USB memory sticks are a dime a dozen at the moment; they are cheap, and easily available. So, why then would you pay $99 for a 256Mb device like the Kanguru Biometric USB drive?
The selling point of the drive is that it will keep your data secure by using a built in fingerprint reader, and uses the fingerprint to encrypt the data stored on the flash disk.
- 256MB – 4GB internal storage (device reviewed is the 256MB version).
- Can store up to 5 fingerprints.
- Write Protection Switch.
- Can be used on any user level; You don’t have to be the Administrator on the PC to use it.
- The security application runs entirely from the Bio Drive so you never have to install software on any computer.
- Software is preloaded and ready to go out of the box.
- Optional password recovery.
- User friendly setup.
- High Speed USB2.0 Interface.
- Top grade fingerprint sensor-508 DPI.
- Windows 98/ME/2000/XP compatible.
- Read Speed 8MB/s.
- Write Speed 7MB/s.
- Sensor type Capacity Area Sensor (236×192 pixels).
But enough of the techie stuff, the question is "does it work"? To be honest, I was expecting the device to not work; I use Vista as my day-to-day OS. The good news is that Vista has the drivers included, so I shouldn't have worried.
Once the device is installed in Windows, two new drives present themselves to the operating system. One of these is, by default, inaccessible. The other contains the software that allows access, via your fingerprint, to the contents of the device.
On the first run of the software you're asked to go through the setup routine for the device. This is simple in itself. You are first asked for the device serial number, this is in the box for the device.
Simply select a finger to scan, then run your finger over the sensor a few times and the device will tell you that it has learned that print.
The device is capable of learning five different prints, and you can type in a recovery password, just in case. The only thing I should mention, as it's not obvious, is as soon as you have finished learning prints you can simply click the X; there is no continue or complete button, which is slightly odd, but not really a problem.
From this you can click the "FD-Pass" option and scan your print, this will allow access to the encrypted drive area.
There are other options as well, "Setup" restarts the learning application, and "Practice" does just that. However there is one more application, "Screen Lock".
Even though it's a great idea, it perhaps does not go far enough. Restarting the PC will work around that lock.
Ideally, the drive needs a GINA (Windows login security screen) replacement that will allow you to use your fingerprint to login to Windows. Then, the normal screen lock (part of the Windows screen-saver menu) will also require the fingerprint unlock.
There are companies that already do this – IBM recently integrated it into some of their T series laptops. The T series also had another feature that I would like to see on this device: a password saver. If all your passwords could be safely encrypted to the device, using your fingerprint to unlock them, life would be so much easier!
That said, it could only be a software release away, and perhaps Kanguru will look into some of these features at a later date.
The picture to the right will show you the benchmark figures I obtained from the device in the real world, and though Kanguru claim 8MB/s it's actually a little below that on my device.
This is not actually very quick. Yes, it's probably quick enough to use for small everyday documents etc, but not for large file transfers.
I could not test to see if the 4kb block performance is good enough to run the drive with Vista's ReadyBoost, as that requires more than 256MB on the external storage, and the Kanguru device has 230MB free (it seems 26MB of the device is used for the fingerprint software).
You will notice from this chart that the Kanguru does have one performance trick up it's sleeve, the random access time one the Kanguru is good, as is its CPU utilisation.
The CPU will probably be because the device is not taxing the USB Bus in any real way, however the quick random access times show that the device has used decent internal components, and may well be usable as a Vista ReadyBoost drive. However, there are complications here as well, as you will have to swipe for access every time you want to use it for the ReadyBoost function.
So in conclusion, the idea behind the device is a good one. Secure data has its place – especialy inside big business – and using a Biometric form of protection is certainly one of the better solutions, as the device will proably be used by management and HR. These people are usually not classed as technical, and this device has a nice, simple, intuitive interface for access.
The device is let down slightly by it's lack of throughput performance, and it could have added value if Kanguru invest a little time in the software integration with Windows, and possibly OSX/Unix support. It is also odd that they have not shipped any U3 style software with the device (U3 and the other software allows you to take your documents, applications and settings with you).
If you need a flash drive for general use there are certainly better and cheaper alternatives on the market. However, if you need to secure the data that you store on the flash drive, then the Kanguru Biometric is certainly the one to go for.