- A 370g device that frees digital photographers from the need to carry a laptop for downloading images.
- Expensive for a hard disk, although good value in portable terms.
As digital camera resolutions rise, the capacity of solid-state memory cards such as CompactFlash, SmartMedia and Memory Stick look increasingly restrictive. Of course, there's always IBM's CF-format microdrive, but that's both expensive and power-hungry.
One imaginative solution to this and other portable storage problems is the Digital Wallet from Minds@Work. The heart of the product is a 6GB 2.5in. Toshiba hard disk, with a rotation speed of 4,200rpm and an average seek time of 13 milliseconds. Around this, Minds@Work has provided the infrastructure required to download files from a variety of media when on the move, and subsequently attach the disk to a host PC running Windows or Mac OS.
There's a Type II PC Card slot and a CompactFlash adapter for uploading digital camera images, MP3 files or whatever; a mono LCD screen for navigating and displaying the Motorola ColdFire-driven control software; a six-pack of rechargeable NiMH batteries to provide mobile power; and a clip-on unit with a USB port and a port for the AC adapter.
Measuring 9.5cm wide by 13.5cm deep by 3.2cm high and weighing 370g with batteries installed, the Digital Wallet isn't too bulky or heavy, and although the £549 (ex. VAT) price is high for a 6GB hard disk, it does represent reasonable value per megabyte (8.9p) for portable storage.
The Digital Wallet is simple to operate: when you're out and about on battery power (the NiMH battery pack provides around 140 minutes' use on average), you insert the relevant PC Card adapter for your removable media (CompactFlash, SmartMedia, Memory Stick), power up the unit and select Download Content on the LCD screen using the control buttons on the side of the unit.
This downloads the entire contents of the removable media into a single folder, and once it's on the hard disk you can't inspect or manipulate the contents of that folder until you connect the Digital Wallet to a PC via the USB interface. All you can do is inspect a list of folders and dates, delete entire folders or upload them onto removable media. Elsewhere, the control software lets you inspect error codes, the software version number, battery level and free disk space.
Available in opaque grey and black or translucent blue, the Digital Wallet ships with a selection of photo-related software from ArcSoft along with synchronisation software (SmartBack Jr) from Rutilus. This product a good idea that would be improved by more robust build quality in the casing, more functional control software, and a price reduction. Even as it stands, though, many digital photographers will find the Digital Wallet irresistible.