iTwin – Hands On With the Network Magic Maker (Video)

Woo! You’re going to watch a video! You’re gonna subscribe to our YouTube channel too, right? Don’t answer that, I trust you. Anyways…

We’ve already brought you a little taste of the iTwin back in December; we were so excited to get our hands on this novel new product that we couldn’t restrain ourselves from releasing a preview for you to chew on while we played with the product. Well, now that are we a month into the future, we’ve got the details you want to hear before you open your wallet – Does it really live up to the hype??

First and foremost, we made a video (you’re not blind, right?)! It’s mostly a demo of the installation process, with some thoughts and a quick overview of the product as a refresher. I promise it’s worth it.

Hardware:

Safely nestled in impact absorbing hollowed rectangles of cellular plastic!

The iTwin is a hell of a lot easier on the eyes than any flash drive I’ve ever owned. It sports a sleek, single piece aluminum body that comes in either ‘gunmetal’ or lime green. It also has a pair of LEDs on each half which let you know what the device is doing; Solid green means its good to go, blinking green means it’s moving files, and red means you’ve failed (which is hard to do with this device). Other than that, there really isn’t much to it.

On top of beauty, the build quality of the iTwin feels solid. The single piece shell makes for a sturdy case, and neither the USB plug or the pairing connection has wiggle or play. Everything is just impeccably fit and packed in nice and tight. This could change with use, and I imagine a firm impact while it’s plugged into your computer might loosen it up, but any USB device is prone to that.

My only gripe with the iTwin on the hardware side is the lack of any means to attach the iTwin to a key-chain.  About the only things I can keep track of in life are my wallet, keys and phone, so any means by which to attach the mobile half of the iTwin to my keys would be a huge advantage. You could always keep it in a backpack, binder, etc., but it sort of precludes (for me) just bringing it out with me in my everyday travels. That is really just a personal preference, though.

Second gripe (I lied), I can’t hold on to the damn thing! If I try to grip it by the thin sides, it keeps popping out!

Success!!

It seems silly to say, but sometimes I have to hold it like that to plug it into my desktop; for instance,  I may be plugging it into the back, or next to another USB device, or somewhere else I can’t hold it by the broad side where my fingers would get in the way.  The sides are so perfectly round and smooth that it just keeps sliding out between my finger. It has on at least on occasion taken me about 10 tries to plug it in.

Software:

We only tested the iTwin on Windows 7, but it is compatible with with other Windows distributions  (XP, Vista) as well as Mac OS X 10.6 and up. As such, the interface we’re covering will be specific to Windows (and maybe OS X, but I haven’t actually seen it).

Once you’re plugged in, you’ll go through a quick and painless install, where you click maybe two buttons (‘Run’, and ‘English’… unless you speak something else), and you’re all set to go. You’ve now got a new virtual drive that will show up in ‘computer’ as a system folder, not much different than you’d see any other storage device. You’ll also have a tray icon down on your taskbar that will give you access as well.

The software interface should look familiar, and is very simple to use. The iTwin will differentiate between your ‘local’ files and ‘remote’ files, local being the files on the computer you are sitting at, and remote obviously the ones on the other computer. You’ll have a reminder of which you are working with at the bottom right of the window, and either can be accessed at any time by right clicking the tray icon or anywhere on the interface area. If you have both halves connected when you plug into the computer, you’ll also have the option to set a password, which will be synced onto both halves of the device.

That’s about all there is to say about the software interfaces. Pretty simple, with no instability or problems noted by us so far. Really don’t have a bad word to say.

Performance:

Since the iTwin utilizes your the internet to connect the two computers you plug it into, logically, you are going to be limited by your connection speed. In order to see how well the iTwin servide transfers the files, and whether or not the pairing and authentication causes any choke points, we did a few tests with varying files types and sizes to check the access times.,

We found that the access time varied pretty heavily with file size, but over all the access to most files was quick, if not instant. With a solid connection you’ll be quickly accessing reasonably sized files , such as images, word documents, small videos, on the order of 5-10 seconds, increasing to maybe 20-30 seconds for very large image or word files.

If you happen to use the iTwin to connect computers that are on the same LAN, you’ll be getting your files instantaneously. The iTwin appears to recognize that it can use the local network, and lets you know it is doing it. This makes for a good tool to swap files around if you don’t have a cross-over cable, or the computers aren’t set up for sharing.

As for large transfers, the iTwin is not a solution. We ran a side by side transfer of a large file (1 GB+) through both a torrent service and through iTwin for a rough comparison. the torrented file took about 20-30 minutes, and the iTwin took a whopping 2+ hours to transfer the exact same file.  So for piracy, the iTwin is not.

Capabilities/Utility:

This is sort of a special section I decided to throw in to cover the rest of the points I wanted to cover, relating to the beneficial capabilities the iTwin will give you, but also some considerations and limitations you may want to keep in mind before you buy.

Let’s start off on a high note with a couple of great new capabilities the folks over at iTwin have added since our initial product preview.

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The iTwin is now capable of cross platform use and multi-access file collaboration. Both of these are big additions, especially the collaborative capabilities. Basically, you can sync multiple iTwin halved (up to 20) to a single computer. You can also set permissions for particular pairs, so if you don’t quite trust one of your colleagues, you can always nerf his file permissions.

With all the capabilities, and ease of use the iTwin is bringing to the table, it positions itself well to compete with cloud storage services, which I see as the iTwin’s biggest competitor. Though the iTwin weights in at a relatively hefty initial investment of $100, you’re paying a one time cost and you’re only going to be limited in storage capacity by the drive size in your computer. Cloud computing will get you maybe 1-2 GB of storage for free, but any more than that and you’ll be looking at subscription service (up to $100 a year in some places), and you may get 30 GB or so for the price. 1-2 GB may be enough for you, and if that’s the case you may want to go with cloud computing. If you’re looking to host a large collection of files, though, the iTwin will easily pay for itself.

Also, the simplicity of use will really help this product extend into a consumer base that is less tech savvy, bringing file sharing capabilities to even folks who are just now wrapping their heads around flash drives. You really don’t need to know ANYTHING to use this product, and that will make it ideal to bring your parents, grandparents, family, and friends of all walks into the world of file sharing (not the evil ‘pirating’ kind, mind you), whether it’s accessing their own files on the go or sharing photos/videos with the ones living across the country.

That shouldn’t kill the allure for folks who are capable with computers though, as this product could be equally capable of supporting business, artistic, or academic collaboration and sharing, especially with the new iTwin Multi feature.

Also, and this was brought up by a coworker of mine, when you share a file by dragging it or pasting it into the iTwin folder, you aren’t duplicating the file. So if you want to share a ton of files, don’t worry about the shared versions taking up extra disk space; the iTwin doesn’t duplicate the files to its own folder, it just accesses them where they are. This lets you share even you’re whole hard drive, or multiple hard drives, with out moving or duplicating files. On the flip side, if you shared something off an external drive/flash drive, and then remove the external drive/flash drive, you’ll no longer be able to access the file through the iTwin.

It’s not all happiness and joy though, everything has a down side, and the iTwin is no exception.

One of the hurdles I see for this product is the necessity to have the home computer running for access, especially if you are planning on going on a vacation with it, or using it every day. That can amount to a pretty hefty electric bill if you aren’t careful. This may not be a problem if you’re trying to access work files from home (who cares what you’re employer’s electric bill is?), but most people don’t keep a server running at home, and  may shy away from starting the practice. It wouldn’t be bad if it is sporadic, but as a day to day solution, you may want to consider the costs associated with keeping your home computer on.

Another consideration, and this is more a firm limitation on the iTwin, is you need to install it on every computer you want to use it on. That was easy, though, so who cares, right?  …well that unfortunately means you need administrative rights, and sometimes that can be a problem.

I thought this product would be great for college students to replace their flash drives and access their files from home in the computer lab, but that was before I realized it needed to be installed. Many universities, as a security matter, restrict users in computer labs from installing software, or perhaps restricting the user to installing trusted applications. In either event, you wont have the administrative rights you need to install your iTwin, and you’ll be SOL. Some workplaces also have this policy (mine does), so you may also be out of luck there. If your university or workplace don’t have these restrictions, the iTwin would be an awesome product, but I know many do.

I would suggest that you consider how you want to use this product and make sure it will work for you before buying.

Summary:

The iTwin is a very capable little device. With a sleek and sturdy design, quick access speeds, and a user friendly interface, you really can’t go wrong. I think it has a huge amount of potential to bring remote file access and cloud-style storage to users who aren’t capable of doing so otherwise, and add some serious capability and benefit to many of those who already do. With new collaborative features with permission controls, that will also bring a huge amount of variety to the type applications the iTwin can be used for, and makes for a versatile file access/storage solution.

There are obviously some limitations that will make the investment unappetizing to some, the possible permissions hurdles to installing the software in some locations, needing to keep your home computer running all day, or even the necessity of online access (wont be any good if you’re working unplugged) to name a few. For a broad audience of every-day tech users, though,  most will find something of value in the iTwin, and will greatly enjoy the capabilities it has to offer.

Pros:

  • Incredibly user friendly interface
  • Easy, quick setup
  • Secure access: Encrypted connection, physical pairing, optional password protection
  • Lost iTwin can be remotely deactivated using a personalized PIN
  • Storage space limited only by the space on your computer
  • One time cost (compared to cloud storage)
  • Collaborative features with permission control
  • Cross Platform Capability – Windows (XP, Vista, 7) / OS X 10.6+

Cons:

  • Requires installation (and Administrator Rights)
  • Requires home computer to be running

t3chniq’s final verdict: We wholly approve! Get one if you have the cash.

Comments (2)

  1. PlugStorage