A good portable SSD should be small, fast, and able to connect to devices through the almighty USB-C port. Samsung’s new T7 Touch checks all of those boxes, plus another big one: it’s more secure than your average SSD. There’s 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 you’ve 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 drive’s 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.
Samsung’s 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. You’ll 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 people’s fingerprints with the drive, too. That way, it can be passed back and forth without much worrying.
As you probably expected, activating the T7 Touch’s security settings in the app means that you’ll 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 Samsung’s SSD software.
It’s a little more useless in this read-only state than I’d like. Samsung doesn’t 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 don’t have a fingerprint logged and you forget the password for the drive, simply resetting it isn’t 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. That’s getting up there in price for a drive that doesn’t support Thunderbolt 3’s faster transfer speeds, though to the T7 Touch’s credit, it’s 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 aren’t familiar with the T5, Samsung’s 2017 portable SSD, the T7 Touch still looks and feels like a compact business cardholder. It’s 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, you’ll 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 doesn’t have a USB-C port.
Similar as they might look, the T7 Touch’s 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.
Of course, just how fast this (and any) drive transfers relies entirely on what kind of computer you’re plugging it into. Samsung’s 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 it’s 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 Samsung’s 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. That’s below what Samsung advertises above, but it’s what I expected. It’s 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 doesn’t 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 you’re all right with taking a hit in storage capacity, Samsung’s latest portable drive gets you added security and a more compact design.
Having a fingerprint sensor won’t make this a must-have product for everyone. But if you’re sold on the form factor and the speed improvements Samsung made here, you should know that a version of the T7 that won’t support biometrics is coming in Q2 2020. It will likely be slightly more affordable (though Samsung hasn’t yet confirmed the price) and will even out the value better compared to a DIY NVMe drive. Still, for the time being, Samsung’s new model isn’t much more expensive than its predecessor, and the added features and faster transfer speeds amount to a product you likely won’t regret buying.
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