V-TEC V-Drive Flash Pen

It writes, it stores your files

Reg Review How to prevent the loss of a valuable USB Flash drive? That's a question that taxes many a user of these devices. Conveniently portable, they're equally easy to lose or forget. The best solution we've seen is Memix's Memory Watch, which cleverly fits drive and USB connector into a wristwatch and strap, and it's certainly impressed quite a few folk, amazed not just at its capacity but its discreet looks.

And here's another, courtesy of Japanese memory specialist V-TEC: the USB pen. It's a stylish, shiny black and chrome calligraphic implement that also contains 32, 64, 128 or 256MB of Flash memory, configured as a hard drive. The styling is spoiled only by the word's 'V-Drive USB Flash Drive' written in large letters down the length of the pen, and an ugly silver sticker pointing out the capacity. Sorry, V-TEC, this is what packaging is for.

A clockwise twist of the 'cap' and the pen's ballpoint nib is revealed. Unscrew it the other way, and the cap slips off to reveal a USB connector. Fortunately, the connector's attached to the cap so you can continue writing even when the drive's connected to your computer. At the very end of the cap is a small lens position in front of a blue LED activity light.

Screw the cap back on, and you can pull it off to reveal the pen's screw-in writing mechanism, which is one of those thin, 6.5cm refills. The mechanism can easily be removed using a small Philips screwdriver or a bundled tool. The one that comes with the V-Drive Flash Pen provides black ink and a fine tip. Its writing action is smooth, with a very slightly springy feel. It's definitely better than your average cheap biro, but not perhaps the equal of a top-end Parker or Mont Blanc.

I found it pleasant to use, though others may baulk at the pen's weight. I quite like a heavy pen, but I was less happy with the V-TEC's chunky feel necessitated by the need to integrate an 11.5mm wide USB connector into its width. Folk who prefer Schaeffer's generally fatter writing tools may be happier with the V-TEC than I was.

V-TEC V-Drive Flash PenEither way, integrating a Flash drive into a pen ought to make it less likely that the former will be left behind. In fact, even if you hate the pen, you can still keep the Flash drive separate knowing that it can be safely clipped to a shirt or luggage pocket.

The pen itself is slightly thicker than the USB connector. But its still thin enough to connect to a USB port situated side-by-side another, already-filled port. A common failing of USB Flash drives is that they're too wide to fit in such situations, which are common to notebook users and some desktops, too. Where the USB ports are mounted one on top of the other, it's not necessarily going to fit, however. Fortunately, V-TEC includes the obligatory USB extension cable.

I tried the drive on a USB 1.1 machine, but the V-TEC Flash Pen supports USB 2.0. I've seen better USB 1.1 performance with other Flash drives, but the read and write speeds I measured - 842.8KBps and 752.9KBps, respectively - while somewhat less than the bus' maxima - 1Mbps and 900KBps - didn't feel slow. And owners of machines with USB 2.0 ports will see significant performance gains, of course.

V-TEC ships the pen with Windows 98 drivers, but users of later versions of the Microsoft OS, along with Linux 2.4 and Mac OS 9/X users will be able to use the drive out of the box.

Alas the bundled file encryption and compression utility, WinSecurity Lite 2.5, only works with Windows, as its name suggests. This is a shame, since it ties in with Outlook or Outlook Express, to allow you to download email straight to the Flash Pen when you're using someone else's machine. It holds all your email account details, so you don't have to reconfigure - and then configure back - the host PC's email software.

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Regular USB Flash drives are certainly cheaper than the V-TEC Flash Pen, but few are as practical or stylish. And none, so far as I know, work as writing implements too. It's a good product for yourself, even better if you're looking for a company-branded giveaway. ®

V-TEC V-Drive Flash Pen
Rating 85%
Pros — Nice pen mechanism
— Well designed
— Looks good
Cons — Not a peak USB performer
— The USB connector makes for a chunky and heavy writing tool
Price £24.38 (32MB), £32 (64MB), £48.76 (128MB), £77.54 (256MB), all including VAT
More info The V-TEC web site

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