Seagate Backup Plus USB 3 portable hard drive review

3.5 out of 5
£77 (500GB)

For

Fast, light and reasonably compact,

Against

Software is a bit of a letdown, downloaded images are too small

Cloud this, cloud that, if it’s not in the cloud these days, well, that’s bad news isn’t it? Of course, local storage can’t really be in the cloud, and we’re a while off replacing all our hard drives with a direct line to a server on the internet.

Seagate, in particular, has a vested interest in keeping us off the cloud, and using portable, and fixed, hard drives in our computers. But even so, the firm has had to acknowledge that online backup is a viable and important way for customers to keep their data safe. So, enter its new Backup Plus, which combines the advantages of local storage, with those of cloud backup.

Design

There’s not much to report when it comes to styling. The Seagate is certainly nice to look at. Our model was a 500GB drive, and it is both thin and light. Although we suppose, if you wanted to find fault, you could argue that it’s not as thin and as light as some other drives. Certainly, Toshiba has some much more compact drives in its arsenal.

There’s not much in terms of distractions on the device either. There’s an LED to tell you when it’s operating - this is a cool white colour, proving that blue LEDs are now truly out of fashion. You also get, predictably enough, a USB 3 connector. If you’ve yet to use USB 3, then prepare yourself for a new type of connector. It’s a little harder to push the plug into the socket, but once it’s in, it feels a little more planted than USB 2 connectors.

The drive, in our sample, is a pretty basic 500GB model. Certainly not the largest drive you can buy - we’re also spending time with a Western Digital 2TB USB 3 drive, that’s much more capacious but lacks the cloud integration.

Social and backup

With any external drive, backups account for a lot of the reasons people buy them. Once a week, pop your photos on a USB drive, and lock it away. If the worst happens to your computer, then you should still have a good backup of most of your content.

But as useful as having a backup is, if it’s kept on-site - as the IT bods refer to it - then the protection doesn’t extend to a house fire or if someone breaks in a steals your computer AND the backup. So the answer is to chuck everything in to the cloud. To this end, the supplied software can auto-upload to a variety of social media sites. It’s not really much different from a bespoke app, or from Adobe Lightroom, but it’s a handy idea for a portable drive. Double protection, if you will.

Of course, the backups aren’t auto uploaded, so there’s still a lot of user involvement in the process. Which will lead to people forgetting, and losing images. We’d like to see an auto-sync app, really.

Software included

Installing the drive is no more than plugging it in. Do this, Windows - and no doubt, but not tested, Mac OS and Linux - will mount the drive as normal. Once you’ve done this, on the drive you’ll find an installer to get the backup and social integration up-and-running. The install doesn’t take very long, and doesn’t require much user input.

Once it’s installed, things are a little less clear. The initial screen gives you options for “protect” “share” and “save”. These headers, on their own don’t really mean anything. So there are extra words to explain what’s happening. Protect offers you the opportunity to back up files to the drive. This is a traditional backup system. We’re using a 250GB SSD on our Dell XPS 13, so 500GB is enough for us to run a full backup of the system drive. Handy. That said though, if everything properly breaks, there’s no supplied software to restore your system from the drive.

An additional backup option is to sign up for some proper cloud storage, which is provided here by Nero. The storage is free for a year, and there are two possible sizes, either 5GB or 25GB. While it’s nice to have support for cloud storage, we’d honestly prefer it if there were a choice of hosting providers, especially Dropbox and Skydrive.

The “share” option allows you upload images from the drive - or your computer - to Flickr, Facebook and to send videos to YouTube. It’s a simple enough process, which just involves clicking boxes for the images you want to upload. But that’s also the problem, because the app doesn’t have an image preview. So you need to know which images you want to upload, or send up a whole folder. That’s a huge limitation in our opinion, and it’s far less flexible than any other uploader.

What’s more, for YouTube upload the file types seem limited. So you can’t, for example, upload an MTS file. YouTube supports MTS, so we don’t quite know why the Seagate app wont allow you to upload them. It’s a big lump of fail, if you ask us.

The final option “save” is the most interesting though. What it allows you to do, is log in to Flickr and Facebook and download your photos. This is exciting, and we’re very keen on the idea. The problem in our tests is that the image sizes of downloads are small, and low-quality copies. Even our Flickr images - we are not, currently, “pro” subscribers - were small, in dimensions. This, then, is a missed opportunity for images. We understand that Facebook exists only to ruin images, hence its love for Instagram, but downloading Flickr images should be far better.

Fast, very fast

The big news about USB 3 is just how quick it can be. Obviously, portable hard drives are slightly limited in speed anyway, as the drives often spin slower than those in desktops. That said, the Seagate is very, very fast. And when you’re copying large files, this makes an enormous difference.

For our money, this speed increase makes the drive worth the outlay alone. If you copy big files a lot, USB 3 is essential, but remember you need a modern computer to support it.

Verdict

As a portable hard drive, we actually can’t fault the Seagate. It’s quick and simple to use. Windows 7 recognises it with no problems, and there’s no drivers to install - at least, none that require the user intervene. It’s quick, light and simple to use. So when it comes to storage, it’s all good.

The social and backup apps are a little less impressive. They work, but the reduced image sizes on downloaded images doesn’t impress us. We don’t know if this is by Seagate’s design, or if it’s a Facebook and Flickr problem. All that said, the inability to upload MTS to YouTube strikes us as silly.

So, if it’s a hard drive you’re looking for, the Seagate is ideal. If you want a super cloud-based backup solution, it’s not quite as useful. Although there is absolutely no reason Seagate couldn’t improve the problems with the software.