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Old 06-19-2006, 03:00 PM
Jason Dunn
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Join Date: Aug 2006
Posts: 29,160
Default Verbatim's 4 GB Store 'n Go USB Hard Drive

Product Category: Portable storage
Manufacturer: Verbatim
Where to Buy: Verbatim purchase list
Price: as low as $99 USD
System Requirements: Windows-based PC with a USB 2.0 port
Specifications: See article

  • Good storage value for the money;
  • Powerful micro-OS (Ceedo) included;
  • Attractive design.
  • Awkward to use on some PCs;
  • Ceedo has some quirks and can be slow.
The 4 GB Verbatim Store 'n Go USB Hard Drive is an interesting execution on the "plug in my computer wherever I am" concept, but it's not a solution for everyone. This review goes into detail covering Ceedo, the micro-operating system that is included on the drive. Whether or not the Verbatim Store 'n Go USB HD is a good solution for you depends on where, and how, you plan on using it.

Read on for the full review!

Checking Out the Verbatim Store 'n Go USB HD
Physically, the drive measures 2.75 tall, 2.125 wide, and 0.5 inches thick at its thinnest point. 1.8 ounces isn't much weight, but given the physical size this isn't something I'd slip into the front pocket of my jeans (perhaps a coat pocket). Inside there's a Cornice hard drive, either 4 GB (the version I tested) or 8 GB in size. The 4 GB Cornice model spins at 4400 RPM, can sustain a transfer rate of 5.5 Mb/s, and is able to withstand a 1.5 meter drop onto hard concrete. The drive is a bit slow in some operations, namely copying and deleting large files. It will require patience when you're loading it up, but in day to day use it's fast enough. The enclosure has a white top with flat edges and a blue logo in the center, which makes it look very much like a fried egg with a blue yolk. The underside is polished chrome, with an inset to store the three inch USB cable. The design is modern and appealing, and sports USB 2.0. Included in the package is a small carrying case, and a USB extension cable.

A Word About Ceedo
Initially I thought Ceedo was a simple launcher application, but as I wrote this review and used the Store 'n Go I realized it was much more – and this article morphed from a short Quick Look into a full-blown review, focusing mostly on Ceedo because it's the interesting part of the product. Ceedo can best be described as a micro-operating system. It's a self contained environment that runs on top of, but isolated from, Windows XP. The Verbatim Store 'n Go includes the Starter version of Ceedo, and Ceedo sells a more functional version dubbed Ceedo Personal. There's a way to upgrade I believe, but the Ceedo website is baffling - I can find the full version price ($39.95) but no ordering link. I also can't find a list of other vendors that sell USB drives with Ceedo on them.

At the moment, the Personal edition that comes installed on the Verbatim Store 'n Go is almost identical to the Starter version – it only adds backup and restore utilities. Most of the impressive features are still in development at the time of this writing, but they include Outlook support, file-based encryption, file and email synchronization, and skin support. After recently losing my 1GB USB Flash drive, I'm not putting any data on a drive that lacks file encryption. When you purchase a copy of Ceedo for installation on your own portable drive, it binds to that device – you can't install Ceedo on multiple drives. Normally I strongly dislike software that's limited in the number of installs (as someone with five PCs that are constantly being formatted it's a real hassle), but I can't imagine having more than one USB drive being loaded up with Ceedo. Still, this may be a limitation for some.

The Verbatim Store 'n Go in Use
When you connect the Store 'n Go to a USB port on your PC, Windows XP recognizes it within a few seconds and you get the normal Windows XP "what do you want to do with this device" – the first option on the list is to start Ceedo. There's a way in the options for Ceedo to configure it to start automatically, but you have to dismiss the Windows XP action box every single time – the "Take No Action" box is available, but the "Remember this Action" checkbox is not (I think this is a Windows XP bug). Starting the Ceedo software for the first time took 15 seconds on my laptop, which is a Photoshop-esque level wait and not exactly impressive. Because the Ceedo software steals window focus, you can't use any other program while it's loading.

Figure 1: The Verbatim-branded Ceedo start menu.

When the Ceedo software loads, it creates a Ceedo shortcut on the desktop, a Quick Launch shortcut, and loads the actual Ceedo "action bar" at the bottom of the screen. Since I have the Quick Launch taskbar locked and sized perfectly for the number of icons I have, the Ceedo-inserted shortcut forces the "not enough space" chevrons, and takes away one click access to Firefox (which is my right-most icon on the Quick Launch toolbar). This is sloppy – there's no need for all three. Thankfully, the shortcut creation can be disabled in the options. After a few minutes of tweaking the options I was able to have Ceedo start up the way I wanted, which I think should be the out-of-box experience – the options they have set up by default are confusing and wasteful.

Figure 2: The Ceedo options screen allows for various customizations.

Using Ceedo
So what's it like using Ceedo? I was impressed – this is the first software of this type I've used. There's a nicely designed start menu, and a copy of Internet Explorer and Outlook Express – but not much else. Given the security problems both of those programs have, it's not surprising that the top Ceedo downloads for add-on programs include Firefox (for browsing) and Thunderbird (for email). The Ceedo programs directory is slick – it's an online listing of programs designed to work with Ceedo, organized into logical groups (Browsers, Utilities, Email, etc.). You select a program to download, and it installs itself to the Store 'n Go drive. Once installed, it shows up under the listing of programs.

Figure 3: Before installing an application from the online directory, this warning prompt explains the basics of how the process will work.

You can also add programs that aren't listed – in fact, one of the things that makes Ceedo different from other competitors such as U3 is its ability to have almost any piece of software installed onto it. According to some online forum posts I read, Ceedo captures registry entry attempts on the desktop PC and re-routes them to the Ceedo drive to allow the programs to function properly off the drive. Since Outlook isn't yet supported, there are obviously limitations around what will work, and what won't, but this is still impressive. My geeky self gets quite excited when I think about being able to install all my favourite programs and have access to them on any PC that I sit down at.

"Profiled Microsoft Office functionality" is one of the listed features on the Ceedo website, but I can't quite figure out how this works. The drive doesn't come with Microsoft Office (obviously), but when I look on the Ceedo start menu, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Frontpage are listed. When I start them up, the Ceedo icon appears in the upper right, meaning the programs are running off the Store 'n Go drive. After digging around a bit on the drive, it seems that Ceedo creates a complete User profile directory, just like Windows XP does – which includes Office data, recently opened documents, etc. And all of it is only on the drive – not on the PC. That's some impressive programming!

There are other minor features, such as being able to hide the Ceedo toolbar, a storage space meter, a shortcut area, and pre-created music, photo, and video folders. The help features all require Internet access though, which is an unfortunate oversight – you won't always have Internet access at every computer (especially laptops). There also doesn’t seem to be an easy way to re-order the start menu, or remove Internet Explorer and Outlook Express as the default choices.

Figure 4: Ceedo going through the ejection process.

When you're finished with Ceedo, you need to click the eject option on the Ceedo toolbar. That kicks off a process that clears the temporary cache from the drive, writes any cached files back to the drive, and disengages it from Windows. How long this takes depends on what you were doing – it took 17 seconds for me when I had done almost nothing, and about 25 seconds in another session when I had several IE windows open and had been using it heavily. As mentioned earlier, the ejecting process steals window focus, and the final "Ejecting Ceedo" stays on top of any other program you have running while it's ejecting.

Ultimately I think the Ceedo software, after a bit of polish, could be fantastic. It would be even better when paired with a small USB Flash drive. The scenarios I envision people using a product like this in all involve going up to a PC and connecting it to a front USB port – and for that scenario the Verbatim Store 'n Go is poorly suited because of its size, shape, and weight. I tried connecting it to my PC and letting it dangle in the air from the front USB port, but I was concerned about hard drive damage as it swung to and fro. About the only physical scenario where this device works well is with a laptop sitting on a table. Yes, it does come with a USB extension cable so you can connect it to a USB port then place the drive on a flat surface, but who wants to have to carry an extra cable with them everywhere?

No matter how cool I think the concept of carrying programs and data on a portable drive is, the physical realities of using this drive make it a poor choice for anyone who wants to carry a single portable storage device that can easily connect to any PC. So what's the advantage of the Verbatim Store 'n Go? Price. Hard drives still offer a lower cost per MB ratio: the the 4 GB Store 'n Go sells for as low as $99 at the time of this writing, while the closest Flash competitor sells for $139 USD (the 4 GB Sandisk Cruzer Micro). Myself, I'm willing to pay a bit more, and sacrifice a bit of storage space, in order to get a drive that easily slips into my pocket and doesn't require any extra cables to use properly. If Verbatim, or any other vendor for that matter, comes out with a 4 GB USB Flash drive that has Ceedo on it, I'll snap one up. One advantage of Ceedo is that I don't actually have to wait for that: I could buy a copy of Ceedo, buy a 4 GB USB Flash drive, and create my own solution. Excuse me while I go shopping…

Jason Dunn owns and operates Thoughts Media Inc., a company dedicated to creating the best in online communities. He enjoys mobile devices, digital media content creation/editing, and pretty much all technology. He lives in Calgary, Alberta, Canada with his lovely wife, his sometimes obedient dog, and really hopes that USB Flash drive he lost recently shows up someday.
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