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Hitachi LifeStudio Mobile Plus 500GB review

The LifeStudio Mobile Plus is a cleverly designed portable hard disk, although some of the extra features need refinement.

The USB2 portable hard disks we see in the Shopper Labs come in all sorts of colourful designs, but underneath the flashy looks there’s usually not much difference. Hitachi’s latest portable disk, the 500GB LifeStudio Mobile Plus, is different. The 500GB USB2 portable disk also comes with a 4GB USB2 flash drive and some interesting software beyond the usual backup programs we’re used to seeing.

Although the LifeStudio is small enough to fit into a coat pocket, the pen-sized flash drive is even more compact and therefore may be more convenient to carry around at times.

Cleverly, once both the flash drive and the LifeStudio are plugged into the docking station, software installed on your PC automatically synchronises the contents of the flash drive to the LifeStudio. Even better, you can choose which files on the LifeStudio are then automatically backed up to the 3GB of free online storage. If 3GB isn’t enough, more can be purchased with the price depending on how much you need.

Hitachi LifeStudio Mobile Plus 500GB

The flash drive itself connects to the front of the docking station using a small magnetic connector, so there’s no need to even remove the cap. When connected to a PC’s USB port, the cap is tethered by a short plastic lead, but this can also foul any adjacent USB ports. Its speeds at copying files were in line with what we’d expect from a USB2 flash drive.

The hard disk was fast at copying large files, writing them at 28MB/s and reading them at just over 29MB/s. It was also quick at reading small files, doing so at 22MB/s, but it was slower than we expected at writing them, managing just 12.5MB/s.

Bundled with the LifeStudio is Hitachi’s own-brand backup software. It has a rather basic interface, but it can backup selected folders according to a schedule and, to save time, only back up those files that have changed since the last backup. It can even keep older versions of your files in case you make a change to your current copy that you later regret.

More intriguing is the bundled file browser based on the popular CoolIris media browser program. It lets you browse your music, photos and videos as a series of thumbnails mounted on a scrollable 3D wall. You can then post selected files to social networking sites such as Facebook from within the program, as well as discover media files posted by other people on various other social networking and media websites.

The internet-focussed features work well enough, but the file browser is rather basic. There’s a keyword search, but it only searches through file names and not through the actual content of files, as Windows Search and Google Desktop can. There’s only limited support for metadata, such as browsing photos by the year they were taken and music by album or artist. The program, by default, not only indexes the contents of the LifeStudio but also your internal hard disk. Although this presents a single unified view of all your content, it can also result in duplication if you use the LifeStudio as a backup of your internal disk.

Hitachi has to be commended for giving some thought to the extra features included with the LifeStudio Mobile Plus, even if the media browser is of questionable usefulness. Nevertheless, the LifeStudio is a good value at 14p per gigabyte. It doesn’t cost any more than other USB2 portable disks, so there’s no financial penalty if you find the extra features aren’t to your liking.

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