What can you squeeze into a USB pen drive?

With the large number of USB pen drives hawked at the recent Comdex show, it may be only a matter of time before they come free inside cereal boxes.

That’s why makers of the key chain-sized USB flash memory storage devices are trying to distinguish themselves from the USB legions. A host of companies selling USB pen drives buck the mundane and are preparing everything from USB pen drives with MP3 playback features, fingerprint biometric privacy, and built-in cameras. Some vendors are already shipping devices, but most are overseas manufacturers getting ready to move into the U.S. market 2003.

Expect to start seeing many of these devices in stores early next year. But the products that suffer from the “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should” syndrome will probably never make it beyond the prototype stage.

Groovin’ Drives

By far the most popular innovation fuses the standard USB pen drive with MP3 playback functionality. No bigger than a standard pen drive PenPower Technology Ltd.’s WeWa MP3 Player is a USB storage device that you can store a PowerPoint presentation to and it can also play back music stored on the drive. WeWa has a tiny LCD display for browsing tracks, an audio input jack, and a rechargeable battery.

You can even use the device for voice recording; a built-in digital recorder stores up to ten hours of spoken word recording. The WeWa is scheduled to ship early next year with the 128MB model selling for about US$100.

Similar models on the show floor were offered by AsiaZest.com and Titan Components; the BKL from Spectec comes with a tiny speaker.

Let Your Finger do the Locking

A company called ClipDrive has put a biometric fingerprint reader on a USB flash memory drive.

Called ClipDrive Biometric, this storage device can either be used to lock data on the drive itself or can be used with accompanying software as a key to lock up data on your desktop. A model with 16MB of storage is scheduled to begin shipping in December priced at $40.

USB Drives Read, See

If you like portable storage, Lucky Star has a three-in-one USB pen device juiced with card reader support for Secure Digital and Multi Media Card portable memory formats. A 32MB USB drive, called MobileDrive 3-in-1, is expected to cost $60 and be available in the U.S. in early 2003.

KTI Networks has already released its Pen Drive + SD product. The 128MB USB pen drive runs $84 and supports only SD memory cards.

On the drawing board from Alpha and Omega is a USB pen drive that doubles as a Web cam and a still camera. The prototype on display looked exactly like a USB pen drive except for a tiny little camera lens for snapping low-resolution photos on the go. The unit, which company representative say has yet to be named, also came with a mountable stand that the USB drive can snap into and become a Web cam. Pricing and availability is to be determined.

Desktop on a Key Chain

For creatures of habit, Optimal Access has a USB pen drive application, not hardware, that lets you save your desktop configuration, including shortcuts, documents, and bookmarks, and transfer it from PC to PC on a pen drive.

Called Mobile Desktop, this $80 application can reside on any USB pen drive. When you sit down at any PC for the first time, just stick the pen drive into the client PC and then access it. Next, install the 6MB Mobile Desktop that is stored on your pen storage device.

The program installs in under a minute on the client PC and displays all your personalized settings, data, and bookmarks from your previous session. Any updates or changes you make to your desktop get saved to your Mobile desktop so when you walk away from the PC you can take documents and any new bookmarks or setting changes with you.

Mobile Desktop isn’t limited to USB pen drives and will work with other portable storage options like Zip Disks. You can download a free trial version of the application that times out after 60 uses. You can also download a free desktop version of the program, from the company’s Web site.