For this review, we’ll be looking at a just-discontinued piece of futuristic tech—but that’s OK, because it’s been replaced by something very, very similar. The Samsung T1 external SSD is the product we’re looking at, and it’s been replaced by the almost-identical T3, which has a different kind of USB connection. Both drives do much the same job, and if you need to shift large amounts of data around quickly, you’ll want one, so look out. Let’s go through the usual five points, which this time around are:
Tiny, Light, Fast, Solid, Superseded.
It’s really, really small. Smaller than a credit card in width and height, and as deep as a normal USB plug, this drive is ridiculously small. While I’m sure that we’ll see this amount of storage creep down in physical size soon enough, large capacity SD cards can’t compete on speed just yet. This isn’t small enough to lose, or leave behind in a client’s computer, but it’s definitely something that fits in almost any pocket, and would be great as a travel drive. It’s also…
So light. Just 26g (0.92oz). That’s light enough to hang in the air from its own USB cable, and not strain the port. Light enough to make you forget it’s in your pocket. For comparison, a regular 2.5” portable spinning disk I use weighs in at 242g, and others are similar. If you’re constantly running out of space on your internal laptop SSD, this could be a great expansion drive, a new home for overgrown Photos, iTunes or iMovie libraries that’s light enough to carry all the time.
Oh yes, it’s very fast. A 47GB FCP X library copied to my T1 in 1min 57sec, but the same library’s journey to a regular portable 2.5” drive took 8min 8sec. That’s a 4x speed boost that the benchmarks confirm: the Blackmagic Speed Test pegs the T1 at around 370MB/s for read and 420MB/s for write. While a MacBook’s internal SSD goes even faster than that, it’s 3–4x faster than a regular spinning disk, and competitive with a half-full RAID. Absolutely, it doesn’t have the capacity of my desktop-based RAID, but I don’t need that when I’m offloading a job in the field—just enough for one job at a time. It’s also suitable for quickly transporting an entire FCP X library for an onsite edit, and it’s refreshing to have a second external that can (nearly) keep up with my RAID.
I’ve only had this for a few days, so time will clearly tell if it remains good. Still, it comes with a 3-year warranty and the micro-USB port on the back feels really stable. I’ve used some drives that disconnect when breathed upon, and this one hasn’t yet. The lack of moving parts means that I can shift my computer around while it’s actively in use, even while editing or exporting. I’ve seen spinning disks fall while in use with years of memories lost, and solid state can’t arrive soon enough.
Why buy the older T1? Because it was cheaper, at least at the time, and because the newer T3 didn’t bring anything new to the table. The T3 moves from a micro-USB to a new-fangled USB-C port, which is commendable, but doesn’t increase speed. (While the new port’s reversability is great, I generally leave the USB cable connected to the T1, and I’ll be able to buy a USB-C to micro-USB cable when that port probably shows up on my next Mac.) The drives are very similar in speed and utility, so pick up a T3 if you can’t find a T1.
While I do recommend this drive, just one caution: the setup process isn’t obvious. When you first plug the drive in, you aren’t presented with usable space straight away. You’ll need to install a driver, then unplug and replug the drive before it offers to erase itself and actually show you the 500GB you paid for. It’s formatted as ExFAT, so you’ll likely want to use Disk Utility to erase one more time and pick HFS+ (Journaled) instead. The drive is then usable just like any other external, even on machines without the driver. Odd, but just a minor speed bump, and one that may not be an issue on the newer T3 drive.
It’s very fast and portable, it’s far more resilient to damage than a spinning disk, and it’s affordable. While you’ll probably want to use large spinning disks for storing huge amounts of data, this is perfect for on-the-go storage of videos and photos. Grab one. It’s the future.
Samsung T1 500GB (discontinued): AU$249
Samsung T3 500GB (new model): US$179 (also available in 250GB/1TB/2TB).
Iain Anderson is an editor, animator, designer, developer and Apple Certified Trainer based in Brisbane, Australia. He has taught privately and in tertiary institutions, and has freelanced for Microsoft and the Queensland Government. Comfortable with anything from Quartz Composer to Second Life and Final Cut Pro to Adobe Creative Suite, he has laid out books, booklets, brochures and business cards; retouched magazine covers and product packaging, shot and edited short films and animated for HD broadcast TV, film festivals and for the web.