In our increasingly mobile world, you need access to your data at any moment, on any device. Cloud-based storage has solved this problem to an extent, storing your data for access via the Web, but coverage isn’t 100 percent, download speeds can be excruciatingly slow, and you don’t want to chew through your data allotment for a file you have already saved elsewhere. One new solution is to bring the convenience of a flash drive to these mobile devices, with connectivity for smartphones and tablets, via microUSB. The Leef Bridge USB flash drive does just that, with storage that connects to PCs and mobile devices alike.
Design and Features
The Leef Bridge looks a bit different from any other flash drive on the market. Where most flash drives have a USB connector on one end, the Leef Bridge has a little something extra—a micro USB connector on the back end. The Leef Bridge isn’t simply portable storage for your desktop or laptop PC; it’s also storage for your smartphone or tablet, offering access to your files, photos, and media on both PCs (Windows and Mac) and Android devices. Unlike the Seagate Wireless Plus or the SanDisk Connect Wireless Flash Drive, there’s no wireless streaming to share data, instead relying on the direct hardware connection.
The small drive has a black plastic housing, with a sliding cover that slides forward and back to expose either the full size USB connector on one end or the micro USB connector on the other, or to cover and protect both when not in use. Measuring 0.94 by 2.2 by 0.36 inches (HWD), the drive is wide enough that it may block neighboring ports when plugged into a laptop or desktop, and the drive looks a bit awkward when connected to any mobile device, jutting out two inches from whatever device you plug into.
The sliding cover is a good concept, but it’s not without its problems. Because the cover only protects three of the four sides for the drive, the plugs remain open to lint and dirt when placed in a pocket or bag. The sliding mechanism is also very stiff, enough to make me worry about breaking the drive when sliding the drive back and forth. It was enough of a concern and inconvenience that I’d consider removing it entirely were it my own personal drive.
The drive has a green LED indicator that lets you know when the drive is plugged in and powered on. On the sliding cover is an anchor point for attaching a key chain or lanyard loop, but it’s not only small, it’s also awkwardly placed, making it difficult to use.
The drive is designed for use with both PCs and mobile devices, so the two connectors pull from the same storage, and files can be accessed by both full PC operating systems (Windows, Mac) and Android (Jelly Bean OS 4.1 or higher) alike. There is no support for iOS devices, since those use Apple’s proprietary connectors. While your smartphone or tablet may be able to open and read all of the files on the drive, you will likely also want to download a separate file manager for easier perusal of the drive contents. Leef suggests using ASTRO File Manager, but I tested it with a few other popular file managers, and they all seemed to work without difficulty.
The one problem I did run into was that not all Android devices are supported. The drive requires Jelly Bean 4.1 or better, automatically disqualifying any older devices or even new devices using older versions of Android. There may also be compatibility issues with some devices, even with the correct version of Android, as you will also need to have support for USB OTG (On The Go), which may not be enabled by default on many devices, and isn’t offered at all on others. Leef does provide a list on its website which names compatible devices, but the list is incomplete.
The dual-connection flash drive is available in several capacities, from 16GB (like our review unit) to 32GB and 64GB. Our 16GB model sells for $18.75 (direct), which works out to roughly $1.17 per Gigabyte of storage. The next size up, the 32GB ($31.99 direct) is almost exactly $1 per GB, while the 64GB model actually has the worst price to capacity ratio, selling for $79.99 direct or $1.25 per GB.
The small drive came with no preinstalled files or programs, just 16GB of empty storage, which translates to 14.9GB of accessible space. While Leef doesn’t include any programs, they do recommend the aforementioned ASTRO File Manager app for any phone or tablet you intend to use the Bridge on. Leef also covers the Bridge with a five-year warranty.
As mentioned before, the Leef Bridge will work with some, but not all, Android devices. While this won’t pose much difficulty if your own primary devices are supported, it makes for a hit-or-miss experience when trying to share files with people on their own devices.
In timed data transfer tests over standard USB 2.0, the Leef Bridge offered write speeds of 8.6 MBps and read speeds of 17.8 MBps. The real variability came when connecting to phones or tablets over microUSB. Average transfer speeds dropped to 4.3 MBps (write) and 5.1 MBps (read), but times varied widely from one device to the next; some devices transferred data with reasonable speeds, while others were irritatingly slow when moving large files, such as video. For smaller files, however, like documents, photos, and MP3s, the transfer speed was pretty quick across the board.
Ultimately, the Leef Bridge is a great idea and when it works, it works well, but it feels exactly like what it is—a stop-gap solution to a common problem. The spotty support for older Android devices and zero support for iOS devices will leave some users stymied, and the design has a few rough spots to polish out, like the stiff sliding cover and the bulkiness of the drive.
|Storage Capacity (as Tested)||16 GB|
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc