SanDisk iXpand Flash Drive review

A nifty accessory for mobile file transfers and storage

TODO alt text

Our Verdict

The iXpand has the potential to be a wonderful accessory, especially for portable storage. But it transfers data slowly, so be prepared to use it for very small transfers that can't be made by other, faster means.

For

  • Lightweight, sleek design
  • Viewing video on iPhone
  • Sharing files via Airdrop
  • Securing sensitive files

Against

  • Speed
  • Price
  • Could be obsolete with next-generation iPhones
Scores in depth
Sandisk iXpand review
Sandisk iXpand review
Sandisk iXpand review
Sandisk iXpand review
Sandisk iXpand review

My wife and I recently returned from our honeymoon in the American Southwest. We toured the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Lake Powell and the Hoover Dam over the course of nine wonderful days.

If you haven't been to that part of the country, I highly encourage you to go, especially to Lake Powell and Bryce Canyon, two of the most surreal landscapes I've ever had the pleasure of exploring. But when you go, there's something you must bear in mind: what the Southwest has in gorgeous, magical, sun-drenched scenery it lacks in internet connectivity.

For my wife, this wasn't much of an issue. She packed her Nikon D3000, and an extra memory card, which allowed her to snap more than a thousand photos without ever worrying about where she'd store them. I, however, was armed only with my iPhone 5S, a choice I wouldn't have had much of an issue with had we traveled to DisneyLand instead of the high elevation and remote isolation of the Southwest.

Because we were so deep in the boondox and so high into the hills, there was no way for me to offload the images I was taking without wiping old ones from my camera roll. On my first day of this adventure, after having taken only 30-odd photos of the sunburnt Bryce Canyon hilltops, Apple curtly warned me I was running low on storage. Embarrassingly, I hadn't backed up to iCloud since activating my new phone and I wasn't exactly sure what was copied and what wasn't.

Without any internet, and with my laptop back at the hotel, there was no way for me to copy the existing photos in order to clear room for new images. I was forced to make a hard choice: delete old pics or stop taking new ones.

After wiping a few dozen forgettable pics and apps from my phone, I was ready to roll again.

That night, I went back to my hotel and offloaded my camera roll images onto my MacBook Pro so that I would have plenty of room the next day to snap a couple hundred more pics. I did this every night of the trip.

I tell you this story because SanDisk has created a very nifty (and pricey) tool that would have solved a lot (but not all) of my storage problems.

Sandisk iXpand review

The SanDisk iXpand Flash Drive is a 2.53-inch tall and 1.4-inch wide USB and Lightning connector that is meant for transferring data from mobile device to mobile device or from mobile device to desktop. Available in 16GB, 32GB and 64GB models, the iXpand Flash Drive will come to market for $69.99 (about £44, AU$80), $79.99 (about £50, AU$90), and $119.99 (about £75, AU$140) on BestBuy.com and on SanDisk.com on November 14. The product will be available in Best Buy stores on November 16. iXpand will be available in Europe from January 2015 onwards.

The iXpand houses both the USB and Lightning connector within a gray metal chassis. The Lightning connector is attached to the chassis via a rubber tube that is just flexible enough to protrude upward at a 45-degree angle into your mobile device. I broke the tube when I pulled the connector up toward my iPhone 5S port, so be careful. Luckily I only damaged the rubber without affecting the wiring or I wouldn't have been able to test the unit.

Sandisk iXpand review

Once it's plugged in, the iXpand immediately prompts you to download the iXpand Sync app, which is where the magic happens. You're efficiently walked through a series of prompts that explain how the device works and how you can get started.

A red plus button sits in the middle of the app's interface. By clicking on the button, you prompt the app to pull up your photos and videos so that you can select which files to copy from your phone onto the flash drive. Just as you would select which photos to move into a folder within your camera roll, you click photos within the iXpand Sync app and you're ready to start copying to the drive.

What you'll enjoy

Users will love that you're able to automatically sync your camera roll to the iXpand Sync app. Once you've ordered the device to sync to your phone, each time you plug it into the device on which the app lives the drive will automatically download your images onto the flash drive. The app is smart enough to not overwrite old files, so you don't have to worry about a lengthy rewrite process every time you plug the device into your phone. You can also unclick the auto-sync button and disable the functionality.

Sandisk iXpand review

My personal favorite iXpand feature is its ability to play music and video from the flash drive without having to permanently store the files onto your device. Lets say you're in the mountains without internet access and you want to watch Season Three of The Wire on your iPhone, you can simply add the video files to your iXpand before you leave for your trip, then you can plug the device in and click play.

What's awesome about the device is that it can house WMV, AVI, MKV, MP4 and MOV files, so you don't need to worry about formatting the videos before playing them. In almost any other circumstance you aren't able to load and watch AVI and MKV files on iPhones and iPads. That means no watching Stringer Bell go all Benedict Arnold on Avon Barksdale while Avon's holding down the family in prison. I digress.

The most important feature of the iXpand is its data encryption functionality. Small businesses and security-minded employees will love having the ability to create two-step authentication on personal documents. Within the app, you can create a password that will lock files you'd like to secure. Once your password is created, you can select the files you'd like to encrypt. If the files are locked, you can only view them when you plug the device into a computer and enter your password.

Secondary use cases

The iXpand is able to store Word docs, PDFs and most other file types. So long as you have an app that can open the file on your phone, you can pretty much store and view anything on the iXpand. This is great if you want to access files ahead of a business meeting but you don't necessarily want to make room for the files on your personal phone.

I also really like that I was able to Airdrop documents without actually storing them on my phone. Here's what I mean: I pulled a few images off my computer, plugged the iXpand into my iPhone and shared the images with my wife without ever housing the files on my phone.

That's a pretty handy feature, especially if you're at a family function and you have old photos and videos you'd like everyone to have access to, but the files aren't stored on your phone. Rather than spending precious family time uploading the images onto your phone in order to Airdrop them, you can simply plug the drive in and drop the file to anyone who's interested.

If you're paranoid about uploading your entire phone to the cloud, and you don't like iTunes, you can also use this device to migrate from iPhone to iPhone. It can pull all your photos, videos, music and contacts from your old device to your new device.