iTwin is an interesting new method of file sharing. Looking like a 2-ended USB memory stick, the iTwin breaks into two, with each half plugging into a different computer, allowing you to share files across them.
Before you can do this you have to pair your device by leaving the halves connected and plugging one end into a computer. Software from the device will run and activate the iTwin. You can set access passwords at this point and, supplying an email address, they’ll email you a special link. This link, if you lose one half of your iTwin, allows you to disable the other rendering it useless to anybody who has it.
So, you’re all set up. Now, snap the halves apart and plug each into a different computer. Some software will install, adding a new option to your system tray – this lets you access the local and remote iTwin folders. The folders will also map to a spare drive letter. There are no configurable options, however.
Drag and drop files into the folder and it will synchronise with the other computer and it’s all encrypted. Nothing is held remotely and it relies on both computers being on and having an active internet connection.
The quality of the product is near faultless – metal (either grey or green – I have the latter) USB devices with rounded edges and a lovely foam padded box with miniature instruction booklet to match. Each USB half has a small blue light on it to indicate it’s in use, although this appears to be on solidly most of the time with only the occasional flash (so I’m not overly sure what the light actually indicates). A Singapore company, iTwin should have their packaging double checked as the box has a number of grammatical mistakes on it, though.
But before I go any further, I need to explain in a little more detail how the iTwin works. The instruction manual and the matching website makes lots of bold claims but mentions little about his this technically works – and that’s important in understanding its use.
When you drag a file or folder into the iTwin folder it merely copies a shortcut to the original. This shortcut is then duplicated in the remote iTwin folder. This is not clear in the instructions and I was, initially, of the understanding that I was making copies or even moving files onto the iTwin – I never realised that it was a shortcut and, hence, modifying the original file causes the iTwin version to change.
Let’s say you have a document on your desktop and you drag it into the iTwin folder. The original is still on your desktop and all that’s in the iTwin folder is a shortcut. That shortcut will then appear in the paired computer iTwin folder – clicking on that causes the document to be downloaded from the desktop of the other machine. Equally, dragging your documents folder into the iTwin folder will cause all your documents to be shared – there’s no delay in the sharing and there’s no upload of the data unless it’s requested by the other iTwin device. Sadly, it seems you are unable to drag an entire drive into the folder, but iTwin do say you can share network folders as well.
I’m not sure why iTwin have gone with this method – many (for example, Carbonite backup) use the method of allowing you to mark folders or individual files for use, rather than dragging shortcuts into a specific folder.
So, it looks great and lets you easily and securely share. But there are, I think, some concerns…
One iTwin claim is “unplug iTwin and all temp files are purged automatically. This is especially useful when using a computer that does not belong to you.” Ok, but where is iTwin storing all the shortcuts of files that you’ve put into the iTwin folder? If I plug my iTwin back in all the shortcuts re-appear – where are they stored?
- A splash screen appears on startup followed by the iTwin folder appearing – there is no way of suppressing this and it can take some time to start so is present for some time. If the other computer is offline you then get an error about this. All of this could certainly be presented in a slicker way.
- I had a problem (the cause of which is still to be determined) where iTwin kept reporting that the remote computer was offline and then, immediately, online again. This was occurring every few minutes and was reported via a system tray pop-up which required me to close it for to disappear. This became annoying very quickly and desperately needs an alternative solution (the system tray icon changes to show whether it’s on of offline?) or settings to suppress it.
- When shutting down the computer (this is certainly the case with Windows 7 anyway) it stops to warn you about the fact that the iTwin will no longer be available if you continue – this will, theoretically, prevent automated shutdowns and I’ve certainly been caught out a couple of times clicking on “shut down” and walking away.
- It didn’t initially work via a proxy, but iTwin have now made a fix available that can be downloaded.
- iTwin is $99 from Amazon.com or can be purchased from their site for €99. In the UK it’s sold by I Want One Of Those for £99.99. Why is it the same price – this means that European and UK customers are paying a lot more than their US counterparts?
And that last point about price is important. At around £100 it’s quite expensive, so what are you paying for? The hardware is not really necessary – it holds the software (which could be a download from a website) and provides security (much like a 1980’s “dongle” – a piece of physical hardware that can’t be easily physically copied and proves you to be the owner). But these days it doesn’t need hardware to provide security – this can be easily done via software and existing internet protocols. The hardware doesn’t ensure the encryption – it merely makes sure that sharing is only going on between the 2 computers that the iTwin is plugged into. But that, is also another shortcoming as you can only copy between 2 PCs.
iTwin admit themselves that they don’t store your data on their servers, so what is costing £100? As lovely as the hardware is, I seriously think this would be a better prospect as a software only product with a huge reduction in price. You could then share between multiple computers too.
Update: Since the original review I have recieved feedback from iTwin on some of the points raised. I have therefore updated some of the text above (highlighted in bold), although the overall conclusion and score remains unchanged.
Summary of iTwinA beautifully made product which lets you securely share files across computers but at a smidge under £100 it’s an expensive solution, made worse by the fact that it’s the equivalent of £64 in the US. A great idea then, let down by the price and a few software niggles.
Reviewed by David Artiss on 29th September 2011.