Windows 98SE, 2000, XP, Mac, and Linux machines with
a free USB port
Digital photographers have it made, they can snap as many pictures as they
desire and never have to worry that the pictures they end up printing will not
turn out as expected. While there are many advantages to going digital, there
are also a few caveats. One particular caveat is the fact that shooting high
resolution pictures require high capacity memory cards. Images from 4-8megapixel
cameras can vary in size from around 1megabyte to 16megabytes per picture
depending on the compression mode. It’s not hard to realize
that even a 1gb media card can be quickly filled to capacity.
Sure, you can buy extra memory cards and just swap them out as needed, but
what do you do when you’re on vacation and don’t have access a computer to
offload the pix at the end of the day? You can either go to a store and buy
another flash card, or you can travel with a product like the
QCool On-The-Go USB Portable Card Reader / HD
The QCool uses the same concept as the
Sony HDD Photo
Storage HDPS-M1 reviewed here a few months ago. I performs as a card reader,
external hard drive and an image tank. The Sony device was for
Memory Sticks only, while the QCool can read most of the popular card formats
available on the market today. Check out the specs…
Internal Battery: Lithium Ion Rechargeable (2hr average operating time per
External Power: 110/240V AC Adapter
Hard disk size: 2.5in/9.5mm
External Interface: USB 2.0
Card Formats Supported: CF (Type I & II), Microdrive, Memory Stick, Memory Stick
Pro, SD/MMC, SM, XD (with adapter – not included)
CD with drivers
Quick Start Guide
Screwdriver & screws
Physically the QCool is solid and compact. The front and back covers are made of
aluminum, while the sides have a slightly rubberized feel.
The front of the device has a small monochrome display that shows battery
level, space left on the internal hard drive and copy progress. The display is
easy to read in well lit conditions, but not so well in dim lighting. A
backlight would be a welcome addition.
The card readers are located on both sides of the QCool. On the left side,
there slot can accommodate a Memory Stick, SD/MMC card or SmartMedia card. Only
one at a time of course. Also on this side of the device are the On/Off switch
and Copy button. These buttons are both a little too easy to press and in my
opinion, their locations were not thought out very well. Many times I found
myself accidentally activating the buttons or causing an unwanted copy when I
picked up the device to move it. A better location for the buttons would be on
the top of the device.
The CompactFlash and Microdrive slot is located on the right side of the
QCool. You can actually have a CF/MD card plugged in and accessible while also
having a card inserted on the opposite side of the device. Files can be copied
back and forth from card to card or card to HD when using the QCool as just a
card reader or external hard drive.
The bottom of the QCool has the USB connector, DC in and charging status LED.
Out of the box, the QCool, it does not come with a hard drive installed.
Although you can use the QCool without a hard drive, doing so will only give you
a USB 2.0 card reader. Not exactly worth the $99 price tag eh? In order to take
advantage of the other features, you have to install a 2.5 inch (Standard
notebook size) IDE hard drive. For this review, I ordered a 2.5 inch 40gb
Fujitsu hard drive from Newegg.com.
Installation takes less than 5 minutes. All you do is remove the four screws
that hold on the back cover using the supplied screw driver. Then you plug in
the hard drive, replace the screws and you’re done.
Left to right: empty QCool shell, Fujitsu drive installed
After the drive is installed and the back cover is screwed securely into
place (they give you 2 spare screws in case you lose a couple), you must then
format the drive. To do this, you plug in the included USB cable to your PC, Mac
or Linux box. Then you use a utility to format the drive. After reading the 4
page Quick Start guide included with the QCool, I launched the compmgmt.msc
application which is part of Windows XP.
According to the directions, you’re supposed to format the drive with the
FAT32 file system. Well, when I tried formatting my 40gb drive, the only option
I had was to format using NTFS. So I went ahead and used that format, not
thinking it would really make a difference… ummm… wrong! Keep reading…
After the drive was formatted, I plugged the QCool in to charge the internal
Li-ion battery. The LED on the bottom of the device glows red while charging and
then green when finished. 3 hrs later, the battery was fully charged and I was
ready to begin testing the device.
The first thing I did was plug it into my desktop computer using the USB
cable. Under XP, it shows up automatically as regular hard drive. Copying files
to and from it worked great.
My next test was to plug in a CF card. Boom, it showed up as a removable
drive on my desktop. I was then able to copy files from the CF card to either my
PC’s hard drive, or the internal hard drive in the QCool. I then plugged in an
SD card and was then able to copy files back and forth from the SD to the CF and
internal hard drive. Everything was working fine.
I was now ready to try copying files from the inserted flash cards to the
internal hard drive. I plugged in a CF card full of pictures, turned on the
QCool and pressed the Copy button. Nothing happened… I pressed the button
again. Nada. I unplugged the CF card and inserted an SD card. Pressed the Copy
button. Still nothing! I tried every card that I owned and had no success at
all. By this time, I realized that the problem was probably due to me formatting
the drive as NTFS instead of FAT32. But without the option to format as FAT32, I
was stumped. So I emailed the folks at QCool for some help.
The next day at my day job, I happened to mention my plight to Bill (author
of the Sony device review) and he automatically knew what the problem was as
soon as I told him I wasn’t able to format the drive using FAT32. XP won’t allow
you to format a primary partition larger than 32gb using FAT32. The drive I
purchased was 40gb… A little Googling verified this fact quite quickly.
That night when I got home, I showed the QCool who was boss by creating an
extended partition of 6gb, leaving a primary partition of 32gb which could then
be formatted using FAT32. Hallelujah!
It would be nice if the Quick Start Guide would have stated that you can not
format partitions bigger than 32gb using FAT32. This would have saved me some
Once I was able to fix that problem, copying from the flash cards to the
internal hard drive was a snap! This time around, pressing the Copy button
caused the QCool to immediately begin copying everything from the inserted card
to the internal hard drive.
While the copying is in process, a simple progress part tracks percentage of
After the copy is finished, the files on the flash card are NOT
deleted. There isn’t a way to do anything except copy files with the QCool.
Deleting the files is faster using your camera’s menu anyway.
If you would accidentally press the Copy button a second time while the same
card was inserted, it would just transfer a second copy of the files to the
internal hard drive. The files are placed in sequentially numbered folders
according to the media time.
What happens if you have a card in each slot and press the Copy button? It
will copy both sets of files one after the other into their respective folders.
Regarding copy speed, it all depends on the media cards that you use. If you
have a fast card, copying will naturally go faster. I tried copy operations on
several of my cards and was pretty pleased with the speed. I don’t have any high
speed cards, or if I do, they don’t say what the speed is on the labels. I was
able to copy 203mb from a 256mb Transcend CF card to the hard drive in 2 minutes
and 452mb from a 1gb Kingmax SD card to the hard drive in 5 minutes 30 seconds.
As a comparison, the same transfer using another card reader to my PC’s hard
drive took 3 minutes 30 seconds and 8 minutes 30 seconds respectively.
Battery life per charge is rated at 2hrs. I found this to be pretty accurate.
That might not sound like a lot of time, but consider that you’ll probably only
be using it for a max of 10mins at a time (if you had a totally full 1gb card).
That said, it would be nice if there was a cigarette lighter charger accessory
for this device…
The only other problem besides the format issue that I had with the QCool,
was with an old 48mb Kingston CF card. It would not copy at all to the internal
hard drive. The only reason I could come up with as to why this was the case was
a small blurb on the QCool site stating that the QCool only supports 3.6V cards, not 5V cards.
I guess the old card is 5V.
The QCool OTG is a simple product that is easy to use and really fits a niche
market. I know I’ll definitely be adding it to my gear bag when I go on my next
Price: $99 SRP
Can add / upgrade hard drive
Easy operation (when you follow directions)
On/Off, and Copy buttons are too easy to accidentally press
Quick Start Guide needs some embellishments concerning hard drive capacities and