Though it looks just like any other USB key, this TravelDrive from Memorex is actually quite different from other USB keys we’ve reviewed. Instead of serving as a mere data bucket, the TravelDrive includes “U3” technology—a front-end interface to the key that allows you to run apps, manage settings, and perform other maintenance duties, all from a Windows-like start menu.
It’s slick and easy to use, and the concept is a welcome one, but there are two big problems: The utilities you can put on the key are mostly useless and the key is obnoxiously slow.
Here’s how the U3 experience works: You plug the key into a USB port and are presented with a Memorex splash screen. Then a little “U3” icon appears in the system tray and functions exactly like the Start button in Windows. When you click it, a menu pops up that lets you run programs installed on the key, download new utilities, explore the drive’s contents, and so forth.
All in all, it works just fine, but here’s the rub: There’s a U3 Software Central window that lists all the software that can be downloaded for the key, and most of the software either costs money, is totally worthless, or isn’t available on a trial basis.
To Memorex’s credit, there are a number of software trials to sample, and the downloading and installing process is effortless. But of all the software we sampled, the only apps we liked come on the key already—Firefox, Thunderbird, and Migo for file-syncing.
In addition to our disappointment with Software Central, the key is extremely slow at file transfers. You won’t notice it with small file transfers, but it took 103 seconds to write 400MB, while Corsair’s zippy Flash Voyager accomplished the same feat in a mere 46 seconds.
So even though the U3 tech is nifty and well implemented, it offers little real-world utility. Perhaps the situation will improve in the future, but for now it’s more of a technology novelty.