One of the most annoying problems with digital photography is that there’s never enough space on your media cards for all the pictures you want to take. Rising resolutions means that you get few images on even larger media cards, and the high price-per-megabyte of media cards means that owning many cards is uneconomic. This is where devices
such as SmartDisk’s FlashTrax fit in.
FlashTrax attempts to do for digital images what portable MP3 players such as Apple’s iPod have done for digital audio. It’s a battery-powered 30GB hard drive with a CompactFlash slot, so users can upload images from their camera when the card is full without having to
lug a full laptop around. This idea is not new – we reviewed Minds@Work’s £549 6GB Digital Wallet back in April 2001 – but SmartDisk has pushed the concept into new areas by adding a 3.5-inch LCD screen and snuck in some consumer-based functions to sweeten the deal.
The LCD screen allows images to be viewed, making it easy to see if you have all of the shots that you require, or to show to a client. The interface uses a simple FAT32 folders/file system that’s relatively easy to navigate, given the FlashTrax’s simple control wheel.
It also makes transferring files onto a computer a doddle. Plug the FlashTrax in using the USB 2.0 cable, and the unit appears as a drive on a Mac or Windows PC without requiring software. This makes it great for tasks such as transferring files to clients, though the use of USB 2.0 will make transferring files slow to and from Macs, which use the much slower USB 1.1.
There are two main restrictions with the FlashTrax. First, it has only a CompactFlash slot. Users of other card types will have to pay out more for adaptors to their chosen formats. The FlashTrax also can only preview JPEG and some RAW files, so saving to TIF is out.
Other interesting features include MP3 and AVI playback. As an MP3 player, the FlashTrax is useless, however – the speaker is awful for music playback, the headphones leave a lot to be desired, and there’s no ID3 tag support. Only Motion-JPEG AVIs can be played back, and then at low frame-rates. This seems restrictive but is fine for video recorded on most digital-still cameras. DivX support is due soon, which should prove interesting. However, these functions are not core features for digital photographers, so we won’t hold them against the FlashTrax.
The FlashTrax is a great concept that it would be great to see expanded with a higher resolution screen with
the ability to preview PDFs or Web pages for print or Web designers. As it is, it would be useful addition to any digital photographers’ arsenal.