If we said Hitachi's got a new line of external hard drives, you'd probably walk away -- but what if they were the smartest bricks of magnetic memory you'd ever seen? That's how Hitachi is billing the new LifeStudio array of drives, which feature not only the standard rotating disks, but also dockable USB keys, software that auto-organizes your media, and several gigabytes of cloud storage. At $80 for a basic 250GB 2.5-inch disk and $220 for the premium 2TB desktop unit, they're not the cheapest external storage on the block, but they claim to do so much more than store that we just had to give them a try. Read our full impressions after the break.
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Hitachi LifeStudio unboxing and hands-on



Hardware


LifeStudio comes in four flavors, each with several capacities. Where "Desk" SKUs are chunky contraptions with 3.5-inch, 7200 RPM disks, the "Mobile" units have cradles with detachable 2.5-inch, 5400 RPM laptop drives. Meanwhile, "Plus" adds a $20 premium for a dockable USB key -- which makes the LifeStudio Mobile Plus 500GB we tested (above) the maximum in portability for a retail value of $139.99. All four units have rakish curves and glossy surfaces that make them quite pleasing to the eye, but we have to wonder what Hitachi was thinking with the rounded front foot -- assuming your USB cable isn't taut, the slightest nudge can bowl these drives right over. Otherwise the hardware's well-thought-out, with user-friendly tweaks all over. The cradle attaches both docked drives via a double-headed USB cable, but there's an AC adapter socket if you don't have two ports open, and when removed the 2.5-inch external disk needs only a single mini-USB line to function. More impressive was the thumbdrive which attaches magnetically, with recessed contacts in its rear -- not only is it a USB key but a user-upgradable one, too, as it hides a 4GB microSD card by default.

Software


When they're not connected to your Mac or Windows PC, the LifeStudio units are indeed just dumb drives, but as soon as you plug them in you're greeted with a very user-friendly interface indeed. Powered by Cooliris, a popular media browsing plug-in for several web browsers, the LifeStudio software is a massive extension of the same idea -- where Cooliris lets you simply browse online video, pictures, news and folders you specify, LifeStudio combs every drive attached to your computer (and Facebook, Flickr and Picasa should you provide credentials) to populate media repositories as well. This is a fantastic thing if you don't know where you put your pictures, but can be a liability, too -- be sure you trust who you share your computer with, as it will find media you might not want to show off.

Once it's got a bead on your media, you can pick through categories (or by year or month) and LifeStudio will display it in an interactive 3D wall, but it doesn't take a lot of manipulation to see the interface isn't quite ready for primetime. No matter how you arrange it, the Cooliris wall only lets you scroll through 160 items at a time, so if you've taken more than 160 pictures in a given month (or have more than 160 albums in your collection, etcetera) you're out of luck. Though many dedicated photo gallery applications (and operating systems, for that matter) let you sort by size, color, geotag and a variety of parameters these days, here search only finds text in filenames and you can't sort content at all. The ability to dive through Hulu, YouTube and the like in the 3D interface is fairly neat, but the exact same HD videos were slow and choppy in LifeStudio compared to playback in our regular browser.

Thankfully, where it counts -- backups and syncing -- Hitachi did a fantastic job, as just a few clicks after installing the drive we were backing up files to local storage. Another pair of clicks let us pick folders to backup and decide how often to do so, and one more had us rapidly restoring that entire backup from the local drive. Sadly, we weren't able to properly test Hitachi's cloud storage solution (which offers 3GB for free, but hopes you'll pay for 250GB at $49 a year), but we were just as pleased with the interface -- signing up required only a username and password, and the backup process was equally easy. The sync functionality on the USB key, by contrast, didn't immediately work out of the box -- sort of like a local Dropbox, you pick a particular folder on your hard drive and key, then anything in one will automatically copy to the other as soon as LifeStudio detects the thumbdrive docked.

Speaking to Hitachi about our software concerns, reps assured us they were aware of issues and had a roadmap filled with features they intended to add soon -- for a hardware company that produces discrete products, Hitachi was very gung-ho about providing an ongoing service. Since we didn't see that eventual service in action, we can't really recommend it to our readers quite yet, and we ask you not to expect it to be the center of your media life, but it seems you will get a solid, user-friendly external storage solution with some neat additional twists should you decide to shell out for one of these drives.

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Hitachi GST Redefines External Storage with the LifeStudio™ Drive Family

Meet the Hard Drive Evolved: Going Beyond Simple Design Changes, Storage and Backup, Hitachi LifeStudio Drives are the First and Only All-in-One External Drives that Make it Easier to Organize, Protect and Relive Life's Greatest Moments


Industry Firsts / Product Highlights

* Automatic Organization and Easy Sharing: First drive in the industry that automatically pulls together and organizes your photos, videos, music and documents from your computer, any connected USB device or your social media outlets; making them easier to access, view and share. Easily upload, view and interact with photos on Facebook™, Flickr™ and Picasa Web Albums™ without leaving the app.
* Stunning 3D Navigation: The only external drive that effortlessly displays all your favorite memories on a 3D wall so you no longer need to dig through folders and files to find them.
* Backup Redefined: Hitachi LifeStudio drives take data protection to the next level, offering both local and online cloud backup in one integrated solution, within one interface – no more downloading and installing two separate programs. All online content is stored in its natural format, so files are available from any Internet browser anywhere in the world, and even from an iPhone® and iPad®.
* Access to Favorite Premium Content: For the first time within an external drive, users can search, filter, watch or subscribe to millions of titles from online content providers. Catch the latest news, TV shows and music videos, or even play online games all from within the LifeStudio app.
* Grab n' Go Flexibility: Pushing design boundaries beyond a hard drive in a box, LifeStudio Plus external drives are the first in the industry that feature an integrated USB key for ultimate flexibility. The USB key easily syncs content for grab n' go convenience.

SAN JOSE, Calif.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Meet the hard drive evolved: the Hitachi LifeStudio external hard drive family. During the last decade, external hard drives have offered little beyond design changes and simple storage and backup. With the new LifeStudio family, launched today by Hitachi Global Storage Technologies (Hitachi GST), the company is breaking through the long-established confines of the category and delivering an external drive that combines highly reliable storage and new levels of data protection with content organization, management, socialization and navigation for both local and online content.

"Our LifeStudio drive starts where others stop"

The LifeStudio family, offered in both portable and desktop models, creates an unprecedented solution that seamlessly pulls in, organizes and protects consumers' priceless stored digital content – photos, videos, music and documents – and unifies them with online digital content from social networks such as Facebook and photo sites such as Flickr and Picasa Web Albums. These important digital memories are laid out on a stunning 3D visual wall, instead of in random and hard-to-find files and folders, creating a comprehensive and organized catalog of the user's digital life. Redefining backup, consumers receive the benefits of both local and cloud backup within one single application, making it easy to view, download, and share protected cloud content from any web browser, anywhere.

"Our LifeStudio drive starts where others stop," said Mike Williams, vice president and general manager, Branded Business for Hitachi GST. "These drives aren't just about interfaces and capacity, or backup. While these elements are important in an external storage solution, the value comes in creating lifestyle solutions that become part of the way we organize and relive digital memories. Our LifeStudio solution connects consumers to their online and local content in a more intimate way than ever before. For the first time, consumers truly have an integrated experience – one solution to find, view, protect and relive their digital memories. This is a huge milestone for our category."

"Personal storage solutions have become an integral part of a consumer's digital life in terms of providing simple storage and backup," says Liz Conner, senior research analyst at IDC. "Pushing these boundaries, Hitachi's new LifeStudio drive brings an innovative approach to the market, addressing how consumers organize, navigate and relive digital memories, seamlessly across multiple digital devices and online sites. Coupled with Hitachi's local and cloud backup strategy, end users truly have an all-in-one solution to help manage their digital life."

Automatic Organization and Easy Sharing on a Stunning 3D Wall

Today it's not just early adopters using external drives to store and protect their digital lives - it's a huge segment of the population that are deeply connected to the content they create, collect and share. Hitachi research has shown that organization is one of the most frustrating components of a consumer's digital life. Often hectic lifestyles lead to a lack of time spent organizing the growing amount of digital content received daily. What's left is a random storage process, which multiplies a user's frustration when trying to backup, share, find and relieve memories. Additionally, much of what consumers' value from a content perspective is online and socialized on dozens or hundreds of sites. Hitachi is cleaning up the "digital mess" with the LifeStudio family of drives because, in the end, it's about content – protecting it, reliving it and sharing it.

After a quick install of the software, the drive's innovative technology instantly kicks in. Your content – photos, videos, music and documents stored on your computer, any connected USB storage device or online sites such as Facebook, Flickr and Picasa Web Albums – automatically begins to appear in chronological order on your stunning 3D wall. Music is organized by artist or album. Now all of your most precious digital content is easily available at your finger tips. No more searching through files and folders.

Breakthrough Backup

Revolutionizing the way consumers protect their content, the Hitachi LifeStudio drive is the first to provide local and online cloud backup integrated into one single solution, within one install process. The LifeStudio application gives users multiple ways to easily protect their digital content on site or in the cloud. Every customer receives 3GB of online storage for free and for more storage there is an option to upgrade to a quarter of a terabyte (250GB) for only $49 per year, which includes multiple computer protection.

Hitachi Backup™ is simple and easy-to-use with default options that cover virtually every Mac™ or PC™ users' backup needs. When using Hitachi's cloud service, all content is stored in its natural format (no proprietary formatting), so files are protected and easy to view, download and share from any web browser, anywhere, even from an iPhone® and iPad®. Backup runs every 30 minutes or can be scheduled at one's convenience.

LifeStudio Plus Drives with Integrated USB Keys

Hitachi understands the need to fit into consumers' fast-paced, increasingly digital lifestyles. The LifeStudio products move beyond a hard drive in a box, into a category all their own. The patent-pending design of the LifeStudio Plus family provides the ultimate in flexibility with an integrated 4GB USB key, which provides a quick way to sync important files and folders for grab n' go ease.

With the LifeStudio Plus family, the drive's content management software conveniently allows you to select specific files or folders to sync to the USB key. As a result, users can simply remove the key and take what they need, while leaving the rest of their content safely stored at home. On return, the key docks on the drive to automatically sync everything back together.

Pricing and Availability

Designed for both Mac and PC users, the LifeStudio USB 2.0 external drive family comes in both mobile and desktop solutions. Each comes preloaded with the Hitachi LifeStudio content management app and Hitachi Backup software. Hitachi LifeStudio external drives will be available at retail and online stores in mid-July.

LifeStudio Mobile $79.99

$99.99

$119.99

250GB

320GB

500GB

  • Platinum and graphite color options
LifeStudio Mobile Plus $119.99

$139.99

320GB

500GB

  • Platinum and graphite color options
LifeStudio Desk

$99.99

$129.99

$199.99

500GB

1TB

2TB

  • Black
LifeStudio Desk Plus $149.99

$219.99

1TB

2TB

  • Black