Despite some quirks, this drive offers cluttered phones a welcome taste of freedom.
UPDATE FROM AUTHOR (9/1/2016):
Reader feedback on this review has prompted MacSources to investigate a potential malfunction. We have reached out to the manufacturer for comment.
The reported behavior was not present during the review period, but at this time, we are asking any reader interested in this product to operate the device with caution.
For now, only use the app provided at this link: (WitStick version link). Use of any other application may cause the device to lose the ability to be recognized when connected to a Lightning port. In a test case, the affected device is still able to partially function as a Windows/MacOS USB drive.
If you have already purchased the OMARS WitStick and are experiencing difficulties, we would recommend reaching out to the place you purchased it from for a refund.
MacSources would like to thank our readers for their engagement and patience. We will update this article with news as soon as it is available.
Apple’s iOS has always been a pretty locked down operating system. When this lack of direct file system access is coupled with the brand’s infamous approach to non-expandable mobile device storage, file management can get a bit tricky. Now, there are plenty of positive arguments to be made regarding user security and application isolation, and I have enjoyed multiple iPhones and iPads for years, but I still dread clearing out a phone that is choked with media. Will my Windows PC import ALL of the pictures this time? Will I have to *shudder* attempt a photo sync with iTunes?
Enter the OMARS WitStick. This snappy little USB drive has a USB 3.0 port and a standard Lightning plug built right into opposite ends of the unit. The ideal use case would be to connect the drive to a phone’s Lightning port, offload all of the phone’s media to the external storage, and then immediately connect the USB drive to another tablet or PC. Or perhaps a vice versa case with files from the PC getting transferred into the phone, instead.
Does it work? Yes…to a point.
First, let’s talk about the software. Working with the WitStick requires the user to download the free WitStick app. The user can either follow the instructions in the box to search for the name of the app, but a helpful App Store redirect prompt will appear on the screen if the drive is connected without the presence of this app.
Using the Witstick app is fairly easy, though the interface could stand a few updates. The interface is rather large and seems to be an older app running in a kind of compatibility “screen-stretch” mode for larger phone screens. Because of this, file size information frequently overlaps the file names and image thumbnails appear to be unevenly sized. Worse, there does not appear to be a way to re-order or sort any of the file listings in the app. Depending on the area viewed, files and folders are sorted by file name OR date of creation within the app. This lack of user control appears to be an oversight, but the absence is still unfortunate. I would have also liked to see immediate information regarding storage space used and storage space remaining without having to check a separate menu option in the app.
While using the app, the user is given access to three menu options: “iPhone Storage”, “Camera Roll”, and “External Storage” if the drive is currently connected to the phone. The Camera Roll section works as expected, allowing a user to pull pics and videos over to the USB drive with a Copy/Paste action. It is important to note that these backups are ONLY Copy actions and a user does not appear to actually be able to delete media from the Camera Roll using this app. The iPhone Storage and External Storage options offer a bit more freedom in that files can be created, deleted, copied, moved, and pasted with very little effort. It is very important to mention that any files stored in this “iPhone Storage” section are not actually stored alongside existing phone media, but are constantly held in a folder structure that exists only within the WitStick app. A user that attempts to load new music onto their phone by copying music from a PC into the iPhone Storage folder titled Music will not be able to see this copied music appear in the iTunes or iPhone native music app for playback.
Speaking of playback, the WitStick app appears to handle iPhone-created images and video just fine by using what seems to be the iPhone stock media player, but videos other than those that have a .MOV or .MP4 extension may not playback reliably, if at all. The app does not seem to offer any details into which files are taboo and which are acceptable, so users with collections of older uniquely-encoded videos may be faced with a little trial and error for playback.
My attempts to back up my photos and video were successful and the results were immediately available on my PC once connected to the USB portion of the drive. Speeds over Lightning port were not as quick as when using the USB 3.0 connection to my PC, but both connection methods were fast enough to get the job done. I was very pleased to see that I could use the WitStick app to queue up a larger copy function and then drop out of the app to switch to something else (such as responding to a text message or checking my latest updates through Google News or Feedly) without cancelling or pausing the pending transfer.
The software might be a little rough around the edges, but hardware aspects of the drive make this USB drive is a stand-out. I reviewed a 32GB unit and this was plenty of space for me to perform plenty of copies and moves between PC and phone. The USB drive presents the image of a plain black rectangle that is built with a mixture of metal and plastic. A small blue LED is visible on the logo side of the unit to indicate any type of read/write activity. Given the ability of the Lightning port to connect to a device “upside-down” or “right-side up”, I found it a bit odd that the LED was not given an additional viewport on the opposite side of the unit. This would have allowed a user to see activity on the drive no matter the drive’s connection orientation, but this curious decision seems to be largely harmless.
The USB 3.0 and Lightning plugs are perfectly sturdy. With a bit of design flair that is nothing short of ingenious, each of the plug caps are magnetic and attach to the opposite end of the unit when one of the plugs are in use. This may not be a perfect solution to a lost cap since the magnetic cap could always weaken, but I greatly prefer this method of cap storage over any kind of plastic strap or hinge.
I have to give a fair amount credit to the manufacturer. They have produced a smartly-built device that allows a user to (somewhat) easily work their way around a few valid iOS filesystem loopholes in order to manage their iPhone’s storage. The WitStick app is not perfect, but it does work, warts and all. Until pigs fly and Apple decides to switch to a more open-access file structure, the OMARS Witstick USB 3.0/Lightning drive is among the most useful devices a user can carry.
Download App from App Store