In my seemingly never-ending quest to find just the right gizmos to make life with VOIP all that it can be, I now find myself with a SanDisk Cruzer Titanium USB Flash Drive with Skype pre-installed on it to try out.
This tough little keyring-sized USB drive comes in either 1.0GB or 2.0GB (I’ve got the 2.0GB – $59.99 at Amazon.com) and comes preloaded with not only Skype, but Avast antivirus software, CruzerSync to sychronize files and Outlook for access on any PC and also Signup Shield to make password retention easy. It’s compatible with Windows XP or 2000, Linux and Mac OS 9.1.x+ and OS X v10.1.2+.
It comes with a little clip that I assume can be used to clip it on your pocket or “nerd pack” (remember those?). SanDisk also provides a cord you can clip it to and hand it around your neck.
The idea, of course, is to allow you to set up this USB drive with all of the files and programs you need to simply pop it into a PC somewhere, use them and leave the guest PC without a trace that you were there. With one exception (which I’ll mention later), I’d say this little baby is a smashing success.
Physically, the Cruzer is an attractive, compact USB drive with a retractable USB connector and a slick looking “Liquidmetal” case which the literature claims “withstands 2,000 pounds of crushforce.” Needless to say, I didn’t test this by driving over it with my car. I’ll take their word that it’s tough.
The product, unfortunately, comes in one of those “blister” packages – the kind that you could slice your fingers or even your wrist trying to open. There’s no way to open it barehanded and even with scissors, you risk drawing blood. I know they want to keep people from stealing these babies in the store, but I do wish they could come up with a less “cutting” approach to packaging.
Once I got the Cruzer extracted from the packaging, I popped it into my work Windows XP laptop, the software installed automagically and I was presented with the U3 Launchpad. U3 is the “operating system” the USB drive runs off of and I was stunned at the number of U3 compliant software titles available through the U3 Download Central and the SanDisk U3 download site – cool free stuff like Trillian, OpenOffice and Filezilla along with a ton of commercial products.
Installing new software is as easy as clicking on “Add Programs” in the U3 Lauchpad pop-up. You’re given the choices of adding through one of the previously mentioned web sites or from your computer. There’s so much neat (and free) stuff you’ll have to take care not to fill up your 2.0GB in one fell swoop.
My main reason for trying out the Cruzer, however, was for Skype portability. I want to be able to take SKype anywhere I want on my keyring and plug it into any connected PC to make calls. Of course, you have to hope the “guest” PC has a microphone and speakers or a headset, but I generally carry a small headset in my bag anyway, just in case. But, a great addon product for the Cruzer would be a small pocket headset like you can get for a cell phone – an ear piece with a microphone in the cord, but with two plugs at the end for a typical PC (one for audio, one for microphone). With such a pocket headset, I could leave the bag at home.
I fired up Skype from the USB drive, typed in my username and password and made a few Skype calls. Worked great, even through my laptop speakers and microphone.
I moved the Cruzer over to my desktop PC and, after a few new device install prompts, I was up and running again with the U3 Launchpad. Again, Skype worked flawlessly. The same on my partner’s Toshiba laptop. The only PC I had on hand that absolutely refused to load U3 was a four-year-old Averatec that I pulled out of storage. Though it’s running Windows XP, apparently the 256MB of RAM just wouldn’t cut it on that old machine. A pop-up window said it found the Cruzer and then the little laptop just sat there and wouldn’t respond.
Next, I tried out CruzerSync on my Outlook and files. Again, this worked flawlessly, copying selected files and e-mail to the flash drive, but there is one fly in the ointment, potentially a serious one to someone who would like to use the Cruzer for business purposes. This is the exception I mentioned above.
Outlook on my laptop connects to Exchange on a company network to handle e-mail. This requires a VPN into the office (We use Cisco VPN). On my laptop, this is no problem, but if I take the Cruzer to another PC, I need a way to connect to the VPN. Currently, there appears to be no U3 compliant VPN software of any kind available. The U3 Software Central site has all kinds of software – CalorieKing Diet Log for U3, Mozilla Thunderbird for U3 and even Heatseek, a “private and secure, all-in-one adult content (porn) browser, downloader, viewer, and file organizer.” 😉
But no VPN.
A quick search on Google revealed that I am not the only one in need of a VPN solution. It appears one might be on the way from Sweet Spot Solutions, but as of this writing, it’s not available for download as far as I can tell.
If they can get the VPN void filled, I can see the Cruzer being loaded with software and handed out to employees by cutting edge companies looking for ways to keep in touch and encourage productivity outside of the office.
That said, I’m thrilled with the SanDisk Cruzer Titanium USB Flash Drive. It’s almost like having a keychain PC with Skype without lugging a keyboard and monitor.
I love it!
Also see Belkin Wi-Fi Phone for Skype Review