The Good: Stylish and affordable add-on hard drive includes software that doesn't tax the brain
The Bad: A handy dock will run you an extra $30, and the drive's packaging is tough to open
The Bottom Line: Back up your files and photos without a lot of hassle
I backed up my work on Seagate Technology's slim, colorful new FreeAgent Go disk drive for about a week, and it was a joy to use. That's saying a lot in the external hard drive market, where form too often trumps function.
I don't ask a lot of drives. They need to reliably back up files, fit readily in a laptop bag for travel, and perhaps look reasonably good doing so. The FreeAgent Go checks all three boxes. That's more than I can say about many products I've tested for a series of reviews of desktop and portable hard drives; for instance, many are hindered by truly awful software.
Introduced by Seagate (STX) in late September, the FreeAgent Go scores high marks on size, style, and price. It's compact, roughly the size of a 3x5 index card that's less than a half-inch thick. It works plugged directly into your PC (there's another version for Apple (AAPL) Macs, which I didn't test), or can sit in a dock, which costs $30. The drive has a padded bottom, so it didn't scratch my wooden desk at home. The Go drives are also both stylish and pack a lot of storage for the price. They come in blue, red, silver, black, green, orange, yellow, and pink. You can pick up a 250GB version for about $110, while 320GB will run you $130, and 500GB goes for $170.
Perhaps more important, its backup software is a snap to use, much simpler than the software on other drives I've tested from Seagate and its competitors, including the Go's portlier cousin, the desktop FreeAgent Pro. Installation is a breeze; no rebooting of my PC needed. Then, with a few clicks, I told it to back up a folder where I keep notes, drafts, and documents related to my current projects, every weekday at 6 p.m. Within a few seconds the first day's batch of backups appeared on the drive. Unfortunately, the software buried my backed-up folder within seven layers of subfolders, which meant a lot of clicking and burrowing when I tried to retrieve an archived file.
I found only two relatively minor drawbacks to the FreeAgent Go. First, the USB cable on the dock needs to plug into two USB ports on your computer in order to provide sufficient power to the drive. So if you're a device nut, the port-hogging Go could mean having to unplug some of your other add-on hardware.
Second, both the drive and its dock come encased in truly perilous plastic "clamshell" packages. I struggled for a couple of minutes with a knife and brute force to pry them open, and managed to avoid any hand-slicing en route. Note to electronics vendors: The positive "out of box experience" you strive to impart with your products begins with opening the box.