The iXpand is the latest in a long line of attempts to help iOS users extend the memory capacity of their iPhones and iPads. It is a portable flash drive that comes in capacities from 32GB up to 128GB. It comes with both a USB port (to transfer files from a PC and charge the device) and a thunderbolt port to insert directly into the latest iOS devices.
Unlike other external hard drives for iPad/iPhone, this one isn’t a WiFi drive (it plugs directly into your device), so it removes a level of complication and hassle. However, despite its internal battery (which is meant to facilitate high-speed file transfers), it doesn’t share any of that battery with you and will suck power from your iOS device. The App that accompanies the iXpand does, at least, show you how much battery power you have left. There is also a coloured led light on the side of the device that will tell you when your battery is low. Given that the device plugs into your iOS device via thunderbolt, you will not be able to plug your iOS device into a power source at the same time.
We received our test unit today and can confirm that it’s a nice, handy form-factor and very light weight. The Thunderbolt cable lies flush with the unit and is bendable, so it can just extend far enough to allow itself to be plugged into your iOS device. The App does a decent job of letting you view supported files from within the App and allows you to open your files into other Apps. You can transfer files from the iXpand to your iOS device’s camera roll or view them natively in the App, so long as they are supported and don’t have digital copyright protection. The tech spec of the USB used to transfer files from your computer to the device is 2.0 not 3.0, which is unfortunate, but not a deal-killer.
The biggest problem with the iXpand is that it cannot be used to play DRM protected files – e.g. anything you have purchased from iTunes – unless they can be transferred to your Camera Roll and played from there. This is unfortunate, as other manufacturers have found workarounds to this by opening DRM content into the Safari browser, which can play DRM files. For example, if you want to play a DRM protected iTunes movie, there are other solutions that will stream them to the Safari browser and make them playable. Why iXpand cannot do this may have something to do with their hardware implementation. The Safari browser is not offered as an application that you can open content into.
This is not entirely SanDisk’s fault. Apple currently allows third-party devices that connect directly to the iOS device to only have access to the Camera Roll. WiFi Drive manufacturers can get around this DRM conundrum by opening to the Safari browser. Whether or not SanDisk could do this and have chosen not to is a mystery at present.
The upshot of this is that you cannot store iTunes protected content on the iXpand and then stream it from the device. Instead, you will need to transfer such content to the Camera Roll first. Of course, this is not a problem for any non-DRM video, music, or other content. However, if you are transferring a very large file (such as a video), bear in mind that this might then try to synch with the iCloud, which you wouldn’t want to do, so it creates additional problems.
The iXpand App allows for automatic synching between your Camera Roll and to the device. This is handy if you take a lot of pictures/videos and want to offload them from your phone.
The App also includes a 128-bit AES security storage option. Basically, you create a secure folder (called a ‘vault’) on the device and then use the special desktop software to put files into that secure area. When opening them in the App on the iOS device, you will be prompted for a password. This allows you to keep some of your files away from prying eyes, should you lose your iXpand.