Backing up your data is boring. We know. But it's a necessary part of our digital lives. So is there anyway of making it any more exciting? Hitachi hopes so and, as such, has released the LifeStudio Desk Plus - a portable hard disk drive with extras.
Coming in 1TB or 2TB flavours (we reviewed a 1TB one), the Desk Plus hides a Hitachi Deskstar 3.5-inch hard drive (7200rpm, with a 32MB cache) beneath its shiny black exterior. It hides it so well in fact that you'd be fooled into thinking that this wasn't an external HDD at all, but rather a desktop speaker, or an elaborate device charger - especially when the additional 4GB USB flash drive (that we'll come back to later) isn't on board. The L-shaped design is certainly unique in its field and the build quality is reassuringly solid.
What sets the LifeStudio HDD apart from other external drives that we've seen is that Hitachi has created a whole multimedia experience around the device with a Cooliris powered gallery on board to view all of your content. So it's not just a case of dragging and dropping your folders, or using a basic backup program - Hitachi really has gone all out to make backing up a more web-like experience. But does it work?
Well, sort of - the backup manager is an easy to use piece of software that gives you all the usual options such as automatic backups, scheduled backups, what folders to backup, how many versions of backups to store and so on, and you'll also get 3GB of free cloud storage for your most important files. Where the software falls down though is the Cooliris 3D wall interface. It works quite nicely most of the time, giving you a nicely arranged (default by date) view of your media - but once you start syncing it slows to a painful crawl and slows down your whole system (tested using Windows 7) at the same time. The hard drive also makes a fairly substantial clunking noise when it is working hard.
The MyKey USB drive is an excellent addition though. It sits magnetically on the front of the main unit, and when the LifeStudio is attached via USB (it also requires a power source as well, by the way) your computer will recognise two separate entities, with the MyKey treated as its own drive. Coupled with the easy-to-use sync software for this aspect, this really is a key feature of the whole product - especially if you're the type of person that likes to keep certain files super safe.
The software also contains what Hitachi is calling MyLife - which is the 3D wall's (necessary with all new tech and apps, it seems) integration with your social networks. MyLife makes it easy to share your pics and movies with the likes of Facebook, Flickr and Picasa, should you be the type of person who likes sharing your memories.
It's important to realise, however, that the LifeStudio isn't a media server. There's no Wi-Fi on board, so although the extra UI features may set it apart from other HDDs in the market it is still, at heart, a desk-based external drive. Albeit one with a few tricks up its sleeve.
Does the Hitachi LifeStudio Desk Plus succeed in its aim of making digital file backup a bit more interesting? We're inclined to say yes, with a fairly meaty caveat in place though. That being that although it makes syncing a more friendly process, it doesn't really offer anything in terms of media organisation that your OS probably doesn't offer already. Sure, dragging and dropping or auto-backup programs are dull processes, but they do what you need them to do with minimal fuss.
That's not to say that you can't just use the old fashioned methods with the LifeStudio – it is a regular external hard drive at heart as well, don't forget, and as a hard-drive it performs amicably (shame about the lack of USB 3.0 connectivity though) and the MyKey USB flash drive option makes it all the more appealing.
The Hitachi LifeStudio Desk Plus is perfect for someone looking for a funky looking external HDD to sit on their desk and do all the things a HDD should do. Just don't expect the whole package to make much of an impact on you.