External hard drives are the nicest gadgets there are in the business. They sit there on your desk, minding their own business and whirring away contentedly as they transfer data back and forth. No memory cards to swap, no screens to wipe clean and no firmware to upgrade.
Dock it: Jazz things up with an optional cradle for your drive.
So let’s face it, it is really rather difficult to get excited about external data storage in the way you do about a new iPod or mobile phone. What is there to be excited about? Nothing at all…till that fateful morning, 10 minutes before a career-changing meeting, when your hard drive suddenly begins emanating ominous clicking sounds, crashes and obliterates your data.
That can be pretty exciting.
So hard drive makers such as Seagate have to be pretty enterprising when it comes to marketing their products. But what can you do besides making them bigger, faster and more reliable?
The answer lies in making your drives look sexy with fancy lighting and then, as a finishing touch, christening them after spaceships from the Star Trek universe. Exhibit 1 is the seductively slim Seagate FreeAgent Go, a portable external drive that comes in four colour options—blue, red, white, black—and three capacity options—250, 320 and 500 gigabytes.
The FreeAgent Go is most pleasing to the eye and light on the luggage. The hard drive weighs less than 200g and is finished in a pleasing brushed metal casing that might just outshine your boring grey company-issue laptop. And then there is that lighting, a swirl of dots that ebb and flow depending on what you’re doing with the drive. A gentle “breathing” rhythm when the drive is working and a fade-out when it stops.
But while the drive looks awesome, on plugging into my laptop it did something it wasn’t supposed to. It asked me to install some kind of proprietary application. Gasp! This was an unpardonable offence. Portable hard drives, as far as I am concerned, should function without a peep.
And then when attempts were made to transfer files, the drive began to act up a bit. Finally, I had to create a new folder within the drive to move in some data. It was all a little too fidgety for my liking.
Exhibit 2, on the other hand, was expected to be a little bothersome to use. The FreeAgent Xtreme is an external drive that is meant to store piles of data but seldom moves around (imagine the number of completely legally downloaded movies and music albums you could store on the 1000GB of space we had on our review piece). So slimness is no longer a prerogative but speed and reliability are.
The Xtreme’s design is reminiscent of both the FreeAgent Go and the previous generation of Seagate drives with their wave shape. And yes, there is that oddly sentient lighting effect on this one as well. The drive can be placed flat on your table (boring) or vertically on a little plastic stand that comes in the box (exciting).
The Xtreme offers a range of connecting mechanisms, including USB 2.0, Firewire and superfast eSATA. The last needs an exclusive cable to be bought separately. Installing the Xtreme also entails installation of software that is basic and helps you schedule back-ups, sync folders and encrypt the drive. Given that the Xtreme will probably always be used with a single computer and seldom moved around much, the software application seems like a reasonable app to install (office goers with tight IT policies, watch out!).
Both drives, initial software hassles and gym equipment-like names aside, transferred data quickly and without untoward delay.
What potential buyers will have to grapple with, though, is the pricing. At Rs5,500 for the 250GB Go and Rs14,500 for the 1000GB Xtreme, both drives are more expensive than similarly sized competitors.
But then you do get that fancy lighting for free.