Added security is nice, but the real improvement is the speed
A good portable SSD should be small, fast, and able to connect to devices through the almighty USB-C port. Samsungs new T7 Touch checks all of those boxes, plus another big one: its more secure than your average SSD. Theres a capacitive fingerprint reader built into the top of the drive, which works like the one you might have on your phone or laptop. After youve enrolled a fingerprint via the free companion app, it will require authentication before it mounts to your computer or phone. This feature backed by AES 256-bit hardware encryption to lock down your biometric data and the drives contents makes it so that not just anyone can plug it in and see what you have stored. It works exactly like I thought it would.
Samsungs software for the SSD (compatible with Windows 10, macOS, and Android) is simple to use. The software even comes loaded onto the drive for easy installation, with the exception of the Android version, which is available from the Google Play Store. Youll need to create a password in the software to use the sensor, and you can enroll up to four fingerprints that can unlock it. The most obvious choice might be to log a few of your own fingers. But if you plan to share this with a classmate, your family, or colleagues at your company, the better move is to register other peoples fingerprints with the drive, too. That way, it can be passed back and forth without much worrying.
As you probably expected, activating the T7 Touchs security settings in the app means that youll need to authenticate your fingerprint each time you connect the drive to a phone or computer. The LEDs behind the sensor blink repeatedly while it waits for you to verify your identity, and until you do, it mounts as a mostly useless read-only drive that supplies a download of Samsungs SSD software.
Its a little more useless in this read-only state than Id like. Samsung doesnt let you create a customized message that appears automatically, like one to point people in the right direction to return the drive should it get misplaced. Also, if you dont have a fingerprint logged and you forget the password for the drive, simply resetting it isnt an option. It will permanently stay in read-only mode, and you will have to contact Samsung to arrange a manual reset.
I tested the 500GB model that costs $129.99. Samsung also offers a 1TB version that costs $229.99 and a 2TB drive that costs $399.99. Thats getting up there in price for a drive that doesnt support Thunderbolt 3s faster transfer speeds, though to the T7 Touchs credit, its not far off what the previous generation T5 sold for. In addition to the new fingerprint security, the T7 is also considerably faster than the T5.
For those who arent familiar with the T5, Samsungs 2017 portable SSD, the T7 Touch still looks and feels like a compact business cardholder. Its easy to pocket, and its slim design lets it slide easily into practically any bag. This new model is wrapped in aluminum that Samsung says makes it shockproof from a drop of up to six and a half feet in height. In the box, youll find a USB-C to USB-C cable as well as a USB-C to USB Type-A cable in case you need to connect it to a device that doesnt have a USB-C port.
Similar as they might look, the T7 Touchs NVMe solid-state drive amounts to a huge boost in transfer speeds compared to the SATA drive used in the T5. We compared several USB-C drives last year to find out what kind of portable drive you should be spending your money on, and those with NVMe storage inside came away the clear winners even though they cost a premium. This is the technology you want inside of your laptop, your next-gen gaming console, and definitely what you want inside of your next portable drive.
The T7 Touch is thinner than the T5, but its also taller.
Of course, just how fast this (and any) drive transfers relies entirely on what kind of computer youre plugging it into. Samsungs T7 Touch uses the USB 3.2 Gen 2 interface with 10Gbps bandwidth (same bandwidth as USB 3.1 Gen 2, different name). Samsung claims up to 1,050MB/s read and 1,000MB/s write speeds, and its possible to achieve something close to those marks if these criteria are met:
- Your laptop or desktop has a USB Type-A or USB-C port that supports the USB 3.2 Gen 2 interface or faster
- Your laptop or desktop has an NVMe drive inside, not a slower SATA drive. (Most SSDs on the market use SATA, though NVMe is lowering in cost, and therefore picking up in popularity.)
I tested this drive out with a 2019 MacBook Pro, which features two Thunderbolt 3 ports that can handle far more bandwidth than Samsungs T7 Touch is capable of piping through. Using Blackmagic Disk Speed Test, the T7 Touch boasted an average write speed of 807MB/s and read speed of 903MB/s. Thats below what Samsung advertises above, but its what I expected. Its possible that the larger-capacity models in this lineup could perform slightly better since large-capacity solid-state drives are allegedly faster, thanks to having more NAND layers to write to. But overall, these numbers are on par with performance from a 1TB Intel 660p NVMe SSD fitted in an enclosure.
Arbitrary read and write speeds are nice to have, but the most transparent kind of test is seeing how long it takes to transfer a large file from the drive to the laptop and from the laptop back to the drive. It took nine seconds on average to copy a 13GB file on the MacBook Pro, roughly a 40 percent improvement compared to the T5 SATA SSD doing the same test. To copy the file to the T7 Touch, it took 11 seconds on average, an approximate 35 percent increase in speed compared to the T5. I also ran this test with the aforementioned Intel 660p NVMe SSD mounted in an enclosure, and the results were within a second of what the T7 Touch managed.
At first, the takeaway here doesnt look great for Samsung; a large 1TB NVMe drive and an enclosure to pop it into costs just a bit more than this 500GB drive, yet performs just about the same if not slightly better. Building your own drive will afford you more storage for less money, but so long as youre all right with taking a hit in storage capacity, Samsungs latest portable drive gets you added security and a more compact design.
Having a fingerprint sensor wont make this a must-have product for everyone. But if youre sold on the form factor and the speed improvements Samsung made here, you should know that a version of the T7 that wont support biometrics is coming in Q2 2020. It will likely be slightly more affordable (though Samsung hasnt yet confirmed the price) and will even out the value better compared to a DIY NVMe drive. Still, for the time being, Samsungs new model isnt much more expensive than its predecessor, and the added features and faster transfer speeds amount to a product you likely wont regret buying.
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