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    Iomega's SuperHero for iPhone provides an iTunes-free backup solution


    Personally, I have no issue with plugging my iPhone into my Mac every evening before I head to bed, recharging it, backing up my contacts and photos, and syncing my podcasts and music when I want it to. But I've heard before that a surprising number of iPhone (and iPod touch) users don't ever connect their devices to iTunes, and that theory is supported by Apple's big drive to go "PC Free" in iOS 5, leaving a PC or Mac connection out of the equation completely.

    For those not interested in connecting their iPhones to an actual computer every evening, Iomega is there with its SuperHero dock system, which I saw earlier this year at CES and tried out recently. The device is basically just a dock which plugs into the wall, and has only a power cord input and an SD card slot on it. Combined with an app you can pick up free from the App Store (and in fact, you're prompted to download the app the first time you plug in), the dock automatically backs up photos and contacts onto an SD card, and charges your device.

    The device was $69.99 at launch, but is now available for as low as $39.99, and at that price, I can see a lot of good uses for it beyond just the most basic of someone who might not understand iTunes or deal with a full sync every time they plug an iPhone in. This could be a good solution for an office or school backup system, where you might not be able to install iTunes and run a full sync on a work PC. Or it might just be a good way to offload your contacts and photos, keeping them in yet another location.

    The actual setup runs smoothly -- it really is designed for newbies, as it only takes about three taps to install the app early on, and afterward the app runs without any prompting. Plug your iPhone into the dock and let it go. Backup of contacts is quick, though photos takes significantly longer. I just got back from a trip, and loading the 17 photos I took with my iPhone took around 30 minutes.

    Still, this kind of "set it and forget it" backup is very useful, and of course there are options to not run contact or photos backup if you don't want to.

    You can also restore contacts and photos directly from the dock itself, so if you ever need to replace your phone, that's all very easy to do, even without a computer. Unfortunately, I don't have multiple iPhones for testing, but presumably, you might be able to use this system to copy contacts over across multiple iPhones -- each backup file is named separately on the SD card (controlled by another option), but it might be possible to plug in a different iPhone, and restore the contacts from there.

    One issue I had is that there's no way of pausing or cancelling a backup in progress, short of just pulling your iPhone out of the dock. But then again, that works all right, and the sync will just pick up where it left off when you replace the phone, so it's probably better not to have the extra UI anyway.

    Finally, there's one more option to encrypt contacts with a password if you like, providing a layer of security (which might be important if you set this up at your workplace). That's easy enough to do, though you have to remember that the security is only as good as your password, which you re-enter every time you run a restore.

    Iomega's SuperHero is a solid little device with quite a few different uses. Originally, I thought it was meant more as a dummy-proof way to get your iPhone backed up, but after using it, I can see quite a few places where a PC free way to get your iPhone's contacts and photos saved on an SD card could come in handy. It also works with the iPod touch.

    Even in Apple's brand new world of iCloud, where all of this information will be automatically saved on their servers, I can see reasons why the especially careful or paranoid might still want that extra backup functionality built into a charger, and especially after the drops in the SuperHero's price since launch, the SuperHero is a good deal. Iomega's made a weird little creature here with this dock, but it seems destined to be the platypus of iOS backup, sticking to old ways even when normal evolution might have deemed otherwise.

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