The Verbatim Store 'n' Go 8 GB Flash drive looks like all the rest, but it stands out in two ways. It has a retractable USB connector that avoids losing a cap, and it has a password protected private zone for personal data and a public zone to use in the normal fashion, even on PCs.
A retractable USB connector is managed by a thumb-slider, and pressure must be placed on the slider to retract the connector. Pushing inward on the connector to retract is not possible, and that design provides for a robust insertion. Unfortunately, on my MacBook Pro, there isn't room between the FireWire 800 port and the second USB port to insert the device, so I had to use a USB extender cable with the conventional sized head. It would be nice if such a cable were included with this product.
Beneath the slider is a blue LED that shows read/write activity, customary on devices like this so you don't accidentally remove while it's being accessed.
USB Connector retracted
This is a Mac-only product, and included is a Mac app that manages the setup and mounting of the two different zones. After the installer is done, look for the V-safe.app in the Utilities directory, not Applications.
The license for the V-safe.app is somewhat vague, so I asked for clarification. Verbatim responded: "The software can be installed and used on any number of computers with the Store 'n' Go flash drive, on the condition that it only be used for this purpose, that is, it may not be used for other purposes, including trying to use the software on other flash drives. This is to prevent any negative experiences that may occur if the user attempts to use the software on other flash drives."
Initial Contents (everything you need)
I looked at the installer's files. (After the installer launches, select File -> Show Files.) I noticed that a 32-bit kernel extension is installed. That's not normally a cause for grave concern, but the documentation neatly sidesteps disclosing that fact. For some, it's irrelevant (or mystifying). For others, who may be getting ready for Snow Leopard or just want to know what's going on, it's nice to know.
Partial list of files to install
Fortunately, and likely in recognition of this user need, an uninstaller is supplied.
When you first run the V-safe.app, it shows you, in a very nicely laid out window, your options for each partition or zone. You can format each zone as either MS-DOS or HFS+ Journaled, name it and size it with a slider. Then you set a password for access to the private zone. Only one zone can be mounted at a time, and the password, entered into the V-safe management app, dictates if the private zone can be mounted.
There is no encryption according to the Verbatim. However, if, say, a public computer is used with the public zone and it doesn't have the special accompanying software installed, it doesn't seem likely the private zone could be accessed. In any case, one could still place an AES 256-bit encrypted .DMG file in the private zone for additional security. Those are easy to create with Mac OS X's Disk Utility.
Unlike some other secure drives, one doesn't have to log-in at first, just to mount the public partition. That makes it friendlier to use.
I set up 7.4 GB in the public zone, which should be enough to install the Snow Leopard beta, but the installer said no go. However, I tried a Kingston Flash drive and Snow Leopard invited me to install. (Booting may be a different matter.) The vendor could not explicitly confirm Leopard bootability, so this looks like a "no."
One feature that was thoughtful: every time the drive is reformatted, a copy of the installer (for use on another Mac) is placed in the public partition. That way, it's always handy for installation no matter where you go. Mac only of course.
The 12 page PDF file is nicely laid out, has a lot of white space, has a crisp set of instructions, and a screen shot on every page. On page 2, the vendor fesses up its street address, phone number, and Website. Nothing to hide, and I like that.
PDF Manual front page
Finally, it's very easy to see which partition is mounted. The icons are very distinct.
Icons are easy to distinguish
I liked the attention to detail in this product. Everything was well thought out, the manual is excellent, instructions for operation are crystal clear, the Mac-only emphasis is up to the standards we expect, there's a retractable USB connector, a loop for a lanyard, and the product is differentiated by its ability to be used in a public, business environment while still keeping personal data secure. The packaging and disclosure of full contact information was professional.
My only reservation is the need for a kernel extension. In my opinion, one should minimize the use of those, but if necessary, one can use the uninstaller, or, worst case, do a Safe Boot to get up and running. For most users, I think, the benefits will outweigh the minimal risks. Finally, the overall product, despite the added value, still seems slightly on the expensive side.