Neat hard drive dock; cool flash-drive magnetic interface.
Life (Board Game)
Clumsy bundled software; MyKey doesn't sync correctly.
Ever heard the phrase, “Do one thing, and do it well?” Hitachi surely has. The company took that advice, considered it, threw it out the window, and released an external backup drive bundled with a media suite that does many things—some of them potentially interesting, but none of them particularly well. The Hitachi LifeStudio Plus is an external backup drive with an interesting dock, a cool companion USB key, and a clunky, awkward integrated software suite.
The hardware itself is attractive, in a retro, family-friendly sort of way. It consists of a black (or white) docking station that holds a removable 2.5-inch external drive (in tasteful grey and light blue, graphite, or white), and a 4GB USB flash drive. The removable hard drive slots onto a mini-USB connector, but the flash drive connects magnetically. When connected, the drive automatically syncs with a folder or folders of your choice. Ideally. In practice, it’s very good at syncing files from your computer to the flash drive, but it doesn’t work the other way. Despite checking the requisite boxes on the settings menu, the so-called “MyKey” refused to copy files from the flash drive to the folder it was allegedly synched to, which makes the whole thing much less useful than it should be.
We dig the dock, and the magnetic grip for the USB device. Too bad the software tries to do too much.
Speaking of the settings menu: The LifeStudio is bundled with an eponymous media suite powered by Cooliris that’s supposed to be your main interface with the drive. You use the LifeStudio suite to view photos and videos, listen to music, and more, via Cooliris’s “3D wall” visualizer. It’s a cool interface, though it was somewhat laggy on our Core i7-930 machine with a Radeon HD 5850 card. Your content, which is backed up—including multiple revisions—from wherever you choose (the Users folder is the default), is then sorted by date, id3 tag, or other metadata and displayed on the Cooliris wall. The bundle also includes 3GB of free online backup and up to 250GB for $50/year, powered by Memopal. The suite also offers a great social interface: You can see photos from your Facebook friends, upload your backed-up photos to Picasa, Flickr, or Facebook, and share what you’re doing on MySpace, LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook.
Cooliris also lets you browse “premium content,” or streaming TV shows, music videos, and movie trailers—all in really crappy quality at about 15fps—as well as news from the AP and USA Today, Flash games, and a “shopping channel.” Each 3D-wall visualization, in every context but your own content, regularly displays enormous advertisements. The “premium content” is nothing you can’t find, also for free, on Hulu or any of its network-specific clones. The music videos are extremely limited and poppy, and the Flash games are uninspiring.
The big promise of LifeStudio is the ability to simplify, to replace a half-dozen apps with one perfectly synergistic bundle. But that only works if using the omnibus solution is better than using those half-dozen apps. The Cooliris interface is a great way to view your media, and it’s available as a stand-alone program as well as a browser plugin. But Hitachi’s sync software isn’t great, and the excellent idea of a snap-on flash key that easily syncs with your drive (or computer) is hampered by the terrible software implementation. Even the online backup is harder than it needs to be. The online storage isn’t better than Dropbox, the MyKey syncing mechanism doesn’t work as well as using SyncToy, and viewing video through the Cooliris interface isn’t anywhere near as good as using Hulu Desktop or even a web browser.
The LifeStudio Plus, with its easy-to-use dock, attractive styling, and snap-on USB key, is a cool product. But the bundled software somehow manages to be less than the sum of its parts, and doesn’t accomplish anything that can’t be done better by other applications.