Tuesday, October 19, 2010

USB Disk Review

USB Disk is an app that adds an extremely simple but potentially quite useful file browser to your iPhone. Using it is simple enough. Installing the app gives you free reign over a single root directory. This directory named "Local Files" is displayed when you start the app. On a new install, one will see there are no folders and a single Welcome.html file with usage instructions. At the top of this screen is a search bar and at the bottom, below the advertisement, is the option bar. We'll go into directory functionality later.

Tapping on any document brings you to USB Disk's default document viewer. The full list of supported file types is available on their website but the most notable are html, pdf, MS Office, and Apple iWork files. Even picture and movie files are supported though. For a document, besides formatting it such that it can be viewed without the need of horizontal scrolling, USB Disk offers little. There are page up/down keys on the the bottom bar as well as a slide show control for pictures. Pressing the button on the upper left opens up document options.

You can delete the file, view its details (ie. file type and size), email it, or choose to open it in another app. However, of all the file types tried, we never found one that could be opened outside USB Disk. The most useful feature here then is probably the email which brings up the iPhone default send mail interface with the file automatically attached.

From what we saw, USB Disk had no problems with any pdf, docx, xlsx, or pptx file. Classic MS Office files like doc, ppt, and xls were not supported though. This is a major issue we think needs to be fixed as a huge part of the world still runs older versions of MS Office. As well, don't try viewing large image files with this as the processing time is much slower than the iPhone's default photo viewer. Loading a 2560x1600 resolution jpeg is a no go.

Jumping out of the viewer and back to the root directory, I'll now comment on the file management options. As explained earlier, all options are located on the bottom bar. The bottom right "+" icon creates a new folder within the current directory with a name of your choosing. The bottom left icon opens up toggle settings which we'll see later. The middle icon shows the number of files you have on your clipboard. That's right, USB Disk allows you to cut, copy, and paste files in your root directory inside the iPhone. The way this works is by tapping the edit icon on the top left which will convert your file list to a check list. Now you can check all the files you want then choose from one of the four options on the bottom bar. These options are copy, cut, delete, and send by email. Select all and select none buttons are also available. After you've selected your files, pasting them simple involves navigating to your desired folder then clicking the middle clipboard button on the bottom bar. Its very easy to use.

Now we'll cover the available toggle settings. You can access these by clicking the gear icon in the root directory. The set of options allow you to display hidden folders (there are none that are useful), show file extensions, and show thumbnails for pictures. The second set of options deal with the file viewer and are largely self explanatory. The only one that isn't is "Audio starts slideshow which we couldn't figure out either. The last set of options contains potentially the most useful which is a toggle to prevent your iPhone going to sleep when the file view is open. A thoughtful addition.

The main gripe we have with this app is that isn't with how it views files but how you get the files in the phone to begin with. You can copy them as attachments off email then paste them manually into the USB Disk's root directory but the main method is to add them via iTunes. What you have to do is navigate to the apps section in your iPhone then scroll to the "File Sharing" section. You select USB Disk from the apps list then click the "Add.." button and select your files. This is tedious and seriously impacts the usabilty of this app since it essentially throws the name "USB Disk" out the window. Now we know Apple would never officially sanction plug and play on the iPhone so we can see why this is so.

All in all USB Disk is a good app but with limited futility. On one hand it's an integrated file viewer with support for almost all the file types someone would typically handle. On the other hand it's just that: a file viewer. It can't edit any files nor can it really help you transfer files from one device to another. We can see it being useful in cases you have a document you commonly need to reference like a schedule or spreadsheet but that's about it. The good thing though is that it's free so there's nothing to lose trying it out!

Runs on iOS 4.1: Yes
HD for retina display: Yes
Price: Free
Overall rating: Good

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