Clik! Drive by Iomega
Clik! means never having to say you're sorry
... (that you ran out of digital film)
Reviewer: David Etchells
(First Reviewed 20 July, 1999)
PLEASE NOTE: This product has been discontinued by the manufacturer.
EVERY picture is precious!
How many times have you found yourself out on an expedition with your digicam, saying to yourself "That's an interesting shot, but there might be others I'll like more later" If you're like me, this is a not-uncommon experience: It's strange, given that you can easily erase images from the memory card, if something more interesting comes along, but what a terrible feeling to delete a photo, just because you don't have more room on your memory card! Given the ever-increasing size of memory cards, this is becoming less of an issue, but I was surprised by how much of a factor it still was, even with 48 meg of card-based memory packed along with me on every day's outing. - Actually, I didn't realize the impact this "capacity paranoia" was having on my shooting until I had the chance to banish it completely!
Infinite memory capacity!
On a recent vacation, I had the opportunity to bring along one of Iomega's Clik! drives, with their "digital camera" memory-card adapter head. I'll save the reader from any possible suspense by saying right up front that I loved this gadget! If you're planning an extended trip with a digital camera, and want to leave the laptop at home (or if you don't own a laptop in the first place), the Clik! drive kit for digital cameras is almost a must-have: It was really hard to ship it back to Iomega when the eval period was over, and I'll almost certainly end up buying one before my next vacation! (As I'll relate below, unless you're absolutely awash in memory cards, it's even valuable in normal, non-vacation settings too.) The impact on my picture-taking was really amazing, far beyond anything I expected when setting out with the device!
What it is:
The basic Clik! drive itself is shown sitting comfortably in its desktop docking station above. It's a very portable removable-media disk drive, that stores 40 megabytes of data on tiny disks. (Think of a Zip drive, only shrunk to fit comfortably in your hand, and with disks tiny enough to fit a half-dozen into a standard shirt pocket.) The shot of a disk at right gives you some idea of how small they are: At just about two inches across, the photo at right should be about actual size, depending on your monitor's resolution.
As noted, each Clik! disk holds about 40 megabytes of data, and they cost (as of this writing, in July, 1999) about $10 each at retail. Connected to a host computer's parallel port, the associated driver software lets the disks appear on your Windows desktop just like any other disk drive, and you can freely copy data to and from the disks at a transfer rate of about 140-150 Kbytes/second. The screen shot at right shows a Clik! disk appearing in Windows Explorer as drive H:
The flash memory reader for digicam users:
The real magic of the Clik! drive for digicam owners comes when it is combined with the optional Flash Memory Reader accessory. This gadget is a detachable head that snaps onto one end of the Clik! drive, providing slots for either CompactFlash or SmartMedia memory cards. With a disk in the drive, you can insert a memory card into the appropriate slot of the reader, press a button, and have the contents of the card copied onto the disk in just a minute or two. (Data transfers from memory cards to the Clik! disks about as fast as it does to or from the host computer when the drive is docked, about 140-150Kbytes/second.)
The photo above right shows a CompactFlash card inserted in the Clik!'s flash memory reader. The photo immediately to the right shows the display panel as it's transferring photos from the card to the disk: The percentage number indicates the amount of storage space used on the currently-inserted disk.
Operation of the Clik!/Flash Reader combination is simplicity itself: Data files aren't renamed or otherwise altered, but rather are simply copied into storage folders on the Clik! disk, with the folders named sequentially to prevent data from being overwritten. (Folder names are unique only on a given Clik! disk however: When you copy the data to the host computer, you'll need to make a new folder for each Clik! disk to prevent incoming folders from overwriting previously-saved ones.)
The one limitation that we found with the Clik! was that it can't handle more images on a card than the drive's 40-megabyte capacity. If you insert a 48 megabyte CF card full of images, the drive will simply tell you there's not enough room on the disk to store them, and refuse to proceed any further. Note though, that it's not the size of the card that's the issue, but only the amount of data on it: If you're careful to not fill your card with more than 40 megabytes of images, its contents will copy to the Clik! just fine.
An apparently temporary limitation we encountered was that the current crop of Clik! drives don't recognize 32 megabyte SmartMedia memory cards. This is probably somewhat to be expected, as only 16 MB cards were available when the Clik! drive was being designed, but is definitely a shortcoming that Iomega will need to address. (We understand Iomega is working on a new Flash Reader that will work with the 32-meg cards, but we don't yet know any details as to its availability, or whether there will be an upgrade path for current users.) In our own usage, we didn't find this to be too great a problem: We used 16 megabyte and 8 megabyte SmartMedia cards, simply copying the 16 meg card to the drive as we filled it, and finishing-off the available disk capacity with a full 8 meg card's worth of images. In this fashion, we shot about 200 megabytes of images over the course of a 2-week vacation, never once worrying about running out of memory space.
Retrieving your photo files: Desktop Computer
To retrieve photo files stored on your Clik! disks, you disconnect the flash reader from the drive, exposing the connector which interfaces with the desktop docking station, or directly with one of one of the interface cables. (We had the "Plus" version to review, which came with both a parallel-port cable, and a PCMCIA-card adapter.) With the Clik! drive resting in its dock, the dock connected to the host computer's parallel port, and the Clik! driver software installed, the Clik! will automatically show up in Windows Explorer as just another disk drive. You can copy files back and forth from it just as you would with any other disk drive.
Retrieving your photo files: Laptop Computer
For the road warrior, there's also a PC-card interface for the Clik!, which plugs into a Type II PC Card slot on your laptop. This configuration is shown at right. As noted below, the slightly less-cumbersome PC Card setup saves a bit of space when on the road and needing to recharge the battery pack. (For shorter trips though, note too that you don't need the AC adapter to transfer files to your laptop: The drive can run from battery power while connected to the laptop. It draws no power from the laptop in any case.)
When you're using the Clik! drive in the field, it's powered by a NiMH rechargeable battery pack that snaps onto the bottom of the drive. The desktop dock and PC-card interface receive power from a tiny AC adapter that runs from standard house current. The battery charges automatically whenever the Clik! is connected to a powered desktop dock, parallel-port cable, or PC-card interface. A completely discharged battery takes about 1.5 hours to return to full charge, although you're advised to leave the battery charging for 24 hours before the first use. (This is a standard procedure for any new NiMH battery.)
Iomega doesn't give any numbers for how long the battery will power the drive, but we used the unit for over a week, completely filling 5 disks with 200 megabytes of images, without needing to recharge the battery! We'd still definitely recommend bringing the power adapter and appropriate interface unit (dock or PC-card interface cables) on any trips of more than a day or two, just as a precaution.
The requirement to connect the Clik! to one of its host-interface adapters in order to charge the battery is one of the few quibbles we have of the unit's design: Unless you've bought the full "Plus" kit (see below), which includes the PC-card interface, you'll need to bring along the relatively bulky parallel-port adapter cable on trips, just to charge the battery pack. Given that the Clik! is designed to provide mobility and convenience, the need to lug along a superfluous and somewhat bulky cable/connector harness seems odd: We can't understand why it wasn't designed such that the power adapter could simply be plugged into the side of the drive, rather than requiring other cables to be part of the battery-charging process.
Besides the driver software, both the Clik! kit for digital cameras, and the "Plus" package include the Iomega Photo Printer application, a handy little utility for sorting through the masses of photos you're likely to acquire once you experience the "infinite capacity" the Clik! provides. The Photo Printer app is pretty basic in its abilities, but lets you view the contents of your image folders on the computer quickly and easily, print index sheets with thumbnails of your images in any of three sizes, or print your photos one at a time or in groups.
The screen shot above (scaled down to about 60% size, to fit onto the web) shows the first screen of the Photo Printer application, where you can view all the images on your Clik! drive, or in a directory of any other drive on your computer. This screen also allows you to rotate images if they were shot in "portrait" orientation. The "Eject Disk" button doesn't apply to the Clik!, since it's eject mechanism is manually operated.
This screen shot shows the thumbnail printer, where you can make thumbnail indexes of your photos in order to have a hardcopy reference. Filenames are printed beneath each thumbnail, so you can easily find the file corresponding to each.
We liked the ability of Photo Printer to print multiple photo
sizes on a single sheet of paper, as shown in the screen shot
above: While Photo Printer isn't a reason to buy the Clik!, it's
handy if you don't already own a viewing/printing utility program.
The Clik! drive is available in three forms, two of which would be of interest to digicam owners. The Clik! Drive for Digital Cameras is a kit consisting of the basic Clik! system (drive, battery, docking station, AC adapter, cables and software), with the Flash Reader included. This system retails for $249 as of this writing in July, 1999. The Clik! Drive Plus kit adds the PC-card adapter to the bundle, and $50 to the retail price. Both Clik! bundles include one 40 MB Clik! disk: Additional disks can be purchased singly or in 4-packs, for a cost of about $10 each. List price for the Clik! drive by itself (no flash reader, and a parallel-port interface only is $199. (All prices are suggested retail, as of July, 1999.)
Pros and Cons
As we said at the outset, we really fell in love with the Clik! - For long trips away from the computer, it should be considered almost mandatory equipment for digicam owners! The freedom from "memory paranoia" really does have a significant impact on the whole experience of digital photography!
The one downside we see to the Clik! drive is it's 40 megabyte limitation on the amount of data it can swallow at one gulp. Now that 48 or even 64 megabyte CompactFlash cards are common, there's been a fair bit of comment that the Clik! is too small. Frankly though, unless you already own a 64-megabyte or larger memory card, we don't see this as being too big an issue. Rather than spending money on relatively expensive memory cards larger than 32 megabytes, we think it makes sense to get one or two 16-32 megabyte cards to use in conjunction with the (probably 8 megabyte or smaller) one that came with your camera. 40 megabytes is actually a pretty convenient size, as it equals 16+16+8, or 32+8 (or 16+16+4+4, if your camera came with a 4 megabyte card). In our case, working with 8 and 16 megabyte cards, we found it very convenient to use. Certainly, it would be nice if the Clik! could split the contents of larger cards across multiple disks, but in our use, this really didn't seem to be an issue. The 32-megabyte SmartMedia limitation is more critical, but that's apparently soon to be corrected.
We've also heard comments to the effect that the Clik! involves too much "stuff" to cart along on an extended trip. We really think this is a non-issue, although it's ultimately a matter of personal preference. In travelling, particularly with camera equipment of various descriptions, we find that we usually have nooks and crannies in the car, or pieces of luggage along on the plane, in which we stash the less-frequently used items. In the case of the Clik! drive, this is where we stowed the cables and power adapter, actually taking them out only once during a nearly 2-week trip. (And we probably didn't even need to do that either!)
One nice touch that we really appreciated was the well-designed soft leatherette case that comes with the Clik! drive in the digital camera and Plus versions. It's designed to fit the unit with the flash reader attached, and has flaps at either end, to allow access to either the disk itself, or the flash reader slots. A spring-steel belt clip is attached to the rear, with a leather cover as well, preventing any damage to belts or other clothing. The photo at right shows the Clik! all zipped up and ready to go.
Overall, the Clik! is one of the most useful and downright enjoyable digicam accessories we've ever used! It is simple, reliable, reasonably fast, compact, and convenient. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, the freedom from any memory-capacity limitation on a trip had an amazingly liberating impact on our photography. Highly recommended!
For more information (including an on-line demo of the product),
Visit the Clik! home page.