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SanDisk iXpand Flash Drive review: A good but flawed accessory for iPhone and iPad packrats

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The Good The new SanDisk iXpand Flash Drive is super compact, very speedy when working with a computer and adds up to 128GB of storage to your iPhone or iPad. Its mobile app can back up data from your mobile device effectively and play back content well.

The Bad The drive can't hold files larger than 4GB and doesn't support popular audio soundtrack formats. It shortens the mobile device's battery life.

The Bottom Line The new SanDisk iXpand Flash Drive is a good way to add storage to your iPad but it's not a huge step up from its predecessor.

6.9 Overall
  • Setup 8
  • Features 5
  • Performance 8
  • Support 6
sandisk-ixand-drive-2230-001.jpg

The new iXpand Flash Drive from SanDisk

Josh Miller/CNET

Unlike many Android phones and tablets, iPhones and iPads don't have expandable storage. You're stuck with the 16, 64, 128 or 256GB that are built in to the Apple device you buy. Unless you get an iXpand Flash Drive, that is.

The new iXpand Flash Drive is the smaller and faster version of the clever iPhone/iPad accessory that came out in late 2014. It's a thumbdrive that works with either a regular USB port on a computer, or a lighting port on an Apple mobile device. When connected to an iPhone or an iPad, you can use a free app, called iXpand Drive, to playback content stored on the drive -- a wide variety of video, audio and document files -- or back up the phone's photos and contacts.

As a thumbdrive, the iXpand performed well in my testing with the sustained copy speed, via USB 3.0, of around 50MB/s for writing and around 90MB/s for reading, a huge improvement from just 11MB/s and 13MB/s, respectively, with the previous version. Thanks to its smaller design, the new iXpand Flash drive can also clip to an iPad without getting in the way too much. And in testing, the iXpand Drive app worked well for both data backup and media playback.

But the improvement ends there; the new iXpand still has a few flaws. First, it doesn't have its own battery (the old version does), and in my trial, while backing up my photos on the drive, my iPhone 6S' battery drained much faster -- about 1 percent of battery life every 4 minutes. Also, anyone with a trove of ill-gotten videos should be forewarned: the iXpand Drive mobile app doesn't support some popular sound encodings, such as DTS or AC3. This means many "ripped" video files will play without sound. (The old version of the drive used to support these sound encodings but no longer does now after required firmware upgrades.)

On top of that, the new iXpand drive retains a major drawback found in the previous version. It needs to be formatted in the archaic FAT32 file system to work with the mobile app. (You can format it in other file systems, such as NTFS or exFAT, but then it can only work as a regular thumbdrive.) FAT32 can hold single files of just 4GB or less. Since most feature-length HD movies require more than 4GB to store in a digital format, there are many movies you can't bring with you using the iXpand.

In all, if you want fast copy speed, the new iXpand is a good choice at the suggested price of $49.99, $69.99 $89.99 and $129.99 for 16GB, 32GB, 64GB and 128GB, respectively. But if you want better battery life, the previous version is the way to go.

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