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7 mobile hard drives: More portable and more powerful

By Rick Broida
August 19, 2013 06:00 AM ET

Toshiba Canvio Connect

Capacity/price: 500GB for $69.99; 750GB for $76.99; 1TB for $90.99; 1.5TB for $118.99; 2TB for $132.99 (available direct)

The Canvio Connect is all about choices. It comes in five glossy colors (black, blue, red, silver and white) and more capacities than any other drive here: from 500GB up to 2TB. I reviewed the 750GB red one, which dazzles despite being a little thicker than most of its brethren. Physically, it comes closest to the Western Digital My Passport Ultra, but feels a little more solid.

Toshiba Canvio Connect
Toshiba Canvio Connect

Alas, it doesn't perform quite the same: The Canvio ran 50% slower than the Passport, at least as reflected in the benchmark tests.

(Addendum: At Toshiba's request, I tested the 1TB version of the Canvio Connect, which is identical on the outside to its 750GB sibling. To my surprise, the larger drive proved nearly twice as fast in the benchmark test, and placed just behind the Western Digital My Passport Ultra in overall performance. Toshiba attributes this to the "higher linear density" of the platters used in the 1TB drive. Bottom line: Sometimes size really does matter.)

Toshiba packs a lot of utility into the drive, starting with the bundled NTI Backup Now EZ utility (which lives up to its name with extremely easy incremental, scheduled backups). You also get Pogoplug, which turns the drive into an Internet- and mobile device-accessible file server and includes 10GB of cloud storage. The latter adds a nice secondary-backup option for your most critical files.

Like Seagate's Slim, the Canvio offers Mac compatibility via third-party software; no reformatting required. If you're seeking a versatile, cloud-savvy drive that's available in much higher capacities than most, the Canvio is definitely worth a look.

Western Digital My Passport Ultra

Capacity/price: 500GB for $89.99; 1TB for $99.99; 2TB for $159.99 (direct)

In a crowded field of lookalike and act-alike portable hard drives, Western Digital's My Passport Ultra tries its best to stand out -- and for the most part succeeds. It comes in your choice of four colors, incorporates a cloud-friendly backup option and features Western Digital's above-average three-year warranty.

Western Digital My Passport Ultra
Western Digital My Passport Ultra

It's fast, too, posting the top read/write scores of any drive we tested -- though Seagate's Slim ran it a close second. If you want a drive that can copy your presentations, videos and other big files in a hurry, this is it.

However, the Ultra's plastic casing looks and feels cheap and flimsy; one suspects that a sudden encounter with the pavement would crack it wide open. What's more, this is physically the largest non-wireless drive in the group -- not dramatically or inconveniently so, but it lacks the elegant slenderness of, say, the Seagate Slim.

Western Digital's WD SmartWare Pro software includes password and encryption options for the drive itself and two backup options: local and Dropbox, though you'll need your own account if you want to use the latter. (That's in contrast to Toshiba's Canvio Connect, which includes a 10GB Pogoplug account.) These are simple but efficient tools for making continuous or scheduled backups.

If you prize speed above all else and don't mind paying a slight premium for it, the My Passport Ultra wins the day -- even if it could stand to slim down a bit.

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