I have no idea why Apple still sells iPhones and iPads that have only 16GB of storage. But wouldn't it be great if you could just plug in a flash drive that added more? The SanDisk iXpand wants to be that drive. Sadly, it's not.
Available this week in 16GB, 32GB and 64GB capacities for $60, $80, and $120 respectively, the iXpand is a shiny little anodized aluminum dongle with a full-size USB port on one end, and a tiny rubbery Lightning cable embedded in the center. Install the iXpand app on your device, plug it into the Lightning port, and voilà, extra storage.
Extra storage with an insane list of caveats.
Where should I begin? You can only use that storage for photos and videos—not apps or music. You also can't move photos and videos to the drive—only copy them. Which means that the iXpand is useless for freeing up space on your phone or tablet. It's purely for carrying around some extra multimedia, or making the occasional backup.
Let's assume you don't care about freeing up space, only about plugging in a drive full of wedding pictures to show your friends. Unless you want to look at them one at a time, or transfer them to the iPad first, you'll have to view them using SanDisk's app. And I hope you like how those pictures look at their native resolution, and don't want to zoom in on the details, because you can't pinch to zoom there.
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And if you do want to transfer files from the drive to the iPad, or vice versa, be prepared to do a lot of tapping. There's no way to transfer an entire folder of pictures, for instance. You have to specify which images are going where.
But perhaps the biggest headscratcher is the fact that the SanDisk iXpand has a built-in rechargeable battery. (A flash drive with a battery?) SanDisk says it's there to facilitate high transfer speeds without draining your mobile devices, but I'm skeptical: the drive topped out at just 12MB/s when I was copying files from my Windows PC. And though it seems to play compressed video fine, swiping through pictures with the iXpand wasn't nearly as snappy as it is in my iPad's native Photos app. There's an annoying lag.
Though SanDisk claims the battery should last through a whole lot of movies before needing a charge—which it gets every time you plug it into a traditional computer—it's one more thing to worry about as the drive ages.
The iXpand actually does two things really well. You can set it to automatically back up all your pictures as soon as you plug it in, and that works great. You can also play back videos in formats that your iOS device wouldn't normally support, so that could be a worthy use case.
But unless those are the only things you'd want to do with the drive, you can probably let it be. The iXpand feels like a hack to get around Apple's lack of interest in flashdrives and user-exposed filesystems. Until or unless that changes, I'd save your money.