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Lifewire / David Kukin
Connects seamlessly to your device
Easy-to-use file transfer app
Optional file encryption
Play media directly from the flash drive
Requires an app download
Relatively low transfer speeds for the cost
Supports .M4P and .MOV video files only
The SanDisk iXpand doesn’t have the fastest transfer speeds, but it’s still incredibly useful to be able to plug in a flash drive to save photos, play videos, backup, and transfer files from your iOS device to your PC. Plus, copying and transferring files is super easy.
Dozens if not hundreds of devices are available that let you expand your storage capabilities for personal computers. But when it comes to the devices that run out of storage most frequently—mobile phones and tablets—your options are far more limited. Thankfully, SanDisk has the funny-looking but effective iXpand flash drive.
The iXpand features both a USB 3.0 connector and a Lightning connector so you can transfer files between your PC and your iPhone or iPad. It also acts as expandable storage and a backup drive for your iOS devices. We tested it out to see how this unique device actually works.
In accommodating the iOS Lightning connector, the SanDisk iXpand features a rather unique design. The front half resembles a normal USB drive with the company logo, and the back half looks like a rubbery scorpion tail that curls over on itself, tucking neatly into a fixed rubber groove. This makes the iXpand a bit bulkier than other USB drives, but it’s still very small at less than 2.5 inches long.
The curled “tail” on the Lightning connector end keeps the drive out of the way when it’s plugged into your phone or tablet.
The rubber allows for flexibility when connecting the Lightning cable and keeps the USB connector end wrapped around the back of your phone or tablet. Less than an inch of the device sticks out on the bottom while connected.
Most USB flash drives feature a USB 3.0 connector, but the SanDisk iXpand pulls double duty with an added Lightning connector, allowing it to operate as a flash drive for both PCs and iOS phones and tablets. Interestingly (and most likely intentionally), SanDisk does not disclose a specific transfer speed.
In order to use the iXpand flash drive, we had to first attach the Lightning connector to our mobile device (in this case, an iPad Air). We were then prompted to download and install the 118 MB SanDisk iXpand Drive app from the Apple App Store.
We thought the SanDisk iXpand Drive app was fantastic and very intuitive to use. The main screen features three primary options: Copy Files, View Files, and Backup and Restore. It also features large swipeable cards with various tips and statistics. We found some of these to be helpful, including a reminder of how long it had been since the last backup and how much free space was left on both our device and the flash drive.
It was quick and easy to view files on both our flash drive and our iPad Air. Files are automatically divided into Photos, Videos, Music, and Other. We were able to view pictures, watch videos and movies, and listen to music all within the app.
The SanDisk iXpand Drive app was fantastic and very intuitive to use.
The app can also access your device’s camera, so you can save photos and videos directly to the flash drive without the need to copy anything over.
When you do need to copy things over, it’s as easy as selecting individual files and hitting “copy,” or using “backup” to detect new files and copy everything. After transferring a file, the app then asks if you’d like to delete the old one from your device to conserve space.
The Sandisk iXpand Drive app doesn’t reveal transfer speeds, but our testing determined that it has read and write speeds of around 12 MB/s — in practice, it took about 90 seconds to copy a 1.1-GB, 32-minute HD video file. That’s pretty slow compared to most USB 3.0 devices, but unless you’re backing up your entire mobile device for the first time, you’re unlikely to need super-fast speeds for most iOS file transfers.
Even if the transfer speeds leave something to be desired, we were still impressed and pleased with the app’s interface and ease of use.
When connected to a PC, the iXpand performs exactly like every other USB 3.0 device. Transfer speeds are faster than the iOS Lightning connection, though still relatively slow for the asking price. Benchmark program Crystal Disk Mark reported 70 MB/s read speeds with about 36 Mb/s write speeds for sequential files. That puts the iXpand toward the budget end of USB 3.0 flash drives in terms of performance.
Transferring a 1GB video or MP3 music folder resulted in similar stats as the benchmark: 70 MB/s read speed and about 33 MB/s write speed, taking about 40 seconds to transfer. A 5.2GB digital copy of a full-length feature film, Avengers: Infinity War, took almost three minutes to transfer both to and from the flash drive.
The iXpand only supports .M4P and .MOV video file formats.
It’s also important to note that the iXpand app only supports .M4P and .MOV video file formats. Our digital copy of Avengers was a .M4V file (ironically developed by Apple as a form of DRM). So while we were able to transfer it from the PC to the flash drive like any other media file, but we could not play it in the app once we connected the iXpand to our iOS device. This is something to consider if you want to use the drive to watch videos on your phone or iPad.
We tested the 128GB model of the SanDisk iXpand, which retails for $47.99. It is also available in three other sizes: 32GB, 64GB, and 256GB, with prices ranging from $24.99 for the smallest, up to $75.99 for the largest. For a flash drive, these retail prices seem pretty high. But it’s the additional iOS capabilities of the iXpand that make it more expensive.
The iXpand isn’t the only USB stick with a Lightning connector. Kingston is another trusted name in memory hardware, and their Bolt Duo is a slightly more expensive option that promises similar features.
The iDiskk iPhone USB flash drive is also a related product that looks like a standard thumb drive with a Lightning connector on one end. It costs almost the exact same price per storage model as the iXpand, but the advantage of the iDiskk is that it supports more video file formats.
In terms of design, we thought the iXpand was one of the best — the unique curled “tail” on the Lightning connector end keeps the drive out of the way when it’s plugged into your phone or tablet. The app is also extremely intuitive and easy to use, which is a big selling point.
An excellent choice for iOS users.
It may not be as fast as most run-of-the-mill USB 3.0 flash drives, but its unique iOS compatibility makes the SanDisk iXpand an obvious choice for people who want to backup or add some external storage to their Apple devices. The helpful, easy-to-use app and unusual but effective design are enough to set it apart from the competition.