One drawback of iPhones and iPads is that they only offer limited, non-expandable storage. The base model of the upcoming iPhone 6s will still only have 16GB of storage – which is where the Leef iBridge comes in. The idea is that you can plug it straight into the bottom of your device and instantly have extra storage, but is it that simple? Let’s find out…
First of all, let's address why this device exists. For as long as they’ve been around, iPhones and iPads have come with a finite amount of storage. The first generation iPhone was available with as little as 4GB of storage, while the newest iPhones and iPads can have up to 128GB.
The cheapest iPhone these days, the iPhone 5c, comes with 8GB of storage - of which approximately 4.9GB is available to the user. Once you've taken a few photos, downloaded a game or two and maybe some music, your space is pretty much full.
And the thing is, a lot of people buy the 8GB versions. If you've never had an iPhone before, you might not know exactly how much space you need – or you might have gone for the cheaper model to save money. Unfortunately, after a few weeks of use you may find that your 4.9GB of available space has rapidly decreased.
So, what options do you have at this point? Well, unlike some other phones you can't simply plug in an SD card, as iPhones don't have a slot for them. You can't upgrade the storage unless you buy a whole new phone. You could try freeing up some space, but that means deleting your pictures or apps. Realistically, you have two options: either move as much data as possible to a cloud storage service, or use an external memory device. For those of you considering the second option, meet the Leef iBridge.
Lightning to USB connection
In form, the iBridge resembles a USB memory stick – although it also features a Lightning connector on on end that plugs directly into the bottom of your iOS device. From there, you can either use your device to view the content stored on the iBridge, or transfer files from your phone to free up some space.
There are in fact a few different external storage options for iOS devices – but in my opinion, the iBridge is probably the most elegant. Notably, the iBridge curves back on itself, so when it's inserted it it folds neatly against the back of your device. This makes it much less intrusive than devices that simply stick out of the bottom, and you can comfortably hold your phone with the iBridge attached.
The accompanying app does a good job, with enough features and extras to justify the iBridge's price tag. There are some limitations, however – but these are intrinsic to iOS rather than any fault with the device itself. In particular, the iBridge won't be of any use for storing apps or games. The only thing you can use it for is storing music, photos, videos and documents.
The iBridge is wonderfully portable: small and compact enough to fit any pocket. The weight is practically nothing, while the protective cap for the USB and Lightning connectors forms a full loop, so you can easily hook it to a belt or strap. There's also a cut-out at the top that could be attached to a keychain – but I'd personally find the device just a little too big to have on my keys. The main body has a nice rubbery texture, and the matte black and chrome finish make it look smart enough to accompany your iDevice.
The curve on the bottom is large enough to loop around the back of any compatible device, and there's enough extra space that neither Apple's own covers nor third-party cases should interfere with the fit of the iBridge.
To be fair, there isn't really much room for imaginative design with what is essentially a USB stick with a Lightning connector on the other end. But the iBridge does indeed combine genuinely practical design with the good looks to complement your Apple device.
Transferring files from your computer is a very simple affair. There's no software or additional components required: the iBridge is simply recognized as a standard USB drive. Filling it up is a simple case of finding the files you need and dragging or copying them to the drive.
However, this process does highlight one of the few negatives of the iBridge – the use of the slower USB 2.0 connection, rather than super-speed USB 3.0. Their Bridge device for Android does use USB 3.0, so Leef certainly have the means to implement it.
With the iBridge, the problem is likely due to the fact that the Lightning port on the iPhone only supports the slower USB 2.0 speeds. This would have forced Leef to use a slower control chip, preventing them from adding USB 3.0 to the computer connection side.
Ultimately it doesn't slow things down too much, but copying larger files from my computer did take a bit longer than I would have liked.
With USB on one end and Lighting the other, the iBridge takes a simple concept and packages it nicely.
Once your files are on the device, it's easy to access them. Just connect it to your iPhone or iPad and use the Content Viewer in the iBridge app to play or open your files. It's really simple - so if you're going away for a few days, you can effortlessly throw a selection of movies onto the iBridge without them taking up space on your iPad.
As mentioned above, you'll need to download and install the Leef iBridge app from the App Store in order to use the iBridge. This is a free app that only takes a moment or two to download and enables all the functionality of the device. The app has three main functions: Transfer Files, Content Viewer and iBridge Camera.
The Transfer Files function, as you might imagine, is for moving files between the iBridge and your phone. This makes it particularly simple to transfer pictures between the Photos app on your device and the iBridge. For many users, it's photos that take up the majority of their storage space – so this functionality can free up a lot of space on your iPhone at the touch of a button.
Alternatively, you can also transfer photos from the iBridge on to your iPhone. This is a quick and easy way to share pictures from any PC or Mac to your – or anyone else's – iPhone or iPad.
The Content Viewer is simply for viewing the documents, music, movies and photos that you have stored on the iBridge. This could be pictures you've taken using the iBridge camera (more on that in a moment) or content you've added from your computer. When you tap on Content Viewer, you then choose what type of content to look at (Photos, Music, Video, Documents) and then simply tap on the item to open it up.
There is however a rather large caveat with this though: DRM, or Digital Rights Management. This is a way of 'protecting' an electronic file by restricting what you can do with it. In practice, this is usually used to enforce copyright: a Blu-ray disc, for example, will often feature DRM to stop people making copies or transferring it to a computer.
How does this affect the iBridge? Well, the Content Viewer cannot play any file that's restricted by DRM. Apple managed to convince record labels to stop using DRM on their music downloads years ago – so any music you've bought from iTunes after 2009 should be fine. Likewise, digital music stores like Amazon and Google Play Music also provide DRM-free music which will work without issue.
The problems come with video files. If the videos are ones you've recorded yourself, there shouldn't be a problem – but if you've bought any films online then there's almost no chance they will work with iBridge.
You see, almost all movie and TV studios are still terrified of "the Internet" harming their profits. As a result, they go to extreme lengths to try and protect their assets. For that reason, any films or TV shows you've purchased from iTunes or other digital stores will not work on the iBridge at all, due to the DRM restrictions on them.
The only way to watch these on your iPhone or iPad is for them to be stored on your device itself – or, of course, for you to have a DRM-free version. At the moment, the only way of finding a movie or TV show without DRM (without venturing into the ethically-dubious world of piracy) is for you to record them yourself.
For content that does work, though, the Leef iBridge does a great job. The music and video players are simple to use, and similar enough to the standard ones that they won't require any additional learning. For the most part, playing music or other media is no different than normal: you're just viewing the files from a different location.
The iBridge Camera offers a simple camera function that allows you to take photos on your iPhone or iPad which are saved directly to the iBridge rather than the internal device memory.
This allows you to go through a whole day of photo-snapping, saving everything to the external memory rather than taking up space on your device's internal storage.
There are some downsides here, though. The camera really only does the basics - no effects, no HDR, no panoramas, and no video recording either. You can choose between taking a snap with the rear camera or shooting a selfie, but that's all.
For most people, this should be fine - but do be aware that if you want to do anything beyond that, you will have to use Apple's camera app or a third-party option, neither of which can save directly to the iBridge.
As well as the three main features mentioned above, if you dig into the settings menu you'll also see an option for backup. This function allows you to back up your photos and contacts, and it's pretty easy to do: you simply tap Backup, select whether you want to back up your photos, contacts or both, and then simply hit the Backup now button.
Restoring from these backups is simple, and it doesn't need to be done on the original device - so if you get a new iPhone or want to transfer your data to a different device, you can just open the app and hit the option to restore.
So far I've been very positive about what the iBridge is and what it does – but how does it fare in actual day-to-day use?
The first thing I have to mention is that, at the end of the day, it's yet another device I have to remember to carry with me. When I leave the house I have my phone, my keys and my wallet as my essentials. Everything else is extra, and if I'm not wearing a jacket or coat with pockets then my other devices and accessories remain at home. There are plenty of situations I can imagine where taking the iBridge – or just remembering to take it – could cause trouble.
What's more, the iBridge app, while perfectly functional, is still severly limited by iOS. I can't use any other apps with the iBridge, limiting what I can do with it. The camera features are lacking, and I particularly miss features like panorama and video recording. It's also restricted to storing media files only – so if there's a game or app that I'm struggling to fit on my phone, then the iBridge will be of no help.
There are a few devices you could choose instead of the iBridge, but because the limitations are due to iOS itself, it's tough to find something that's much better.
Mophie offer a case called Space Pack that has inbuilt storage, which means it'll always be with you as long as you keep the phone in the case. It's considerably more expensive than the iBridge, though.
A much more enticing option would be something that's easier to use and potentially much cheaper - cloud storage. iCloud is built in to your iDevices and you can use it for storing your photos and music without hassle.
Other services like Dropbox, Google Drive and OneDrive are all available, and incredibly cheap. Google Drive and OneDrive will give you 15GB for free, then cost about £2 a month for 100GB – whereas a 128GB iBridge will set you back an upfront cost of £169.99. Unless you're stuck with a very limited data plan, have a poor internet connection or really need offline access to your files, then in almost all cases cloud storage will be the better option.
So, having run through everything this device can do - is it worth it?
In large part, the answer depends on the amount of storage you currently have. If you have a 64GB or 128GB iPhone or iPad, then I can't see this being a must-have, as you're unlikely to run out of storage quite so quickly.
If you have an 8GB iPhone 5 or 5c, then it becomes a lot easier to recommend. As mentioned above, your brand new iPhone 5c only weighs in at a measly 4.9GB of available storage. Once you add a few games and some music, taken a few pictures and maybe shot a video or two, you'll be almost full already. This is exactly where a device like iBridge can help.
Overall it's hard to say anything bad about the device itself. It does exactly what it needs to, and it does a good job of it. The real issue is that the problem it solves can generally be fixed in a much better way by using cloud storage. In almost all cases, a cloud service will be cheaper while offering a lot more space and flexibility.
If, however, if you don't have a good signal or data connection – or if offline access to your files is absolutely crucial – then the iBridge is about as good as external storage gets for iOS devices.