SAN FRANCISCO -- In the digital age, smaller is better.
And now, given the need for large amounts of storage to save MP3s, short video clips - or just plain work files and programs, the credo is more appropriate than ever.
With more computer users opting for portability with super-slim notebooks, personal digital assistants and handheld computers, the need for small but generous storage options is multiplying.
Three companies are taking the adage, size does matter, and giving it new life by marketing tiny - even thumb-sized - digital storage devices - that can be hidden in a pants pocket, stowed in a satchel or even hung on a key ring.
Three possibilities include the Q drive from Agate Technologies Inc., DiskOnKey from M-Systems Flash Disk Pioneers Ltd. and Pockey from Pockey Drives.
Of the three, only the Pockey is a traditional hard disk drive. The Q and DiskOnKey units use flash memory and, unlike the Pockey, connect directly into the Universal Serial Bus port of a PC.
Q was the most diminutive. It's a one-piece, teardrop-shaped unit sporting a Universal Serial Bus plug on one end and measuring smaller than my thumb.
Placing the Q drive directly into the USB port of a desktop computer causes the operating system to recognize the device as an additional hard drive. The unit come with device drivers which installed with no conflicts or problems.
Photos for my Web site that I wanted to edit later, and a full-image editing program, were easily dragged-and-dropped to my new "Removable Disk (E:)" drive denoting the presence of Q connected to the computer.
Off to another computer I went with 20 shots of me snowboarding and some saved e-mails dangling next to my car keys. Not bad, considering that an Iomega Zip disk in the front pants pocket can be unflattering.
When using the Q on a separate computer away from home, the software drivers can be downloaded from Agate's Web site. Almost anywhere there's a USB port, Q can find a home. It comes in storage capacities of 16, 32, and 64 megabytes ($69.95, $129.99 and $199.99).
DiskOnKey was next up for testing and performed identically. Sized almost exactly like Q and also working off a USB connection, it is available at IBM.com and Dell.com and comes in 8-, 16- and 32-megabyte ($49.99, $69.99 and $99.99) storage capacities.
DiskOnKey professes to be more self-sufficient than Q by not requiring driver downloads to recognize the unit on a computer. But that only works if you're using the Windows ME or Windows 2000 operating systems.
Windows 98 users will need to download a driver.
Both the DiskOnKey and Q are sporty, small and require neither power bricks nor batteries since they are powered through the USB connection. They also come with handy clip-on covers to prevent dust and debris from fouling the USB plug.
Finally comes the big daddy of very portable storage known as Pockey.
Pockey is about the size of a Palm PDA, comes in a sleek black Neoprene carrier and has 10- and 20-gigabyte ($249 and $329) models. That's enough memory to take a music library, all your work files and a few MPEG movies on the road if you so desired.
My sleek 20-gigabyte Pockey easily handled a full length Windows Media version of "To Kill A Mockingbird" from Filmspeed.com and a couple of MP3s from the Los Angeles indie band Cheswick, as well as several Word and Excel documents.
Pockey showed up as an additional hard drive profile on my desktop, so moving files to and from it was simple. Pockey ships with a 20-inch cable that plugs into a computer's USB port, through which it is powered. It is available Fry's Electronics, Egghead.com and through the manufacturer's Web site.
All three products are both Windows and Mac compatible.
The units appear quite sturdy, though I did not exactly subject them to the spin cycle. Each performed fine after much jostling in backpacks and a few close encounters with tabletops.
I even lost the protective cover from the Q drive's USB plug and subjected it to a day at the beach, but no harm was done.
On the Net:
Q Drive: http://www.agatetech.com