The Nifty MiniDrive

As anyone who owns a MacBook air will know, these amazing laptops fall down in one key area – storage capacity. Of course you’re free to plug in an external hard drive to get extra space, which with USB 3 will be super snappy. External hard drives are a bit clucky however, especially when you want a laptop to be portable and easy to use say, on you lap.

Luckily, the 13 inch MacBook Air models have an SD card slot, so it is possible to add in an SD card and gain additional storage that’s easily portable. The problem with most SD cards is they extrude from the side of the laptop – meaning anyone who leaves a card in all the time is likely to damage or loose it.

Enter the Nifty MiniDrive

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The Nifty MiniDrive looks great when inserted into my 2013 MacBook Air

The nifty MiniDrive promises to solve this problem by offering a microSD adapter that fits into the SD card slot. Unlike a normal SD card, it sits flush with the edge of the MacBook. What a brilliant idea. For £76.87 was able to increase the storage on my MacBook by 50% by ordering the Nifty adapter along with a 64GB microSD card – a bargain right? It depends…

Really slow

When I tried to move my 20GB iPhoto library on to the drive, iPhoto crawled to a halt and was unusable. I’m pretty tech savvy and so I of course took this on as a challenge and spent quite a lot of time trying to solve this; by rebuilding photo thumbnails, repairing permissions, making sure the drive was formatted HFS+, and even rebuilding my library from scratch. In the end I came to the conclusion that the microSD card supplied was simply not up to the job.

Battery Life

One of the best features of the MacBook Air is the ability to leave it in sleep mode for days on end without the battery draining much. I noticed after I’d started using the MiniDrive that my battery seemed to go down a lot while it was in sleep mode. After some digging, I discovered that Mac OS X will put the laptop into a “deep sleep” mode (similar to Hibernate on Windows) after a few hours in normal sleep to save on battery life. The problem I found is that Mac OS X will never do this if an SD card is inserted. That means standby time is significantly reduced when the Nifty MiniDrive left in, and the while point of the Nifty MiniDrive is that you leave it in. I must stress this is not the fault of the Nifty MiniDrive (any SD card will cause this to occur) but I was surprised to see it wasn’t mentioned on their FAQ page, as it could be a problem for some people.

So what’s it good for?

iTunes and Steam

I found it was quick enough to store my iTunes library on, and Steam had no trouble storing and loading games on it. Team Fortress 2 ran absolutely fine from the Nifty MiniDrive. For anyone with a MacBook bursting at the seams with games and music, the MiniDrive is probably worth getting. You could also theoretically move your Dropbox or OneDrive folders onto the drive.

Backups

Another often quoted use of the Nifty MiniDrive is as a Time Machine backup drive. This can work well in theory if you want to make use of Time Machine’s versioning features, but as a total backup solution, having your backup inside your laptop at all times means if your laptop gets lost or stolen then so does your backup, so for me this was a non-starter.

Worth buying?

So would I recommend the Nifty Minidrive? My answer is yes if you’re aware of it’s limitations. For people who routinely shutdown their Macs instead of using sleep, they shouldn’t notice any big changes in battery life. If you need to store large, rarely used files then you shouldn’t notice the performance issues either. Hopefully the next version of OS X will iron out the battery life issues, and faster microSD cards will be released in the future, making it a good investment.

Is it time to stop assuming users have Flash installed?

Remember when the iPad first came out in 2010, and the first thing everybody said was it was doomed because it didn’t have Flash? Well, it turns out most web site owners were able to accommodate this requirement, and these days even Android tablets and phones lack the once ubiquitous browser plugin. Yet, if you’ve ever browsed the web on an iOS device or an Android device (the chances are you have) you’ll know that in the vast majority of cases, everything has continued to work as normal. Staples of the Internet from BBC News to YouTube keep on working – when it comes to video at least (if you want to run Farmville sans plugin then you’re out of luck).

So when setting up my MacBook with a clean installation of OS X 10.9, I decided to see if it was possible to live without Flash. My guess was it would be, and why not? One less thing installed on your system means a reduced attack surface for malware, fewer processes running and hence better longer life, and in my experience, fewer browser hangs. I was wrong however – instead of using “feature detection” (as good web developers should) to determine whether the browser supports the Flash alternative to video, “HTML5 Video”– it seems the vast majority of sites employ user agent sniffing and will only show you the non-Flash version if you’re on a known mobile device. I kept on being asked to install Flash, even though my iPad works just fine without it. User agent sniffing is the reason why sites designed for IE6 will ask you to “upgrade” if you visit in IE11 –I can forgive any web developer working back when IE6 came out in 2001 for following what was then a standard industry practice, but User Agent Sniffing is now generally considered outdated, so why are so many sites still doing it when it comes to playing video?