Just about the worst thing is being stuck on an airplane without easy access to your favourite downloaded videos due to a flat battery on your laptop. Sandisk's latest dual USB drive lets you load it up with TV shows, movies or other media to watch indiscriminately on your laptop or tablet or smartphone, and it does so faster than ever.
What Is It?
- Capacity: 16GB, 32GB, 64GB
- Connectivity: USB 3.0, microUSB 2.0
- Read Speed: 125/68MBps (as tested)
- Dimensions: 37x20x11mm
The $29-plus Sandisk Ultra Dual USB 3.0 is a miniature flash drive with a pair of USB connectors. Sliding out on one end using the side-mounted plastic latch is a full-size USB 3.0 connector (with the correct blue SuperSpeed USB 3.0 connector colouring, I'm sure you'll be pleased to know), and on the opposite end once slid out is a microUSB 2.0 connector of the same kind used for charging and data transfer by almost every Android smartphone and tablet on the market. Obviously, you can't have both deployed at the same time, which will help to avoid anyone trying to create some smartphone-flash drive-PC unholy monster three-way.
The Ultra Dual USB 3.0 is simply but smartly constructed, with the latch locking each connector firmly into place once it's selected. That latch will hold the connector whether you're pushing the jack into a computer's USB port or a smartphone or tablet's microUSB port — avoiding that really surprisingly frustrating situation of trying to plug in a drive and having the connector disappear into its body. There's a simple textured design on one half of the Ultra Dual USB, while the other half is finished in the same glossy, piano black plastic coating that the previous Sandisk dual USB drive had.
What's It Good At?
I love these little flash drives. I think they're the best thing since sliced bread. If you're an iPhone or iPad user, you'll probably be boggled by them — you want the Sandisk iXpand instead which combines USB and a Lightning connector for iDevice docking — but anyone with an Android smartphone or tablet will know the joy of being able to simply transfer files from your PC to your portable device. Take the long-haul flight from Sydney to LAX — it's a solid 13 hours, and unless you have an energy-sipping Core M notebook you'll run out of juice halfway across the water. With a drive like this loaded up with TV shows and movies, you can watch on your PC 'til it runs out of power then finish the trip on your smartphone.
The Sandisk Ultra USB 3.0 microUSB drive is also surprisingly well built. Flash drives have never had a good reputation for longevity, but I've had good experiences with the sturdiness of the previous model Sandisk microUSB stick and I'm happy to say that the new one seems even more damage-resistant. When you're plugging it into a bunch of different devices, and when it's portable enough to be stowed on your house keys and taken everywhere with you, a good dose of durability is a very important thing. Crucially, the lock between the USB and microUSB connector seems very well put together.
Transfer rates are excellent, too. Sandisk rates the little Ultra microUSB 3.0 as reaching transfer speeds of around about 130MBps, and in my testing the drive performed almost exactly up to those specs — I saw read speeds of 125MBps and write speeds of 68MBps while transferring a 25GB block of 1 to 5GB files back and forth from an SSD-equipped, USB 3.0-capable PC. This is a marked improvement from Sandisk's previous Dual USB drive, which was only a USB 2.0 device. Of course, you won't see those USB 3.0 speeds on the microUSB end on the new drive, but more on that later.
What's It Not Good At?
You're paying for the convenience factor here that the Sandisk Ultra offers. If you don't strictly need that microUSB end, then there are much cheaper flash drives out there that are just as capacious and also meet the USB 3.0 standard. You're also paying a premium because of the fact that the Ultra is significantly smaller than some of its competitors — like the Lexar JumpDrive M20, which has the same setup of USB plus microUSB, but is significantly longer and has a chunkier piece of plastic for the sliding connector.
Despite being a USB 3.0 drive, the Sandisk Ultra doesn't go anywhere near saturating the USB 3.0 interface's excellent maximum speed potential. For that, you'll have to look to a significantly bulkier, more expensive, and non-microUSB drive like Sandisk's own Extreme or Extreme Pro line. By that same token, the Sandisk Ultra isn't microUSB capable. That is to say, it's USB 3.0 compatible, but its microUSB end is only 2.0. If you have a Samsung Galaxy Note 3, for example, you'll know the long and skinny interface I'm talking about.
It's actually a little bulkier than the old version. Not that it's big by any stretch of the imagination now, but Sandisk's last Ultra microUSB plus USB flash drive was slightly shorter. This will probably not affect anyone in any measurable way whatsoever, but if you're intending to use this drive with a smartphone in your pocket, it's a difference worth considering. (You'll probably also find one for a slightly cheaper price, which is more important to most people.)
Should You Buy It?
The little $29 to $69 Sandisk Ultra Dual USB 3.0 flash drive is much improved even over the already-good previous version, a flash drive that I've used innumerable times to either transfer files from PC to smartphone or to load up with TV shows, movies and other media files to use with a tablet or phone for a long flight. It is, by virtue of its form factor, an incredibly convenient piece of technology. The previous version was already usable, but its two-part cover design meant that one end — either full-size USB or its microUSB counterpart — was always sticking out and getting in the way. With the new design's single-piece sliding cover, and the fact that it's the connectors themselves that move rather than the plastic, the entire drive is significantly easier to operate and is sturdier all the while.
Being a USB 3.0 device, too, it's much faster all around than the previous iteration and this brings tangible real-world benefits. It's mostly just a convenience thing, since even a USB 2.0 drive is capable of transferring enough data to keep a quality Full HD video file playing back smoothly without constant buffering, but it means you'll actually fill the Sandisk Ultra USB 3.0 flash drive up faster on the night before your trip from its full-size USB 3.0 end, spending less time doing so. (I mention this only because this is exactly the situation I found myself in last night, and I definitely noticed the speed boost.)
It's pretty cheap, too, all told. The price is largely comparable to microSD card of the Sandisk's equivalent storage space, with a little premium for the faster interface and the convenience of having both USB and microUSB. Considering the slow and eventual move of mainstream smartphones (Galaxy S6 and Edge, anyone?) away from removable storage and expandable microSD card slots, it's important for Android smartphone users to have a go-to solution for extra storage space on their devices, and it's certainly true that the little Sandisk Ultra microUSB 3.0 flash drive is an excellent choice.