When working around the house, you can’t beat the trusty adjustable wrench to loosen a wide variety of nuts and bolts. A good wrench replaces a whole toolbox of metric and standard wrenches, both open ended, and closed. There is an ever increasing myriad of devices using all sorts of flash cards. In fact, I wrote an article just on flash cards a few months back. With so many different cards used in MP3 players, digital cameras, PDA’s, and now even cell phones, clearly a better tool is needed to deal with the chaos and clutter of so many wires, adaptors, and single card readers. (Note to manufacturers: While it may be profitable, there is truly NO need for at least the next decade to introduce any more memory card formats!)
Enter the 15 in 1 flash card reader. Today, we’re looking at two versions of the device, one from Belkin, and the other from Kensington. They both promise to be the trusty combo wrench of flash cards- and with the piles of cards and wires around, I could definitely use it. Let’s see how each accomplishes its mission.
Belkin 15-in-1 Media Reader & Writer
First we look at Belkin’s 15-in-1 Media Reader & Writer. I’ve heard of multiformat writers before, but this device is truly the combination wrench of flash cards. Belkin makes my single media card type (CF) reader rather obsolete in an oh so 90’s kind of way. The Belkin 15-in-1 can read and write just about every media card on the market today. It is also a USB 2.0 device, which is an advantage. While internal flash card readers are manufactured, in my opinion, it is a waste to use a precious drive bay for a peripheral that functions so well using USB. Also, we can use the Belkin 15-in-1 Writer across multiple computers with the plug and play ease that USB provides.
What’s In The Box
-Belkin 15-in1 Media Reader & Writer (model# F5U249)
dimensions: 4 1/8” x 2 3/16” x 5/8”
-USB cord, length 43”
-software including driver, and Ulead DVD Picture Show SE Basic
Belkin’s 15-in-1 Media Reader & Writer sports an attractive black and metallic silver color scheme made out of plastic. The size strikes a perfect balance of being substantial enough for desktop use, but still portable enough for taking it on the road. The front features four slots of varying sizes to accommodate the different card types as follows:
1- Compact Flash Type I
2- Compact Flash Type II
3- IBM Microdrive
5- Secure Digital
6- Mini Secure Digital*
7- MultiMedia Card
8- Reduced Size MultiMedia Card*
9- xD Picture Card
10- Memory Stick
11- Memory Stick Duo*
12- Memory Stick Pro
13- Memory Stick Pro Duo*
14- Memory Stick MagicGate
15- Memory Stick MagicGate Duo*
*requires the use of an adaptor provided with the card
Unlike some other multiformat readers, this one appears as four separate drives when connected to the USB port, instead of just one. A USB 2.0 port is needed to take advantage of the faster speeds, but was compatible with older USB 1.1 ports as well in testing. Even with no software driver installed, the reader appears as four drives via the Window’s USB storage class driver which is useful if using a buddy’s computer (as in “Yeah, you can use my computer for a few minutes if you have to, but definitely don’t install any software and junk it up”). With the driver installed each of the four drives gets a distinct icon and label as to the type of card it can handle. The advantage of this setup is that you can transfer data from one card to another directly as long as they fit into different slots on the unit.
The included cord has a generous 43” length unlike many devices sold today. Even users with only rear accessible USB ports on a desktop will have nothing to complain about. Also, the Belkin Media Writer is built with a green LED on top that flashes when reading or writing. This alerts the user to not remove the card during the process if they don’t wish to corrupt their data (or in rare cases, the card itself).
The Belkin 15-in-1 had no difficulty reading and writing to the following cards during testing: Compact Flash, Secure Digital, and MultiMedia Cards. One quirk, is that the SD/MMC slot requires that the card be inserted upside down to be accessed. Each of the cards fit easily, and securely into the appropriate slot. Unfortunately, the slots are not labeled, but it’s pretty easy to figure this out. The performance was identical regardless if the software was installed or not.
The included software program is Ulead’s DVD PictureShow 2 SE Basic. It is a simplified version of Ulead’s DVD PictureShow. The program is designed to enable you to make a VideoCD that will play a slideshow. The slideshow can be up to 36 photos, and include music and video clips. Some set top DVD players support this format, and it’s a neat way to send pictures to a loved one. It would be better if the program wrote to DVD discs, but as a thrown in freebie, it’s a decent program.
-perfect size accommodates desktop and portable applications
-supports all current formats
-USB 2.0 interface
-appears as 4 drives enabling card to card transfers directly, no driver required
-each drive with distinctive icon in “My Computer” with driver installed
-LED on device
-Ulead DVD PictureShow 2 SE Basic included
-cards fit snuggly and deeply in slots
-slots not labeled on device as to card types
-1 LED for all 4 drives
-needs adaptors for mini card formats
-no included travel case
Kensington Pocket Media Center
Not to be outdone, Kensington also has a flash card reader and writer that supports 15 types of memory cards. Read on to see that the same 15 cards formats are not supported (I certainly didn’t expect this twist). The Kensington model has the ambitious name of “Pocket Media Center.” The unique aspect of the Kensington model is that it also doubles as a powered USB hub. In my case, with all the hardware
I’ve been playing with, the old adage could be modified to “You can never be too rich, too thin, have too much money, or have too many USB ports.” The Kensington unit adds 3 USB 2.0 ports to your setup, and they are definitely put to good use around my desktop.
What’s In The Box
Kensington’s Pocket Media Center is constructed out of black plastic, wrapped in a stainless steel enclosure. Kensington’s product is larger than the Belkin unit, but the brushed metal adds a sense of solidness to it. While this is very attractive and avant garde (with the best use of stainless steel since the DeLorean graced the screen of “Back To The Future”), unfortunately, there are no rubberized feet on the bottom to keep it from scratching your computer case or desktop where the unit will rest. I’ll have to pick up those round felt things on my next trip to the Home Depot to keep my Shuttle aluminum case from being scratched up like steel wool was rubbed onto it. On the plus side, each of the 4 slots has a label as to which type of card it can handle: Compact Flash/Microdrive, Memory Stick, Smart Media, and Secure Digital/ MultiMedia Card. This makes it easier to know where to put the cards. The unit neither includes, nor requires any software or driver for its use. Here is the list of the 15 card types supported:
1- Compact Flash Type I
2- Compact Flash Type II
3- Compact Flash Ultra 2
4- Compact Flash Ultra 3
5- Compact Flash Extreme
6- IBM Microdrive
7- Secure Digital
8- Mini Secure Digital
9- Secure Digital Ultra
10- Secure Digital Extreme
11- Memory Stick
12- Memory Stick Duo
13- Memory Stick Pro
14- SmartMedia Card
15- MultiMedia Card
While the above list is impressive, two things should be noted. First, it is not specified if an adaptor is needed for the smaller card types such as Mini Secure Digital and Memory Stick Duo. As the slots look similar to the Belkin unit, I would assume you do (I don’t own any mini cards to test my hypothesis- yet). The second issue is that the Kensington unit is not compatible with xD Picture Card media; if you own a Fuji or Olympus digital camera you’re out of luck.
The Kensington unit installed easily. It is a plug and play USB device, and the unit appears as 4 separate drives in “My Computer,” allowing direct card to card transfers between slots. Kensington designed this to be powered, so there are two separate wires: one for the USB, and the other for the AC power. On the back of the unit is a red LED that indicates power, there isn’t any LED indication of card activity. The USB ports are on the back of the unit, so you have to spin it around to access the ports. Unfortunately, the 2 wires come out opposite sides of the unit, it would more streamlined if they came out of the same side and could be zip tied together as they worked their way back to behind the computer and the spaghetti of wires underneath my desk. The wires are long enough that the Kensington unit could sit on a desk, with the computer on the floor. This is ideal for “temporary” USB devices, such as MP3 players, or USB flash drives and how I would intend to use this. It’s great to have the USB ports on my desk with the computer out of the way on the floor, and no need to bend down to access the ports on the computer. For some reason, Kensington is marketing this as a portable device, and includes a travel bag to fit the Pocket Media Center, and the 2 wires. In my opinion, this is superfluous, as I doubt most folks will be moving this around. I will say that the Kensington travel bag was well done as it includes their logo, and has a divider in the bag to keep the stainless steel Media Center from getting scratched by the metal ends on the two cords.
-appears as 4 separate drives
-no driver required
-can do card to card transfers
-3 powered USB ports
-labeled slots to indicate card types
-included travel bag
-LED indicates power
-faster read speeds
-no feet to prevent scratched surfaces
-wires exiting on either end of device contribute to clutter
-no xD Picture Card support
-no LED to indicate read/write status
-no software to show on “My Computer” different card types
-cards don’t fit as snuggly as in Belkin unit
Of course, in the spirit of pushing hardware to the max, I wondered which of the devices was the fastest at reading their cards. For this test I used a Secure Digital 128 MB card from SanDisk for the flash card test media. This read speeds were measured using HD Tach 184.108.40.206 available from Simpli Software. When the testing was done, the answer was clear.
With its separate AC power, the Kensington Pocket Media Center was a notch faster at reading tasks. The Kensington averaged 7.5 MB/s, besting the Belkin’s 6.2 MB/s average reading score. This works out to 21% faster and is useful to know if you are planning to read several gig’s of flash cards on a daily basis. The burst speeds were similarly separated as well.
Once you get a 15-in-1 flash card writer, you’ll be wondering how you ever got along without it. While not as exciting as an iPod, it’s a supporting peripheral that improves your workflow, and speeds up a variety of different applications. In my mind, there is no clear winner here, they both are very good. For the user who also wants to use it with their notebook, or shared with a few desktops, than Belkin has the advantage, with xD Picture Card support as a bonus. There is also less clutter from not having a separate AC cord. On the other hand, if you could benefit from some extra USB ports on your desk, and the faster read speeds, than the Kensington unit with its attractive styling is a nice choice as long as you don’t intend to move it around. Until we need a 20-in-1 Reader & Writer, both the Belkin or Kensington units are an ideal solution for a variety of users:
-The Power User
The graphics pro who needs to read every card on the market with ease would be a perfect candidate for such a device. No need to turn away a client for not being able to read their flash card.
-The Mobile Photographer
The photographer on the go, owning several different brands of cameras using different cards, and needing access to their photos in the field without toting a crate of wires, extra cards and adaptors should reserve a spot in their notebook case for this peripheral.
-The Multi-Camera Household
Not only will it make it easier to grab the pics off of each family member’s camera, but it will save money on batteries as well by allowing the cameras to stay off during imports.
-The Frequent Music Shuffler
This is where I envision using mine the most. If you like to change music often on the removable card for the flash player, and don’t wish to take all day doing it, this is a breeze. No longer do I have to listen to “The Best of Bob Dylan” for 3 weeks!
It’s ok to admit it. I did this before I found my first USB thumb drive on sale. Recycle the old memory card from the digital camera to shuttle data. And access it quickly with the reader/writer. Hey, we all have to do something to keep filling our tanks with $2.50 per gallon gas! An added bonus is that the cards are smaller than many of the USB thumb drives out today.
The Belkin 15-in-1 Media Reader & Writer, as well as the Kensington Pocket Media Center are most definitely LD Approved. I congratulate both companies for a job well done as well as their innovation in this product category.