Apricorn Aegis Mini
The line between tiny flash drives and tiny external spinning hard drives is getting more and more blurred every day. Case in point: the Apricorn Aegis Mini (160GB) ($230 street). The Mini is a 3.7-ounce external hard drive that's no bigger than a deck of cards (0.7 by 2.7 by 3.4 inches, HWD)—at least an inch and a half shorter than other "pocket" external hard drives we've covered, such as the Seagate Replica or the OWC Mercury On-The-Go. Its small size comes courtesy of its 1.8-inch drive mechanism; other pocket external drives use a 2.5-inch one. Like a flash drive or a pocket hard drives, it requires no power adapter, yet it comes with the full software suite more typical of a larger external drive.
The first thing you notice about the Mini, other than its slick neoprene travel pouch, is its integrated USB 2.0 cord. The 4-inch cord clips neatly to the side of the drive (as does the corresponding cable in the FireWire version of the product). When I plugged in the drive for the first time, it was immediately detected by our desktop test bed, and we were in business less than 20 seconds later. Many other external drives that we have seen, including the Seagate FreeAgent Desk, come with their backup software already loaded; the Mini's software, by contrast, comes alongside the product on a disc. Some might see this as an inconvenience, but I think it's smart, as you can load only the programs that you need. The unwanted software won't take up drive space, but you'll always have it if it turns out you need it after all, which you wouldn't if it had come on the drive and you had deleted it.
The Mini is available in 80GB, 120GB, 240GB capacities, listing at $129, $169, and $249, respectively, but, alas, comes in only one color: metallic gray. If you are looking for a hard drive that is also a fashion accessory, I suggest you try something like the Seagate FreeAgent Go, a smaller external hard drive that comes in four colors and is also our current Editors' Choice.
With the Mini, Apricorn provides separate backup/recovery programs for Windows and Mac users. For the former, there's Apricorn's EZ Gig II backup and disaster recovery software, which I found to be a pretty robust backup solution. It allows you to back up an entire hard drive or clone a hard drive to another drive or partition on your system, and it has disaster recovery functionality as well. It can back up either a FAT32- or NTFS-formatted drive. (Unfortunately the software does not yet work with 64-bit Windows.) For Mac users, Apricorn includes Shirt Pocket's SuperDuper, a recovery program that creates a bootable backup of your hard drive. The Mini also ships with several other programs. Apricorn's Smart-ER (for Windows only) is an application that monitors the health of all of the hard drives in your system and notifies you if something is starting to go wrong—an early warning system that could head off the need for disaster recovery. Apricorn's encryption software (for both Windows and Mac), Microsoft SyncToy (a tool for Windows users that automates the syncing of files and folders), and Adobe Acrobat Reader are also provided.
The Mini did fairly well on our benchmark tests. EZ Gig II backed up our entire 160GB drive in 1 minute 26 seconds, reasonably fast for a USB 2.0 external hard drive. It took only 58 seconds to transfer a 1.2GB test folder on our drag-and-drop tests, a good score. On PCMark05, which measures a hard drive's performance under a variety of conditions, it returned a test score of 2,165, a bit lower than average for a USB 2.0 drive. (Keep in mind, though, that its 1.8-inch drive mechanism is smaller than the 2.5-inch ones typical of pocket hard drives.) Although Apricorn no longer sells the 160GB version of the Mini directly on its site, it is still available from online retailers. The company assured me that aside from the differing capacities, the drives are exactly the same. If you are in the market for a really small hard drive but want a bit more functionality than you get with a flash drive, I can recommend the Aegis Mini.