SanDisk’s new iXpand Lightning to USB drive introduces a new design, faster USB 3.0, and a brand new app, making it one of the most attractive offerings as far as thumb drives for your iPhone or iPad go. I’ve been testing it out to see if it’s worth a recommendation over the many competitors.

Design/Features |

When I reviewed SanDisk’s previous generation Lightning to USB drive last year, I noted the clunky design as a downside versus its competitors. But this time around, it’s completely changed the design to address that issue and added faster USB 3.0 in the process.

The drive’s wraparound design is the biggest advancement in the new iXpand. That’s the part that allows the USB portion of the drive to stay tucked behind the iPhone and out of the way when the drive is connected with the Lightning connector (as pictured above). They might not be first to come up with the wraparound design, but comparing it to the other guys, SanDisk comes out on top by being more compact and overall feeling more solid as far as build quality goes. 

Take a look at the design pictured below (middle, front) next to its competitors:

USB 3.0 is the other big difference with the new iXpand, giving you faster speeds when plugged into your Mac compared to SanDisk’s previous model, although there are other USB 3.0 competitors on the market already.

The app |

The companion apps for these products make all the difference. SanDisk has one of the best with the new app it released for the iXpand drive.

When you open the app for the first time it will prompt you to setup auto backup of your photos and videos when the drive is connected (but you can do that later in the app if you choose). You can alternatively choose to manually transfer selected photos, videos and other files between the drive and your connected device. Another feature lets you backup photos from social accounts by connecting to Facebook, Instagram, or Picasa. You can also choose to backup your contacts and have them auto-backup just like with your photos. 

With the app you’ll be able to easily play all of your music and videos as well as view photos you have stored on the drive, and you can share through the usual iOS share sheet options. There is also an option for password protected files if you happen to be storing files for work or other sensitive material.

The app doesn’t get creative beyond these basic features that most apps for other Lightning drives also offer, but it’s fast and I didn’t experience any hiccups with transferring or playing content to and from the drive. It supports playing videos in .WMV, .AVI, .MKV, .MP4, .MOV formats.

On the other end (the USB 3.0 end), the drive acts as a normal thumb drive in Finder when connecting to your Mac.

Pricing/Storage options |

The new iXpand Drive comes in 16GB, 32GB, 64GB and 128GB capacities priced at $49.99, $69.99, $89.99 and $129.99. How does that compare? That pricing is comparable and in many cases beats out its competitors, especially anything with USB 3.0. But Hyper’s USB 3 Lighting drive, for instance, comes in a 256GB option ($399), something SanDisk doesn’t offer. You can get slightly less expensive alternatives like this one from Transcend, also with USB 3, but you won’t get the slick wraparound design and the app isn’t nearly as nice as SanDisk’s, making it not worth the minimal savings in my opinion. 

Should you buy it? |

They didn’t innovate much as far as the design goes, but they borrowed what I think is the best design for this product and perfected it in the process. The storage and pricing options stack up fairly against the competitors, USB 3.0 is a welcomed addition, and with a decent companion app with no major flaws, I’d recommend it as the best option out there as far as Lightning to USB drives for your iPhone and iPad go.

You can buy the iXpand Drive now direct from SanDisk for the 16GB ($49.99), 32GB ($69.99), and 64GB ($89.99) models, and the 128GB ($119) model is available through BestBuy.