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To the uninitiated, the FlashTrax is an iPod for still images. At its heart is a hard drive running a basic OS viewable through a 3.5-inch colour LCD screen. Photographers can view, manipulate, and delete their images with a minimum of fuss. Rather than just allowing you to view your pictures on the move, the FlashTrax can take them from your camera’s media card.

Rather than carry around a mass of expensive CompactFlash, Smart Media or Memory Stick cards the device lets you carry one or two and upload images to the FlashTrax when you’re full. With today’s eight megapixel cameras producing images around 20MB in size, and 1GB media cards costing around £200, the FlashTrax makes a lot of sense. The basic unit accepts CompactFlash cards – a £30 adaptor is required to read other media storage cards.

The FlashTrax works as a portable hard drive that plugs-&-plays over USB 2.0 without requiring drivers or other software. Mac-based photographers will appreciate the USB 2.0 port more than they did when the FlashTrax first launched, as the Mac only had USB 1.1 support at the time. It works as a basic video and MP3 player too – though it can only playback Motion-JPEG encoded video (as used by the majority of digital cameras) and its audio output through headphones is a grade below a true
MP3 player. It’s not a video iPod.

The second generation of FlashTrax devices replaces the single 30GB unit with a choice of three sizes – 20GB, 40GB, and a whopping 80GB. The 20GB model
is a great budget option – almost £100 less than the original 30GB device – while the 40GB unit will appeal to the prolific photographer. The 80GB model is expensive, but will appeal to users looking to combine the FlashTrax with a large portable hard drive.
SmartDisk has been adding functionality to the FlashTrax through firmware updates almost every month since the first unit launched. Support for RAW formats from new cameras have been added – though TIF support is still limited – and other functions such as photo album creation, flash copy verification, and disk formatting are useful. More are likely to follow shortly.

While the FlashTrax had little competition when it launched, it’s now up against a pricier device that has less functions and no colour screen preview. That device is the iPod, which can take files from media cards using Belkin’s £90 iPod Media Reader. If you just want to store images and don’t need want to see and sort them, the sexy iPod with a Media Reader is appealing – for all the wrong reasons. If you need more functionality, the FlashTrax is a better option.