Apple is unwilling to put a microSD card slot into its tablets, but users of the iPad or iPad mini aren’t out of luck because adding gigabytes of additional storage capacity is as easy as plugging in a specially designed flash drive, like the PhotoFast i-FlashDrive MAX.
This accessory supports both Apple’s Lightning connector and the industry standard USB, so in addition to being able to store files, this device can be used to easily transfer them between PCs, Macs, and iPads.
The i-FlashDrive MAX is offered in 32GB, 64GB, and 128GB capacities.
Build and Design
PhotoFast’s accessory is composed of a central piece that’s just a bit over a inch long, with a Lightning jack on one end and a USB Type A one on the other. Including the two jacks, it’s under 2 inches long, less than an inch wide, and a quarter inch thick, making it easily pocketable. The i-FlashDrive MAX doesn’t feel flimsy, but it is made out of plastic.
There is a removable clear plastic cover for the full size USB jack, but the designers went for a more advanced solution to protect the Lightning jack: a clear plastic cover is pulled out and then pivots to one side. This means this cover isn’t in the way, but can’t be lost as it always stays connected to the flash drive. Presumably, the designers did it this way because the USB jack doesn’t really need much protection, but the Lightning jack is much more fragile.
The i-FlashDrive MAX performs in different ways depending on whether it’s acting as a USB drive in a PC or as a Lightning drive in an iPad.
When plugged into a PC or Mac, this accessory functions just like any other flash drive. It appears as a removable drive in file managers, and items can be deleted, copied, moved around.
It supports USB 3.0, and PhotoFast promises that is capable of reading data at up to 90 MB/s and writing it at up to 22 MB/s. In our tests, we were able to read a 200 MB file nearly instantly, and write one back in under 12 seconds
This company also makes a USB 2.0 version of the i-FlashDrive MAX. This will offer slower transfer speeds, but we were unable to test this product.
Windows and OS X have their own file managers, but iOS doesn’t make one available to users, so PhotoFast had to develop its own, called i-FlashDrive ONE. The first time the i-FlashDrive MAX is plugged into the iPad the user is prompted to download this app. After the software already installed, the user is asked if they would like this app to open whenever the drive is inserted.
The main screen of this application has a large circle to graphically display how much space remains on the i-FlashDrive MAX, with the exact percentage remaining also displayed. Tapping on this circle opens a manager for the files and folders on the external drive. Items and folders can be moved, copied, or deleted but not renamed – that has to be done with the i-FlashDrive MAX plugged into a PC or Mac.
Also on the main screen is a set of buttons for some additional features that PhotoFast built in. The Photo button will list all the images stored on the i-FlashDrive MAX, in i-FlashDrive ONE’s in-app storage, or in the iPad’s Camera Roll. The Video button shows both in-app and i-FlashDrive MAX videos, as well as ones stored in the Camera Roll and the users’ YouTube channel. The Music button displays the in-app and songs on the i-FlashDrive MAX, plus ones in iTunes Music. To be clear, these are ways to view or play these files, not manage them.
This app can tie into a range of cloud storage providers, including Dropbox, Google Drive, and Flickr, so that items can be transferred directly from the i-FlashDrive MAX to an online service – one of its more useful features. Images from Facebook albums can also be easily transferred to the i-FlashDrive MAX.
The i-FlashDrive ONE app has two significant flaws. First off, every single time it launches, a full-screen advertisement for PhotoFast is displayed, which the user has to manually dismiss.
More troublesome, this software has weak support for landscape mode, with many screens portrait only. For example, listing and moving files around can only be done in portrait mode. Fortunately, some of the file viewers do support landscape, including the video player. Still, any iPad user using an external keyboard will find the weak support for landscape mode quite a hassle.
i-FlashDrive ONE supports Apple’s “Open in…” function, so videos can be viewed in more robust applications, like VLC. Or items stored on the flash drive can be transferred to other apps for editing, like Word, Excel, and Powerpoint files.
The “Open in…” function also allows other apps to transfer files to this one, where they are still stored on the iPad, in the i-FlashDrive ONE in-app storage — the main screen of the i-FlashDrive ONE app includes a large circle to display how much space is being occupied by these files. Tapping on this opens a file manager for these items. They can then be moved to the flash drive in a separate step.
Using this app to transfer files between the i-FlashDrive MAX and internal storage through the Lightning port is a relatively quick process, but not as fast as USB 3.0. PhotoFast says the data can be read 17 MB/s or written at 15 MB/s. In our tests, a 200 MB file was copied from an iPad to the i-FlashDrive MAX in about 17 seconds, and then copied back in about 50 secs.
Bonus features in i-FlashDrive ONE include the ability to back up the iPad’s contact list and/or calendar to the i-FlashDrive MAX, and then restore them in case they are erased from the tablet. The app can also back up all images on the tablet with the push of a button. Plus, there’s a voice recorder that stores recordings directly on the external drive.
Also, files can be locked with a password or with Apple Touch ID biometric security system. An item that has been locked in this app isn’t accessible when the i-FlashDrive MAX is used with a PC or Mac.
The days when iPad users had few options to add additional storage space are over. The PhotoFast i-FlashDThorive MAX is an easy way to give an Apple tablet gigabytes of additional capacity.
The accessory is well built. The associated software has nearly all the features one could wish for, even though its design could use a bit of tweaking.
The 32 GB version of the i-FlashDrive MAX costs $99.99, the 64 GB version and $129.99, and the 128 GB one is $159.99.
There are a number of other flash drives that also have USB 3.0 and Lightning jacks, and these offer tough price pressure. The 32 GB version of the SanDisk iXpand Flash Drive costs $80, while the 64 GB version is $120. The 32 GB version of the Strontium iDrive USB 3.0 is $90, the 64 GB version is $95. There’s no 128 GB version of either of these, but a 16GB iDrive sells for $75.
Those who could be satisfied with USB 2.0 speeds can get a 32 GB version of the i-FlashDrive Max for $59.99 or a 64 GB one for $69.99.