t have to put up with IE 5 on any machine you log into if you don’t want to.

The trouble at the moment is that the program offering - which is the main reason to sign up - isn’t that populated, once the system gets this though it will only be memory sizes that restrict you.

For the traveller who doesn’t have or want the hassle of lugging a laptop around it’s a good idea - you’ve just got to make sure there is a PC whether you are going to end up.