Apple doesn’t provide an easy way to expand the storage capacity of the iPad. Fortunately, other companies are filling in, like Strontium with its iDrive USB 3.0 which can add up to 64 GB.
This accessory plugs into the Lightning port on the tablet, and an iOS app gives the user access to everything that’s stored on the drive, like movies, images, music, or any type of file. Even better, the iDrive also has a full-size USB jack so it can also be plugged into a PC or Mac to securely transfer files.
This Strontium accessory is available in 16 GB, 32 GB, and 64 GB versions, with prices starting at $75.
Build and Design
Like all USB drives, the iDrive is easily pocketable: 2.3 x 1.1 x 0.4 inches (58 x 28 x 9.0 mm) and less than half an ounce (12g). It comes only in white plastic, with clear plastic caps to cover both the Lightning and the USB jacks that are on opposite ends of the accessory.
The design is professionally done. No one is going to be embarrassed to use the iDrive in front of either their friends or their fellow executives.
The Strontium iDrive USB 3.0 functions in two different ways, depending on whether it’s plugged into the USB Type-A on a PC or Mac, or if it’s plugged into the Lightning port on a iPad or iPhone.
This accessory functions like any other USB drive when it’s jacked into a desktop or laptop. It appears as a removable drive in files managers, where items can be copied, moved, deleted… there’s nothing atypical here.
The “USB 3.0” in its name means this item can quickly transfer data. Strontium promises it can read files at up to 85 MB/sec, as long as it’s in a USB 3.0 port. Much of this transfer speed will depend on the computer as much as it does the drive.
The iDrive’s Lightning jack allows it to be plugged into recent iPad and iPhone models and serve as an external drive, in a manner that’s very similar to the way it functions with laptops and desktops.
The primary difference is that Strontium has to provide a file manger app because iOS doesn’t have a universal one that’s accessible to the user. This means that when the iDrive is inserted into the iPad a pop-up windows asks if the user would like to launch an app to get access to the contents. Rather than develop its own file manager, Strontium partnered with a company called PhotoFast to use the app called i-FlashDrive ONE that was developed to run PhotoFast’s own line of external storage drives for iOS devices.
The main screen of this software has a large circle to graphically display how much space remains on the iDrive, with the exact percentage remaining also displayed. Tapping on this circle opens a listing of 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 iDrive 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 the images stored on the iDrive, the i-FlashDrive ONE’s in-app storage, or the iPad’s Camera Roll. The Video button shows both in-app and iDrive videos, as well as ones stored in the Camera Roll and the users’ YouTube channel. The Music button displays the in-app and iDrive songs, plus ones in iTunes Music.
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 iDrive to an online service. Images from Facebook albums can also be transferred to the iDrive.
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 little or no support for landscape mode. Just about every screen is portrait only. Some of the file viewers do support landscape, but the video player isn’t one of them. Fortunately, the i-FlashDrive ONE app does support Apple’s “Open in…” function, so videos can be viewed in more robust applications, like VLC. Still, any iPad user using an external keyboard will find the weak support for landscape mode quite a hassle.
The “Open in…” function also allows other apps to transfer files to this one, where they are stored on the iPad — 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.
Using this app to transfer files between the iDrive and internal storage through the Lightning port is a relatively quick process. In our tests, a 100 MB file was copied to the iDrive in less than 10 seconds, and then copied back in about the same amount of time.
Bonus features in i-FlashDrive ONE include the ability to back up the iPad’s contract list and calendar to the iDrive, and then restore them in case something happens to the tablet. It can also back up all images on the tablet with the push of a button. In addition, there’s a voice recorder that stores recording 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 iDrive is used with a PC or Mac.
The Strontium iDrive USB 3.0 is a decent option as an external drive for an iPad. It is small and easily portable, and its attendant iOS software has all the necessary features, plus a few bonus ones. The app could stand some improvements to its user interface, however.
There is no such thing as an inexpensive add-on drive for an Apple tablet, and Strontium’s offering is no exception. The 64 GB version of the iDrive is $95, the 32 GB is $90, and the 16GB is $75. There’s little point in getting the 32 GB one, as $5 more gets double the capacity. The same could almost be said for the 16 GB version, as it’s just $20 less than the version with four times as much storage.
This accessory has to compete with the SanDisk iXpand Flash Drive and the Leef iBridge, two rival add-on drives for Apple tablets. The 64 GB version of SanDisk’s offering is $100, while the iBridge is $120, so the iDrive costs a bit less, but both these rivals have better apps. In addition, the iXpand goes up to 128 GB in capacity, and the iBridge hits 256 GB. These higher-capacity drives are quite expensive, though.