In a world of USB flash drives that do everything short of making dinner, there's something to be said for a simple thumbdrive with a small price tag. The SanDisk Cruzer Mini is that product: it's compact, dead simple to use, and requires no drivers (unless you're running Windows 98 SE). The Cruzer Mini comes in a whopping six capacities, so you can pick the one that fits your needs: 128MB, 256MB, 512MB, 1GB, 2GB, and an enormous 4GB. Even at a suggested retail price of $380 for the 4GB model, the Cruzer Mini works out to a measly 9.5 cents per megabyte, making it a great choice for someone who needs a basic flash thumbdrive.
Unlike many of the recent USB drives that boast fingerprint scanners or fancy casings, the SanDisk Cruzer Mini is truly tiny. Its slim design means it won't block any of the neighboring USB ports when plugged in, and the silver-colored plastic casing makes for a featherweight drive, though on the flip side, it's not nearly as tough as its burly cousin, the SanDisk Cruzer Titanium. An LED on the end of the drive glows green when the drive is plugged in and pulses while transferring data, which can help you see if it's working properly. The drive ships with a neck strap and two extra plastic caps, in case you lose the original. The cap isn't secured to the drive in any way, so it's likely you'll appreciate the extras--unless you lose them, too.
Though the SanDisk Cruzer Mini requires no drivers for Macs or PCs (unless you're running Window 98 SE), it does come preloaded with software. The CruzerLock 2 data security software allows you to encrypt and decrypt files and folders. The first time you use it, the software will walk you through setting up a username and a password (and a backup security question). After you've encrypted a file or a folder on the drive, only someone with the correct username and password can see that the particular file or folder even exists on the drive. The encryption interface is a little clunky and takes some getting used to, though. The other two programs--CruzerSync and Cruzer PocketCache--are trial versions. CruzerSync allows you to synchronize your PC's files and Outlook data on the SanDisk Cruzer Mini, while Cruzer PocketCache is a one-click file-and-folder backup program. You can purchase full versions of either software on SanDisk's site.
Performance-wise, the SanDisk Cruzer Mini is not spectacular. In our informal tests of the 4GB version, it took about 6 minutes to write a 400MB folder of mixed file types (data files, photos, video, and MP3s) from our PC to the thumbdrive and about 30 seconds to read it back. Your mileage may vary depending on your system and the types of files you are transferring.
SanDisk covers the Cruzer Mini with a two-year limited warranty. Though its phone support is toll-free, the lines are open only Monday through Friday, from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. PT. The company's site has FAQs, drivers, and software downloads, as well as a Web-based support form.