Review: SimpleTough USB 2.0 Portable Drive

Shock-resistant portable USB 2.0 hard drives are not a new idea. Last year Iomega introduced the eGo BlackBelt, which we reviewed. But SimpleTech, an Hitachi company, has added new wrinkles with the Hitachi SimpleTough product.

SimpleTough, about the size and weight of BlackBelt and other portable drives, comes in three capacities: 250GB, 320GB and 500GB (a 640GB version is coming). List prices range from $100 and $150, but the 500GB model is available online for less than $125. We reviewed the 500GB version.

SimpleTough USB 2.0 Portable Drive
The SimpleTough USB 2.0 Portable Drive.
(Click for larger image)

Based on Hitachi’s Travelstar 2.5-inch hard drive technology, which is widely used in laptops, the SimpleTough is “engineered to sustain a three meter (9.8 feet) drop.” This is higher than the BlackBelt’s seven-foot drop limit. SimpleTough is also “spill resistant,” although the company doesn’t say what exactly that means.

Another nice innovation: an integrated USB cable. It’s a tough rubberized strip about five inches long that wraps neatly around one end of the molded drive enclosure and tucks out of the way when not in use. You’ll never lose it.

Because of the rubberized shock absorbers on the rigid-but-light carbon fiber enclosure, SimpleTough is a little bulkier than some portable drives at 4.8- x 3.26- x 0.87-inches. That’s marginally bigger than BlackBelt and not quite small enough to fit in a shirt pocket. But the device is small enough to fit neatly in a jacket or purse, and it weighs only 5.9 ounces.

Let the Review Begin

Our out-of-the-box experience with SimpleTough was good, but not perfect. Opening the packaging can be a little disconcerting for experienced technology hounds. Did they leave something out by mistake? Where are all the accessories and instructions?

The package contains: 1) a SimpleTough drive, and 2) a small “Read Me First” brochure. Period. Score one for simplicity.

USB Power Only

SimpleTough draws all the power it needs – theoretically – over the integrated USB cable. Some portable drives come with a two-headed cable so you can plug them into to two USB ports to draw extra power if needed. With SimpleTough, if it can’t draw enough power from one port, you have a problem.

There is a port for an external power supply – a 1.0 Amp 5-volt (5VDC) adapter, which the brochure notes unhelpfully is “not provided.” SimpleTech gives no clue where to get one. Radio Shack appears not to sell such a product.

But we did not have any problems running the SmartTough from a USB port, neither on our main test computer, a one-year-old ZTPC tower model running Windows 7, nor a Dell XPS M1330 laptop, a current model that runs Vista.

Sometimes the five-inch cable is not long enough. When we plugged the SimpleTough into the tower PC, it wouldn’t reach far enough to sit on top and would have dangled above the floor. But it works fine with a laptop on a table.

When the drive is plugged in, driver software automatically installs and SimpleTough appears as a disk drive in My Computer. Was the product splash screen supposed to automatically pop up at this point? It did not in our installation. And the “Read Me First” brochure is oddly silent on the question of what to do next.

In fact, you need to open the drive’s folder in My Computer and double-click the Get_started_for_windows.exe file. The main menu then pops up, showing five options: Register, Formatting, Backup Now, Joggle (a SimpleTech-hosted social media site that helps you organize and find media and optionally make it available to others online), Tips & Help.

You can ignore the Formatting option. The drive comes pre-formatted with FAT32, meaning it’s ready to use on almost any PC, Mac or Linux machine.

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