A few weeks with LaCie's iamaKey thumb drive

USB thumb drives are everywhere. Heck, they've been everywhere for years. Never before have I see a new class of product become so ubiquitous so quickly.

The USB thumb drive's rapid rise shouldn't come as a surprise, though. We live in an increasingly digital world where even the average small-town Walmart shopper probably has numerous personal document files, a substantial MP3 collection, loads of digital photos, and at least a few pirated movies he or a friend grabbed off The BitTorrent. Folks want to be able to move this data around with ease, and for most, there's no better way than with cheap, portable, and most importantly plug-and-play USB storage.

It doesn't take much to convince someone that they need a thumb drive. It takes even less time to show them how to use one. Given today's prices, you'd be hard-pressed to find someone who can't afford a drive with at least a few gigabytes of storage capacity.

So thumb drives have become a commodity. The market is flooded with models in every capacity, shape, and size from a growing list of manufacturers. Unfortunately, however, most of these drives are painfully generic, cheaply made, and entirely uninteresting. That's why you rarely see them covered here at TR. Every so often, though, one catches our eye. Such was the case with LaCie's appropriately-named iamaKey, which stealthily shoehorns 4 or 8GB of flash memory into something that looks right at home on a keychain.

If you want to have your thumb drive with you at all times, I can think of no better place to put it than your keychain. Really, what else are you less likely to leave the house without?

The iamaKey fits quite nicely onto any standard keychain, and while it's a little bigger than the keys I have on mine, it's smaller than a good many car keys. For reference, the iamaKey measures 57 x 24 x 3 mm (2.24" x 0.94' x 0.12"). LaCie doesn't list the drive's weight, but it feels only marginally heavier than my house key, which is practically weightless.

Of course, if you're one of those folks who insists on carrying around a fist-sized mess of keys mixed with charms, souvenirs, and other accessories, the iamaKey's diminutive proportions probably won't be a big draw. I run a pretty lean collection of keys without any unnecessary trinkets, so the iamaKey fits right in.

Although LaCie is known for more striking designs, the iamaKey's subtle styling perfectly suits the product. The drive is encased in a metal shell whose brushed finish should stand up well to the sort of abuse that has scuffed, scratched, and otherwise beaten up all the other keys on my keychain.

One component of the iamaKey that may not stand up as well to rough treatment is the drive's USB interface. To maintain its slim profile, the drive's contact points are exposed rather than encased in a male port like most USB devices. A small, plastic cap slides onto the end of the drive to shield these golden fingers from the jingle jangle of surrounding keys.

When I first saw the key cap, I figured it would fall off and be forever lost within days. Much to my surprise, however, it's stubbornly stayed put for weeks. A couple of little nubs hold the cap in place, and they seem to do the trick. It would be nice if the cap were somehow integrated into the drive, though. Even if it doesn't fall off accidentally, I can see losing the cap simply because it's such a small piece of transparent plastic.

The iamaKey has lived on my keychain for a few weeks now, and it seems to be holding up pretty well. Granted, the painted-on graphics have largely worn off, scuffed away by the surrounding keys and the rigors of everyday pocket life. But the metal casing remains intact and shows no signs of wear or abuse.

To be sure that the iamaKey could withstand the worst my keychain has to offer, I threw it into the wash with a load of clothes. The drive emerged with even more of its graphics worn off, no doubt a result of all the clanging I heard during the tumble dry. That seems to be the extent of the damage, though. The key cap is still intact, the drive still works, and the rest of my keys are noticeably cleaner.

So how does the iamaKey fare when plugged into a PC? Quite well, actually. The drive isn't oddly-partitioned or otherwise crippled with annoying CD emulation software that some folks might find difficult to remove. The iamaKey is reasonably quick, too. According to CrystalDiskMark's sequential transfer rate tests, the drive reads at 34MB/s and writes at 12MB/s—a little faster than the read and write speeds claimed by LaCie. It's certainly not the fastest thumb drive around, but the iamaKey should be speedy enough for most.

With a street price hovering around $25, the 4GB iamaKey isn't quite as good a deal as the 8GB version, which sells for as little as $35. Both are considerably more expensive than run-of-the-mill flash drives with comparable capacities, though. That might turn off some folks, but it doesn't bother me in the slightest. In the last year, I've had two keychain-mounted thumb drives fracture their fragile, plastic bodies, in one case causing me to lose a drive entirely. For something I carry around on a daily basis, I'm willing to pay a little extra for solid construction and a clever design. LaCie's iamaKey thumb drive offers both at a price that's still easily affordable.

Tip: You can use the A/Z keys to walk threads.
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