The Quest for the Perfect Flash Drive

In techno-tourism terms, I’m fairly well-traveled. Mostly because I’ve visited the mecca of gadgetry, Japan, but I’ve also stopped at quite a few other places as well. During those travels, I’m on the look out for one thing in particular, one mundane thing that trumps all others: Flash drives.

I want to find the perfect flash drive like baseball pitchers want a perfect game. The perfect gadget is elusive and amazingly rare, and I’ve often come tantalizing close to finding it without actually getting there. I think I’ve found the perfect drive now, but I’ve thought that in the past, too. So, here’s a run down of where I’ve come from, and where I’m at now, and why I think I’ve come as close to perfection as possible.

Monarchs of Old

Two flash drives come to mind when I think back on the long parade of USB keys that have come and gone over the course of my life as a gadget-addicted web worker. Both shared some similarities, but I liked them more for their differences than for what they had in common.

Lexar FireFly

The FireFly represents the first time I paid attention to the case design of a flash drive. Before this, it didn’t matter what it looked like, and to my mind, none really looked that good anyway. It didn’t matter that there were complaints about the speed of the drive, and even some murmurs about high failure rates. It felt solid, had a blue glow, and genuinely resembled its namesake.

When I started using a FireFly, a 512MB capacity drive was all that I really needed. I still have the neon green one that I had back then, and it still works, though I don’t use it any more because all of my documents are now online, and at that capacity there’s very little else I can carry on it. They’re still available from Lexar, but the capacities don’t seem to be increasing and keeping track of the cap started to become a nuisance, so I moved on.

SanDisk MicroCruzer

To escape the tyranny of caps, I moved on to the MicroCruzer, which again boasts a pretty attractive form factor, but with a retractable USB connector to eliminate the need for protective covers. A reassuring orange glow lets you know it’s working, and you get the reassurance of using a SanDisk flash product, a company I’ve found to be tremendously reliable. Many of my MicroCruzers are still in service.

But not all. The retraction trick may prevent the connector from getting damaged and reduce the need for a cap, but with lots of repeated use it seems to wear down, and now some won’t catch when extended, making it much harder to connect them to the computer. And it shares the same small but chunky design with the FireFly, which means they still feel like a bulky imposition in my pants pockets.

Current Ruler

LaCie CooKey/IamaKey/WhizKey

The flash drive so nice they made it thrice. LaCie originally released the IamaKey model of this drive, which I bought as soon as I became aware that it existed. It’s a USB key meant to resemble an actual key, thanks to a housing designed by 5.5 Designers for the Mac-friendly accessory maker. When that model took off, LaCie introduced two further designs that essentially replicated the form factor.

Which is a good thing, because it’s actually perfect, insofar as my current flash memory needs go. The keys come in a range of capacities, from 8GB to 32GB, and they sport a rugged metal design. They’re as thin as house keys, so they fit can on your key ring. The connector is one-sided (doesn’t have the traditional box of a male USB connector, only the business side with the contacts), which allows for the thinness of design.

A little plastic cover is provided for those who are paranoid about damaging the contacts, but as someone who promptly lost that cover on his first key, let me tell you that it isn’t at all necessary. The construction of the contacts is such that they seem impervious, even when kept with the rest of your keys in a pocket filled with change and other bric-a-brac. They’re easily portable, functional, unobtrusive and stylish. Plus clients and people I meet in the course of doing business almost always fall in love with them, so they help with networking and they make great corporate gifts, too.

Have you found the perfect flash drive?

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