With USB memory sticks rapidly reaching the point where theyre commodity items, SanDisk needed to do something to keep buyers interested in a brand-name purchase instead of simply picking up a no-name device at Frys or MicroCenter. SanDisk has done so by offering an innovative physical design coupled with an idea from the old days—bundled software.
The SanDisk Cruzer Contours sleek design has a feature other USB memory drives dont: You can retract the USB connector. The idea is apparently to keep the connector free of dirt. You pull the top of the memory stick back with your thumb while holding the device in your hand, then move it forward. This reveals the USB connector and moves it into position for use. The reverse motion retracts the connector and moves a tiny cover into place to protect it.
In addition, the Cruzer Contour uses the U3 hardware-based encryption standard thats showing up in some USB drives to protect data. Unfortunately, the password software only works under Windows, so Linux and Mac users will have to take their chances.
Fortunately, the Contour does work with Linux when its not locked with its Windows-specific password, although it may not look as if it does. During tests, the device did not appear at all in some installations of Linux, and where it did appear, it looked as if the device had no available space. Despite reporting that it was full, it was possible to transfer files to the Contour. I did not test the device with a Mac.
SanDisk officials say that the Contour, which is the companys top-of-the-line USB memory device, transfers data at 18MB per second. It can read data at 25MB per second, according to information from SanDisk.
The suggested retail price for the 4GB model that I tested is $99.99. Theres also an 8GB model for $189.99. A quick search of the Web will reveal that you can buy the Cruzer Contour for a lot less than that, but itll still be more expensive than some other 4GB memory drives.
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When you use the Cruzer Contour on a Windows computer, the first thing that happens if you have autorun enabled is that the bundled U3 software installs itself. This gives you access to a control panel and links to the bundled applications, which include Skype, a password manager from Protecteer and a couple of games.
A trial version of an antivirus package is also supposed to be bundled, but we didnt see evidence that such an app was up and running. I was able to transfer a known virus to the device from a Linux computer and from the device to a Windows computer without a hitch. Fortunately, the Windows computer was already running Norton Antivirus, which nailed the virus. The fact that it didnt catch the virus under Linux is no surprise, given the Contours Windows-specific nature, but missing it when running under Windows was unexpected.
When the software installs, it presents Windows with what appears to be two partitions. One of them contains the application directories and the other contains storage space. Under Linux, you see only a single partition that reports that it has no space (but really does). Beyond letting the software install, assuming thats what you want, theres not a lot to using the Cruzer Contour. You can, if you choose, turn the device into a pure memory drive and remove all of the bundled software and the related partitions and directories.
The only real problems that I found with the Cruzer Contour, beyond its being linked to Windows to the extent it is and beyond its OS-specific passwords, is that it doesnt always fit into a USB connector. I found that you couldnt plug the device into some computers at all, and on other computers you could only use USB connectors that were far enough away from the bezel or shroud that some manufacturers use to protect their connectors. It wouldnt work at all on an HP xw8000 workstation, for example.
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