FlashTrax by SmartDisk is a portable storage device for backing up your digital camera pictures while on the road. I was able to test this unit out while on a vacation in Europe. FlashTrax safely stores images copied from any memory cards onto the built-in 30GB USB 2.0 hard drive and displays them on a 3.5" LCD that outperforms tiny on-camera screens. A built-in MP3 player makes this device even more attractive! FlashTrax allows you to store, view and play all sorts of media files, all in one palm-size portable device.

Included in the box is the unit itself, a rechargeable Lithium-Ion battery, video cable, USB cable, AC adapter w/power cord, Remote Control with 2-AAA batteries, a soft carrying case, and a 25 page Manual.

System Menu

The battery life indicator is indicated in percent. Most of the time it seemed stuck on 100% and was not very accurate at that. On a nearly dead battery, it would show 60% and then completlely die in 10 seconds. Battery life for the fastest slideshow was a modest 1 hour. Extra batteries (2200 mAh) are available at $69. each, or use the included 5v AC adapter. The AC adapter accepts a 100-250 VAC input so you can use it overseas without an power converter. The battery recharges in about 3 hours.

Power Menu with different options

To use the device you don't even have to turn it on! Just insert the card in the front compact flash type 1 and II card slot and press the copy button. The unit powers on, creates a folder with todays date (yyyymmdd) along with a letter 'a' for the first folder, 'b' for the second folder for this date, 'c' ..etc. and copies the contents of the memory card to this newly created folder. For example: 20030920a
A 256 mb CF card took 4 ½ minutes to copy to FlashTrax, you should be able to download 4-6GB of data before the battery runs out. When using an IBM microdrive, expect a little less.

A 4-in-1 Media Adapeter from Smartdisk ($79) allows you to download SmartMedia, Memory Stick, Secure Digital cards, and MMC.

FlashTrax with Memory card adapter

Memory card adapter with Memory stick

Let's View the pictures!
Clicking the power button doesn't quite power up the unit, you need to hold the button down at least one second, which is sometimes annoying and then you have to wait another second or two for any lights to start blinking indicating that it's booting up and then the screen flickers and turns on. When it boots up, you see a windows explorer type interface sitting with the root FlashTrax folder and the media card folder. Using the 'Enter' button to enter folders and the 'Esc' button to back out along with the arrow keys let you navigate around. Using the mode selection button allows you to choose 'Photo', 'File' or 'Music'. Selecting 'Photo' filters out all other filetypes so when you are navigating around, you only see 'Photo' type files. Selecting 'File' allows you to see all files, and selecting 'Music' filters out all other files except 'mp3'.

Choose the type of file you want to view

Windows-like file explorer

Exif information on a Picture

The pictures look nice and sharp on this large 3.5" lcd display! Sure beats any digital camera! Zoom can be accomplished in 2 ways, first by using the zoom in and out buttons. Another way by pressing the Fn key will display a 3x3, 4x4, and a 2x2 grid with an active square. Use the cursor keys to move the active square around and hit enter to zoom in on that square. Using the mode key rotates the picture 90 degrees clockwise. Rotated pictures look extremely small since they now occupy only half the screen, it's probably best to just rotate the FlashTrax - it's nice and light! There is no way to save or mark the picture as rotated - each time you view the picture, you'll need to rotate the picture each time you view it.

Zoom Mode with region highlighted. Zoom button zooms in on this rectangle.

Rename a file using cursor keys to select a letter.

Slide show
The slide show works great, it easily hooks up to any TV with a video input and choose a delay time between pictures. You can only do a slide show of pictures inside the current folder, there is no recursive feature to also display a folder of pictures in the current folder. Also zoom and rotate are disabled for slide shows, so your portrait pictures are now gonna show up sideways without anyway of rotating them. It would be nice to be able to 'hide' some pictures or select what pictures will be in the slideshow. No one wants to see all 20 shots of the Eiffel Tower each with a slightly different exposure. I just want to show my best one!

Setting up a slide show

There's also a manual slideshow and included is a nice remote for navigating while relaxing in your easychair watching your vacation pictures. Why did they make the 'enter' button the smallest button on the remote right in between two other buttons? You need to use the tip of your finger to use the enter button on the remote.

Remote control included.

Playing Music
The music sounds good, controls on the side include play/pause, forward, reverse, volume and a hold lock, which holds all the settings and prevents you from accidentally hitting a button. Where's Bass and Treble? You have to stop the music, navigate with 5 button presses to get to the Bass and Treble, and how are you supposed to adjust the bass and treble without any music playing?

Music Play options.

Simple Text files can be read! Eleven rows by 38 columns gives you large text to read.

Easy Hook-up
The unit hooked up plug-n-play on my Windows 2000 machine without the need for a driver! It shows up in Windows explorer as another harddrive. Copying files from the FlashTrax to my computer was fast using the USB 2.0 interface.

SmartDisk is constantly updating the device, adding new filetypes and bug fixes. They've just added support for Canon 10D and Minolta Raw files with a free upgrade. Now why can't Adobe offer a free upgrade for Canon 10D raw file support instead of making us wait until the next release of Photoshop? Upgrades are easy, download the 2meg upgrade from the website, unzip the file to a 4 meg file, copy the file to the FlashTrax root directory, click 'Install now' and reboot!

The FlashTrax is a great small unit that will benifit most photographers who like to travel, but don't want to lug around a laptop or buy 10 or more cards to store their pictures. Perfect for a cruise, or vacations for the avid photographer who wants to travel light. Plus it has the added benifit of playing music and displaying and sharing the pictures. Priced at $499. for the 30-gig model, I would like to have seen a longer battery life. For more information visit Smartdisk.




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