Emtec Photo Cube

      Photo Review 7

      In summary

       Compact and lightweight data storage for digital camera pictures.Faced by stiff competition from falling memory card prices and rising card capacities, the prices of portable storage devices have fallen in recent months. French company, Emtec (which was originally named BASF) has released two affordable portable storage products under the Photo Cube brand name. Available in 40GB or 80GB capacities, they use 2.5-inch notebook computer hard disk drives for data storage.  . . [more]

      Full review



      Faced by stiff competition from falling memory card prices and rising card capacities, the prices of portable storage devices have fallen in recent months. French company, Emtec (which was originally named BASF) has released two affordable portable storage products under the Photo Cube brand name. Available in 40GB or 80GB capacities, they use 2.5-inch notebook computer hard disk drives for data storage.

      We were offered the 40GB model of Emtec’s Photo Cube for this review. Nicely designed, it appeared to be well built, with rounded corners and a smooth, suede-like covering on its upper and lower surfaces. the front panel sports a circular, 40mm diameter display. Below it are two linked buttons: a power button and a copy button. However, compared with more expensive storage devices, the Photo Cube’s capabilities are somewhat limited. You can’t view images on the LCD; it’s for data only. And, although the device can store music files, it has no facilities for playing music.

      The information displayed on the LCD is comprehensive and practical. As well as allowing users to identify the source of the data (card type) it will also track file transfer to the internal HDD. You can see how much of a card’s memory has been used and track the percentage of the data that has been already downloaded. Icons on the display show you when the USB connection is in use and the battery status. You can also see when the HDD is active.

      An error signal alerts users to problems with data management and the percentage indicator below it changes to display an error code. But the troubleshooting information is very limited. Only nine error codes are listed in the user manual, four covering HDD errors, three copying errors and two card errors. A printed user manual is supplied with the device and duplicated on a bundled CD in 16 languages. Unfortunately, the manual isn’t particularly informative. The English version was obviously written by a non-English speaker and some instructions are hard to decipher. A typical example from the Troubleshooting instructions: 6) Getting no respondence to copy: When you are copying large data from flash cards to the unit, the unit may require dozens of seconds for initialization and the LCD displays nothing. Please wait for a while. If the unit has no respondence yet for more than a minute, please press [Reset] button and redo it again.

      It’s a pity the manufacturer didn’t take the opportunity to provide a more detailed user manual on CD. This is common practice with most of the cameras we see when they are supplied with a brief printed instruction booklet.

      The memory card slots are located mid-way along each of the longer sides of the device, with the CF/Microdrive slot on one side and the SD/MMC and Memory Stick slot on the other. Each slot has a flip-down hard plastic cover that closes very securely but, when open, the loop-and-pin attachments for the cover appear rather flimsy.


      Supplied with the Photo Cube are an elegant semi-soft carrying pouch and metre-long USB cable for connecting the device to a computer. A DC power adapter is also provided. The adapter supplied with the review unit had a two-pin plug of the type that is used in most of Europe, parts of the Middle East and most of South America. It is incompatible with Australian sockets so we had to use an international adapter to power the Photo Cube and charge its internal battery.
      In Use
      Copying image files from a memory card to the Photo Cube’s internal disk drive is straightforward. You simply plug in the card and press the copy button. This copies the data from the memory card to the HDD leaving the original files on the memory card. To clear space for shots taken subsequently, the files on the card must be deleted by formatting the card in the camera.


      Lights around the perimeter of the display flash as files are copied from the card to the HDD and you can feel the vibrations created by the spinning disk if you touch the device when it’s on. It takes a second or so for the percentage indicator to begin incrementing but it tracks transfer accurately. In our tests, it took three minutes and 26.8 seconds to transfer 728MB of data from a SanDisk Extreme III 8GB CompactFlash card to the PhotoCube, which gives a data transfer speed of 17MB per second.

      Unfortunately, the latest UDMA CF and SD cards don’t appear to be compatible with the Photo Cube. The APT ProMax II CF card triggered the 02 (fail to initialise the hard disk) error code, while the Lexar Professional UDMA 300x speed card generated the S2 (the free memory of the hard disk is not enough) error code. The ATP Pro Max 4GB SDHC card was not even recognised.
      When standard cards are used you can insert a different card in each slot and copy data from both simultaneously. Two icons will be displayed on the data screen. If you wish to partition the hard disk in order to store data from different cards ““ or different shooting sessions ““ separately, the process is straightforward and uses the Computer Management section in the Administrative Tools folder. Existing partitions can be deleted and new partitions created up to a maximum of four.
      Emtec claims the 40GB Photo Cube can hold up to 200,000 JPEG images at a resolution equivalent to 5-megapixels. And, because it doesn’t count individual files or offer playback facilities, it can also store raw files, MP3 files ““ or any other kind of data you wish to transfer. Once you’re transferred the image files to your computer you can delete files from the Photo Cube by moving them to the Recycle Bin while the device is connected to the computer. The Recycle Bin must be emptied to delete the files entirely and create space for new image files.

      We have some reservations about relying on computer disk drive technology for portable image file storage as we have heard from a number of photographers about drives failing when they were on location or in transit. HDDs are notoriously susceptible to impact shocks and prolonged vibration although their high data storage capacities make them otherwise ideal for holding large quantities of data.

      Solid-state memory cards are much more robust when you are travelling and can be used to store image files for indefinite periods. When we reviewed the Photo Cube just before Christmas 2007 it was possible to buy a 4GB CF or SD card from a well-known manufacturer for between $80 and $90 by shopping online. This makes the Photo Cube a cheaper storage alternative on the cost/capacity basis – but by a 16% margin that continues to contract.

      The unfortunate disadvantage of the Photo Cube is its incompatibility with the latest fast, high-capacity memory cards, which are rapidly replacing standard cards and already dominate the high-capacity sector of this market. For photographers using the latest DSLRs and high-end digicams, compatibility with these cards will be mandatory for future storage devices.

      EMTEC photo cube is available online at www.ccelectronics.com.au.





      Built-in hard disk: 2.5-inch 40GB or 80GB
      Data transfer speed: Memory card to HDD ““ 5MB/sec
      Supported formats: Hard disk; FAT32; flash memory cards: FAT16 & FAT32
      Supported operating systems: Windows 2000 (SP3 or above); Windows ME/XP
      Expansion slots: CompactFlash/Microdrive and SD/MMC and  Memory Stick
      PC Interface: USB 2.0 Hi-Speed
      LCD display: Circular 40mm diameter data display. Shows flash card icons, used memory size on card, data transfer process, completed percentage of copying, available memory size with current partition, partition number, battery indicator, USB connection
      Battery: Rechargeable lithium-ion battery (1100 mAH)
      Power: DC power adaptor
      Dimensions: 110 x 64 x 22 mm
      Weight: 250 grams






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      Ted’s Cameras




      RRP: 40GB $269.99; 80GB $329.99

      Rating (out of 10):

      • Build: 7.5
      • Ease of use: 7.5
      • Versatility: 6.5
      • OVERALL: 7