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SanDisk Ultra II SD Plus USB/SD card

Memory card in innovation shock

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Review SD cards aren't exciting products. They do what they're supposed to: slip into your digital camera, PDA or whatever as removable storage. Most of the time there's little to differentiate one from another, bar read and write speed. But this particular SD card is very different from any other SD card you're likely to find and it's definitely far more convenient, writes Riyad Emeran.

SanDisk Ultra II SD Plus USB/SD card

You see, the problem with a digital camera is getting the images from the camera to your computer. The most direct way is to connect the camera directly with a USB cable. But this is far from elegant and it means that the battery in your camera is running down while you're doing the transfer.

A much better idea is to remove the card and plug it into a card reader, preferably a USB 2.0 model for fast transfer. But you need to have the reader with you all the time if you want ultimate flexibility. If, like me, you're travelling with a notebook and need to offload your images, a card reader is just another bit of kit to squeeze into your already bloated bag.

So, what's the answer? SanDisk reckons it's the Ultra II SD Plus card, and I'm inclined to agree. What SanDisk has done is produce a memory card that can slip happily into any SD-compatible device, but which will also connect directly to the USB port on your computer, thus negating the need for a card reader.

This ingenious feat has been achieved by leveraging the design of a different type of card, the reduced size MultiMedia Card (MMC). The part of the Ultra II SD Plus that houses the memory and the contacts is, to all intents and purposes, a reduced-size MMC. Although this product looks like a normal SD card when it's not in USB mode, when you fold back one half to reveal the USB connector, it's crystal clear that what you're actually using is a reduced-size MMC with a couple more electrical contacts to give it the SD treatment.

But whether or not this card is based on a different form factor isn't really important - what is important is how useful it is. For someone like myself, a memory card that I can insert straight into my notebook without having to carry a card reader is a real bonus. If this design catches on, it could also mean that notebook manufacturers won't have to try and squeeze in multi-format card readers into their machines, thus saving weight.

In use this little card performed flawlessly. I copied 342MB of HD video to the card first using a USB 2.0 card reader and then by plugging it straight into the PC. Both methods turned in times of just over 50s, while reading back the data took just over 30s. The advantage with a card like this is that it can also be used as a USB memory key. It's clear that SanDisk expects you to use the card in this manner, since it supplies a slim, key-ring holder, so that you can carry it with you at all times.

SanDisk Ultra II SD Plus USB/SD card

But it's not all a bed of roses with this card, as how useful it is depends entirely on the location and layout of your USB ports. You see if you have very little space surrounding your USB ports, there might not be enough room to insert the card. But even if you have unrestricted USB ports, it's a bit fiddly inserting the card if there's something plugged into the adjacent port. The solution would be to bundle a USB extension cable, but unfortunately SanDisk doesn't supply one.

Another factor to consider is price. But you have to remember that this is a high-speed card, so you're not going to be able to pick it up for under £30 like a bog standard 512MB SD card. A non-USB Ultra II card will already set you back around £43, so you're only paying £7 extra for the USB functionality. I think that's pretty reasonable, considering the fact that you're getting a USB memory key and an SD card all in one svelte package.

Verdict

The SanDisk Ultra II SD Plus card isn't quite perfect, but it is revolutionary in the best possible way. Hats off to SanDisk for coming up with this product, and I sincerely hope that one day all memory cards will work this way.

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SanDisk Ultra II SD Plus
 
Rating 80%
 
Price £50
 
More info The SanDisk Ultra II SD Plus site

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