REVIEW: pqi i815 Plus Flashdrive

The pqi i815 Plus, alongside the well-worn Adata PD17

Last year, I purchased an Adata PD17 2G flash drive to carry around essential data for my wife, who was ill. It allowed me to carry around all of the diagnostic tests, PDF copies of reports, everything that might be necessary. Now that she’s feeling better, I don’t need to carry it on my keychain all of the time, but still like to bring the data with us for her now-less-frequent medical appointments (you can see the wear on the clip, where the chrome flashing has almost completely worn off). It always makes me chuckle…every physician who found out I was carrying this drive treated it with amusement, as if it was something only a geek would do…yet every one eventually asked to borrow it to compare current test results with earlier ones. I honestly believe this is how medical records should be handled…not the frightening “Google Health,” where a monolithic company whose entire business model is designed around violating personal privacy maintains patients’ records. (Right now, I seem to be the only one worried about Google carrying medical records…but you can bet once they start monetizing your medical history and it’s too late, I will no longer be alone…)

Anyway, after a year 2G is no longer sufficient to carry all the information, so I needed something larger. I found a good price on a 4G pqi i815 drive; I own quite a few pqi memory cards (SD, microSD/TransFlash, etc.) and have nothing but good things to say about them, and since the i815 is about the same size as the Adata PD17 and also includes a retractable connector, I purchased the drive. Before transferring the medical data to it, though, I decided to put it through its paces and report here, frankly expecting to write a glowing review.

But I can’t.

I don’t mean I can’t write a glowing review, I mean I can’t write any review at all. The drive doesn’t work. Or, more accurately, the connector doesn’t work.

I’ve tried this drive in three desktop computers, two hubs (a Belkin and a no-name), and two laptops. Without physically pushing and manually holding the drive connector into the receiver pins, it refuses to make a stable connection. The closest I came was a dollar-store USB extension cord, and even that was unstable enough that it only worked reliably once I folded up some paper scraps and shoved them behind the drive connector to force the connectors into the pins.

FWIW, using brute force to maintain a connection, the drive works just fine; this isn’t an electrical issue, just a really bad design on the drive connector. It is completely useless for day-to-day use, since I’m pretty certain no one in their right mind is going to want to hold a USB drive against the USB connector pins…it wasn’t even practical for me to test file-copy speeds, since I only had one hand free while desperately applying pressure to keep the thumb drive mounted to the desktop. (NB: I was able to copy, one-handed, small test files to the drive. I just couldn’t bring myself to try to copy and time large files while holding the thing against the USB connector pins.)

What’s scary is that I haven’t found any USB connector that this drive will simply plug-and-play into. While I certainly don’t have every make of machine in the universe, I do have enough of a representative slice that I can’t believe the problem with this drive didn’t appear long before now. Didn’t the company test it before marketing? Didn’t anyone at the company try out this thing? With all the flash drives I use in a day’s time, it simply isn’t possible this is anything other than a design flaw, which should have appeared the moment the first drive came back from manufacturing.

Visually, the connectors in the pqi and Adata appear to be the same; the only real difference I can find is a slight recession of the connectors below the mount, while the Adata have the connectors flush on the top. I can tell you in the over-a-year I’ve been using the Adata drive, it has only caused problems on one computer, and that was fixed by switching to a rear USB port. Not bad, considering the number of offices we’ve visited over the year.

So the pqi i815 is, in effect, nothing but a key chain with no computer-applicable use whatsoever; it doesn’t really make sense to return it, since between the restocking fee and the return shipping, I’d be out close to the cost of the drive anyway. While I must reiterate I have many memory cards from this company with which I have had zero problems, I’d urge you to avoid this product like the plague. Clearly I need to spend the extra money and purchase a 4- or 8G Adata PD17, since for the application of medical records, dependability and interoperability are the most important features, and the pqi drive fails the latter miserably.

(I will be forwarding the URI of this review to the company, and will cheerfully publish any response they might make.)

Update April 18: I have as yet received no communications from PQI Corp., but I have received from UPS an RMA return label targeted to the company. I packed the drive up, and included a note basically repeating that the issue seems to be in the design, not the specific drive, and again offering anyone from the company space here on the blog for a response. More as I hear it…

Update May 5: First off, instead of adding to the comments, I am updating this post directly, because I need to add some flash video to the post. Besides, I need more space than just a comment.

Today I received a package from PQI, along with printed emails they tried to send to me that never made it here. The reason is…er…my fault entirely. Even the U.S. support is coming out of a mail server in Taiwan, which happened to be inside a /16 block my server has firewalled (any packets coming from that IP range get dropped onto the virtual floor). I have, I hope, drilled a hole in the firewall to allow their email in, and deeply apologize to them.

In any event, I received today printed emails. Since I did not receive permission to publish them I will summarize; support noted that their drives are designed around the USB specifications, and the device I returned to them was completely operational. However, they sent me a new (unopened) 4G drive, along with a USB extension cord to make connections easier.

And please understand I am very grateful to them for the time and energy they put into this issue…but the replacement drive doesn’t work in my machines any better than the original one did. And to demonstrate definitively that this is a design issue, it doesn’t work in the extension cord they sent to me, either!

I supply here a flash video; I didn’t even remove the “twisty-ties” from the cord, only pulled a bit out to make attachment to my Belkin USB hub a bit easier. You can watch as I plug in the flash drive, and nothing happens When I force the drive to make contact with the connectors in the cable, however, the drive mounts (you can hear the computer recognize it, and you can also see the green device light on the hub light up, at least once I get my fat fingers out of the way). When I let go, it disconnects. A bunch of times, just to drive home the point.

I checked the cable with some other flash drives, and it worked just fine, there is an issue only with this PQI drive. I can come to no other conclusion than there is a major design flaw in this drive, and I simply cannot believe I am the only person on the planet to find this problem with this drive. When the drive fails in the cable they supply, and the cable tests good, that is the only possible assumption one can make.

Looking at the connector for this drive compared to the Adata drive and a tiny little microSD (transflash) adapter I have (which I will show you in another post down-the-road) that both work flawlessly, the only difference I can see is the connectors on the pqi drive are slightly recessed, where the connectors on the other two are flush with the top of the plastic plug. The thickness of the plugs seems to be the same (this without using a micrometer to check), but the recess in the pqi may be enough to hold one of the pins away from the connector until the drive is leaned-into it. I’m not an engineer by any stretch…but I am a guy who knows how to beta-test, and generate reproducible results.

(Again, I will cheerfully publish any response PQI might have. This isn’t a slash-piece, it’s an honest evaluation of the drive.)

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2 Responses to REVIEW: pqi i815 Plus Flashdrive

  1. Charlie Summers says:

    Update: I have as yet received no communications from PQI Corp., but I have received from UPS an RMA return label targeted to the company. I packed the drive up, and included a note basically repeating that the issue seems to be in the design, not the specific drive, and again offering anyone from the company space here on the blog for a response. More as I hear it…

    (Moved to main body 5 May 2009)

  2. Pingback: Nostalgic Rumblings » Update to the pqi i815 Plus Flashdrive Review

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