Shipping the drive preformatted in FAT32 for flexibility reasons is not new; BuffaloTech did the same for its MiniStation Cobalt drive. We, however, prefer the way Seagate handles this, with its GoFlex family, where the drive is reformatted in the uncompromising NTFS file system, and provides a free software driver that allows Macs to read and write to NTFS.
Hitachi's Flash-based LifeStudio software, once installed, automatically prompts to run each time you connect the drive to a computer. The software has a fancy interface that resembles Apple's Cover Flow, by displaying content in chronological order. In our trial it did a great job of quickly finding all digital content organizing it in a way that's easy to find, especially with photos. Without changing the original location of the data, the software puts everything in one place and groups it by date, then displays it on the 3D wall, making it easy to spot the photo you need to find.
To our disappointment, the LifeStudio software doesn't allow for much customization. You can't exclude a location from its collective library. Also, though the software looks for digital content from all drives, both internal and external, that are connected to the computer, it doesn't support network storage devices, even when a network storage location has been mapped as a drive to the local computer.
To make up for this, the LifeStudio software supports social Web sites, including Facebook, Picasa, and Flickr. For example, once signed in with your account, you can view your Facebook's photo albums or even those of your friends from within the software interface, via the 3D wall. You can even upload photos from your computer to Facebook, and leave comments without having to leave the LifeStudio interface. Note that you'll, of course, need an Internet connection for this to work, and unfortunately, the software randomly displays ads in the lower-left-hand corner. For a product that you have to pay for, this is an unpleasant surprise.
The second piece of software that the external hard drive comes with is Hitachi Backup, which is the simplest backup application we've seen. Once it's running, all you need to do is turn it on or off. By default, the software will back up the current user's entire profile, but you can customize it to add more folders that you want it to back up. After that the software will do the job by itself. Apart from using the external hard drive as the backup destination, you can also opt for Hitatchi's online backup service that offers 3GB for free and 250GB for $49 per year. Though we wish the backup software offered more features, such as the ability to back up the entire computer as an image, we love its simplicity and effectiveness.
We were disappointed that the LifeStudio Mobile Plus doesn't support USB 3.0. We tested it with its only USB 2.0 connection, and the drive did well compared with other USB 2.0 drives.
In the write test, the LifeStudio scored 29.8MBps, topping the chart by a small margin. The second-fastest drive, the Clickfree C2N , scored 28.2MBps in this test. In the read test, however, the LifeStudio did much worse with only 30.4MBps, which is below the average.
We didn't run into any problems with the drive during our testing. It also stayed cool and quiet, even during extended operation.
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Service and support
Hitachi backs the LifeStudio Mobile Plus with a three-year warranty. The company offers toll-free support Monday through Friday, from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. PT. Hitachi has a dedicated Web site for the LifeStudio family; here you'll find lots of information about the drive, including how to use it and how to fix it.