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Test Drive: SanDisk iXpand Mobile Flash Drive Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

26 June 2015

SanDisk's iXpand flash drive is the simplest solution for adding storage to your recent iPhone or iPad. Capacity ranges from 16-GB ($71), 32-GB ($85), 64-GB ($100) and 128-GB ($150) and connections include USB to charge or load data from a computer and Lightning to interface with your recent iOS device.

iXpand Flash Drive. 16-GB, 32-GB, 64-GB and 128-GB capacities.

Other features include:

  • Battery powered so it won't drain your iOS device's battery
  • Transfer documents between iOS devices and OS X and Windows computers
  • Free memory used for documents on your iOS device
  • App can auto sync photos and videos from the camera roll when connected
  • Play videos directly from the drive
  • Encrypts files across iPhone, iPad and computers for secure transfer
  • Password protect files
  • 12-MB/second transfer speed

What's not on the list and what may be the most appealing feature is that the iXpand is just additional storage. It does not include WiFi to connect wireless to a router. No bridging, no Internet, no complications. Just storage.

iXpand Flash Drive. Cap removed to reveal USB connection.

SanDisk sent us the 64-GB iXpand for a test drive on our iPhone 6 Plus.


Specifications for the iXpand flash drive follow:

Interface Lightning and USB 2.0 connectors
Capacities 16-GB, 32-GB, 64-GB, 128-GB
Operating Temperature 0 to 60 degrees C
Dimensions 64.17mm x 36.78mm x 11.80mm
Battery 3.7 volt Li-ion battery
Pre-charged, ready to use
Supported Formats Images:
WMV, AVI, MKV, MP4, MOV up to 4-GB
Software Compatibility Windows Vista/7/8, Mac OS X v10.6+
DRM-protected data can't be streamed
Hardware Compatibility iPhone 5, iPhone 5C, iPhone 5S, iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, iPad Air TM, iPad mini TM, iPad with Retina display and newer (iOS 7.1+)
Warranty Two year limited warranty


The retail box contains:

  • The aluminum iXpand storage device with USB cap
  • Get Started card

The Get Started card is easy to miss. It's the paper cover on the tray that holds the iXpand itself. Pull it out to see how to make the physical connection and interpret the LED status light:

  • Blinking: Do not remove, file transfer in progress
  • Green: Charged
  • Red: Low battery, plug into a USB port
  • Amber: Charging

The more extensive User Guide (1.5-MB PDF) goes into more detail, particularly regarding the app.


There are a couple of design issues to keep in mind, we've found. Two are physical issues, the other is an iOS issue.

Physical Design

Our first impression of the iXpand's physical design was simply that it's awkward.

The Lightning plug is on a flexible finger you have to bend up to connect to your iOS device. After connecting, the shiny rails of the case ride on the bottom of your iOS device at a steep angle. It looks like a mistake.

Attached. Odd angle actually works well. Mouse over or tap for captions.

However, it's actually not a bad design at all. In fact, you really appreciate the angle on a small hand-held device like your phone. It gets the flash drive out of your way.

SanDisk told us the unusual design protects the drive's unique flexible connector and allows you to connect the drive to your device without removing any protective case you've put on the device.

The other physical issue is the size of the device. With high capacity microSD cards requiring very little real estate you might wonder why the iXpand is so large.

It's the battery. And battery power is a great idea because it makes the iXpand independent of your device's precious battery power.

Details. Mouse over or tap for captions.

The drawback is that the device is too wide to share adjacent USB ports on a computer. You'll want a short extension cord to connect it.

iOS Design

The problem with iOS is that it doesn't have a file system. Each app manages its own files and no other app can see what's going on.

That means moving a document off your iOS device to a storage device like the iXpand can sometimes also disable your ability to open the file. This is true of iBooks and Kindle documents, for example.

But it isn't true of PDFs, music, photos and movies.

Well, it doesn't support Digital Rights Managed protected movies (anything stored in iTunes).


Once connected, you launch the app to view the contents of the iXpand.

As shipped, the iXpand contains directories for three document categories: Music, Photos and Videos. PDFs, encryption software and other documents just float in the root directory.

Documents. Root display.

Music. List View.

Photos. Grid View.

Videos. List View.

You can change view from a list to a grid (probably more appealing for photos) as well as the sort order (ascending or descending) and the key (alphabetical, date added, file type).

Layout Options. Grid, Sort, Order.

Slide Shows. Transition, Duration.

There are also a few setup options available from the Menu. And there's a very handy display of battery capacity and storage (on both the iXpand and your iOS device) in the app, too.

In addition, SanDisk told us the app looks for firmware updates for the iXpand and will notify you on launch of any update. In fact, iXpand firmware updates are not posted on the support site.

Menu. Camera Sync, Gauges.

Settings. Security, Naming options.

To test the iXpand, we copied some photos in various formats to the Photos directory and a 2-GB wedding movie we made to the Videos directory. We also created a Documents directory and copied some PDFs and a Word document to it.


It displayed our 390-page Beginner's Flash without a problem (and it looked very nice, too).

But our 60-page (but heavily-illustrated) A Visit to Yosemite exceeded the 10-MB limit and wouldn't open.

We tried a text file and had no problem with it. And the same for a Word DOCX file.


Music playback was no mystery. Just tap a tune in the list and it plays.

The interface presents a Pause button surrounded by double arrows to go to the previous or next tune in the list.

There's also a Share button that lets you mail, share, copy, print and open the image in another app.


We created a folder called My Photos within the Photos directory to see if the app could handle nested folders. No problem.

You can play the folder as a slide show with a page curl transition. Tap the gear icon to pick between a Flip (right or left) or Curl (up or down) transition and durations of either two or three seconds.

You can also just tap an image and use pinch/zoom gestures to look at it more closely. A Share button lets you mail, share, copy, print and open the image in another app.

You can set up either an automatic or manual sync that will back up your Camera Roll photos to the iXpand. With an automatic sync, new images in the Camera Roll are copied to the iXpand when you connect the device.

The same Menu option for Camera Sync can manually copy in either direction with its Sync Now command.


Our hour-long, 2-GB wedding video opened immediately on the iPhone and played beautifully, offering the familiar Pause, Share and Delete options.

Password Protection

You can enable password protection using SanDisk SecureAccess software for specific files from the Menu>Settings>Security option. When you enable the feature, you can set a password.

With password protection enabled, the software creates a folder named SanDiskSecureAccess Vault on the iXpand. Files moved into that folder can only be accessed with the password.

To access secured files on either OS X or Windows, you first install the SecureAccess software for either platform as well as a software component on the iXpand. Launching the utility on your computer will prompt for the password to access the locked files.


The iXpand flash drive is available at Amazon in four capacities: 16-Gb ($71), 32-GB ($85), 64-GB ($100) and 128-GB ($150). Adorama ($100) and B&H ($90) also carry the 64-GB version.


We're partial to the wireless solutions we've reviewed, including the clever Kingston MobileLite. They have the added benefit of letting you share content, which is a big deal on a long road trip.

But you don't have to set up a bridged WiFi connection and switch to it when necessary if you just need more storage than your 16-GB iPhone or iPad provides.

For that, a plug-and-play solution is ideal and the SanDisk provides an intelligently designed solution with its iXpand. It is limited really only by iOS itself.

We could only find the one small disadvantage of having to plug and unplug the iXpand into your phone. Compared to switching WiFi connections, it's negligible.

So we're awarding all four corners to the iXpand. It' a keeper.

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