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Hitachi LifeStudio Mobile Plus review: Hitachi LifeStudio Mobile Plus

Hitachi LifeStudio Mobile Plus

Dong Ngo SF Labs Manager, Editor / Reviews
CNET editor Dong Ngo has been involved with technology since 2000, starting with testing gadgets and writing code for CNET Labs' benchmarks. He now manages CNET San Francisco Labs, reviews 3D printers, networking/storage devices, and also writes about other topics from online security to new gadgets and how technology impacts the life of people around the world.
Dong Ngo
6 min read


Hitachi LifeStudio Mobile Plus

The Good

The LifeStudio Mobile Plus external hard drive ships with Hitachi's LifeStudio software that intelligently organizes digital content. The device comes with a separate thumb drive to store on-the-go data, and it offers decent throughput performance.

The Bad

The LifeStudio Mobile Plus doesn't support USB 3.0 or FireWire. Its LifeStudio software display ads, and it doesn't support network storage or allow for excluding certain folders from its library. Out of the box, the drive can't handle files 4GB or larger, and with the docking station it is rather bulky.

The Bottom Line

The LifeStudio Mobile Plus is a good external storage solution that makes it easy to find what you need, when you need it, among your "digital mess." However, its lack of USB 3.0 support and the limited functionality of the LifeStudio and Backup software might make you want to keep looking.

If you have a lot of photos and often have a hard time finding a particular image among them, then the LifeStudio external hard drive is probably right for you. The device is bundled with Hitachi's LifeStudio application that automatically finds digital content, including music, photos, videos, and documents, and organizes and displays them in a visually clear, chronological order.

The LifeStudio Mobile Plus is the portable version of the LifeStudio family and comes with a USB key, which is a 4GB thumbdrive designed to store mobile data. With a street price of about $130 (the 500GB version) or $100 (the 320GB version), the LifeStudio Mobile Plus is a good deal with the features it offers.

On the downside, however, the LifeStudio supports only USB 2.0, making it rather out of date considering USB 3.0-based external hard drives are getting more and more popular. Its included software also doesn't support network storage or allow for much customization.

Drive type External hard drive
Connector options USB 2.0
Available capacities 320GB. 500GB
Capacity of test unit 500GB
Drive size 2.5-inch
Dimensions (LWH) 5.35 x 3.35 x 3.17 inches
Notable design features Docking station with separate USB key
OSes supported Windows XP, Vista, 7, Mac OS 10.5 or later
Software included Hitachi Backup and LifeStudio
Service and Support Three-year warranty

The LifeStudio Mobile Plus has an interesting design; it comes in three parts: the external drive itself, a docking station, and a USB key. They key is attached to the docking station with a magnet and can be removed easily. The external hard drive is pretty compact, as are most 2.5-inch-based portable storage devices. However, when all three parts are put together, the whole package is rather bulky. This is when the USB key comes in handy.

Essentially, the key is a thumb drive, with storage being an included 4GB microSD card. You can change this card for another and upgrade the key's capacity up to 32GB of storage.

This key is designed to hold data that you want to carry along with you. This is actually a nifty idea, especially for students who just need to bring a small potion of their data to class. However, if you already have another thumbdrive, the USB key is redundant, unless you want to use it as a microSD card reader.

The LifeStudio Mobile Plus is bus-powered, meaning its included standard Mini-USB cable is used both for the data connection and to draw power directly from the computer's USB port. In case one USB port doesn't provide enough juice, the drive also comes with a second Y-shape USB cable that uses two USB ports at a time. In our trials, however, the drive only needed one USB port to work.

The external hard drive has two separate partitions. You can format the first partition into the file systems you like, such as NTFS, FAT32 (Windows), or HFS+ (Mac). The second partition, however, is read only and is formatted in the form of a CDROM that contains Hitachi's LifeStudio and Backup software. You can't make changes to this partition.

Out of the box, the LifeStudio Mobile Plus is formatted in FAT32 file system and allows both Windows and Mac OS to have full access to it. However, the downside is that the drive can't handle files that are 4GB or larger. Nonetheless, the included LifeStudio software's installer, which prompts to run the first time you connect the drive to a computer, has a function that helps format the drive into any more-advanced file systems.

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.

CNET Labs external hard drive performance scores (in MBps)
(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.


Hitachi LifeStudio Mobile Plus

Score Breakdown

Setup 6Features 7Performance 7Support 8