I’ve been doing marketing for many years now and I’ve learned to appreciate the importance of a brand to a business. As a consumer I never really appreciated “brand” as a business strategy at least until I started to equate quality with brand. Quality is not only about the physical aspects of a product. It also reflects upon the soft-side of a product… things like pre-sales and post-sales support. Are you lost with what I am trying to get at? Let me use a real example.

My birthday was coming and my wife asked me what I wanted for a gift. Looking around the only thing I needed was a portable USB DVD drive (reader-writer). So I went to my favorite computer mall and shopped around for what I thought were brands worth looking into. I didn’t pay attention to what I thought were OEM brands and instead opted for those with familiar brand name like Samsung, Lacie, LG, Sony, and Buffalo. There was very little to differentiate the drives – in fact if you didn’t look at the packaging and brand you’d swear they were all from the same manufacturer suggesting not much effort was put in the creative aspect of design. Anyway, I chose the Samsung Ultra Slim External DVD Writer “Super-writemaster” (US-632/633). The retailer said it came with a one-year warranty, “just make sure you got the invoice.”

My wife bought the thing, gift-wrapped it and presented it to me on my birthday. I was very happy. That same evening I unwrapped it, plugged it into my computer, and off it went to work. I burned one DVD containing my archive of photos and stowed the device away. I used it a few more times over the course of the next two months. At the beginning of the third month, the drive stopped working. The light would turn green for a few seconds as you hear the drive motor quietly whirling about. But when the light died, the drive died. I tested it on three laptops – all different brands, each with a different version of Microsoft Windows, nothing.

I tried calling the number on the box. The line was engaged for the five times I attempted to call – different days of the week, different times of the day. Knowing the PR agency for Samsung, I contacted them for help. After several emails I was told that Samsung Hong Kong did not sell this particular drive model in the Territory. So I am stuck with a US$90 brick.

Its not really the money that I care so much about (well, I can be stingy at times so yes money is still important) but its also about the trust you build with the brand. How can Samsung (or your favorite brand) betray your trust and expect you to be loyal to that brand? The excuse that the product you bought is a parallel import is nothing more than an excuse. Yes, its aimed at protecting the local distribution channel I understand that. But what protection does the customer/consumer have when the product was bought from what appears to be a legitimate store?

We are in an increasingly global world where you can buy just about anything from the Internet. Vendors like Samsung are selling on the web as well. But what does it tell you when your favorite supplier renegs on the promise of the brand citing “not bought locally” as the excuse?

I have a 5 year old Iomega external DVD writer. If not for its humongous size, I wouldn’t have asked my wife to buy me the Samsung drive. But old as it is, it still works perfectly each time I plug a blank disc to backup some of my work.

I say boycott brands that don’t honor the promise of their brand regardless of where their product was sold or bought. The obligation (not duty) is on the brand to honor their promise.

One final note about Samsung and the quality of its products. In case you think this is just me ranting my heart out, try Googling “complaints about samsung products” and you’ll be surprise at the results. Go ahead!

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Eight years ago I was working for Hitachi Data Systems, the storage systems division of electronic giant Hitachi. Back then 64MB and 128MB memory sticks were in becoming standard corporate give-aways. Yes, I was in marketing back then. My boss, being a techie himself, asked me what it would cost to produce a high-end portable storage device with a capacity of 40GB.

Needless to say I contacted someone at Hitachi and asked for a referral to a distributor. After getting the price I wanted, I went to a nearby computer mall, shopped around for a low-cost (ok, cheap) USB 2.0 metal case for the hard drive. I also contacted a small trader specializing in corporate premiums, and presto… I started producing portable, 40GB external USB hard drives.

Today I don’t have to do what I did back then to buy myself a portable harddrive. If you’ve ever been to any of the local computer malls in Hong Kong, you will find external portable harddrives from recognizable brands like Seagate, Maxtor, Lacie, etc. If you are the adventurer, you can also opt to build one yourself – like I did. I still have 3 portable harddrives – all home assembled.

I also bought a 120GB Lacie brand for my wife since she wanted to regularly backup her office PC – after suffering from a failed harddrive earlier this year.

Anyway, I recently got a call from Andrew Peters from PacificWest PR in Singapore to try out the eSys No Touch NT2500 portable harddrive. The box arrived one day before I left for an overseas trip – which was great because I wanted to make sure I had a backup device for my 80GB HDD. The NT2500 came with 250GB so it was more than enough to backup my entire notebook and then some.

The NT2500 came formatted and ready for use. It included an IBM Tivoli Continuous Data Protection for Files software (version 3.1). The NT2500 hardware itself is very quiet. It took over two hours of continually plugged to the USB port of my notebook before I felt the noticeable warmth on the bottom of the drive. Throughout that time the unit itself was dead quiet.

The often used measure to test how a backup drive performs is backup and restore times. But both metrics are dependent on several factors including the make and model of the computer, RAM and harddisk space, other applications running during backup, type of USB port from which the drive is connected, and file type and size. It took me about 12 minutes to backup 6 Outlook PST files totalling 11.5GB. This was using a drag and drop approach. It would be great if it were faster than that but I can’t complain. It was just slightly faster than the fastest homemade portable drive I have – using Sarotech from Korea.

What I like about the NT2500:
Quiet
Simple and sleek design
Works 100% out of the box – really plug and play

What I don’t like about the NT2500:
Glossy surface is fingerprint magnet
Dimension-wise the packaging is longer than most other portable drives making it less portable than it should
IBM Tivoli Continuous Data Protection for Files version 3.1 is not very intuitive (call me dumb but I haven’t figured out how how to backup my notebook’s data to the NT2500).
It can get very warm when it is performing backup or restore

In reality its very hard to see anything unique about portable USB harddrives. You see one, you’ve seen them all. You just need to make sure: (1) there’s enough capacity to store what you need (I can tell you there is never enough GB); (2) is it really portable – can I stow it in my hip pocket?; and (3) does it need special software to work? Cool factor should only come in when you’ve answered these first three. All else is garnishing.

NT2500 Specifications:
Supported Operating Systems: Windows 2000/XP/Vista/Linus Mac OS X 10.3.0 or later
USB Format: USB 2.0 (USBB 1.1 Backwards Compatible)
Rotational Speed: 5400rpm
Product Physical Dimensions: 150mm X 84mm X 16.5mm (2.5″)
Weight: 0.2kg
Software: IBM Tivoli Continuous Data Protection for Files version 3.1

Third-party reviews of the NT2500:
Living: Digital: Touch Me Not
Hardwarezone: EZY Technologies Announces its NoTouch External Storage Devices

** Word of Warning: If you happen to buy the NT2500 or its bigger sibling, the NT3500, do not install and use the IBM Tivoli CDP for Files, it is one of the worst backup software I’d ever have the distinction of installing on my PC. It is slow, difficult to use, and not very flexible. You’d be better off using WIndows Explorer to manually copy files to the drive. If I find a good software, I’ll write another blog on that.