This review covers the brand new Kingston XS1000 external SSD (solid state drive)—what I consider to be the best portable SSD for travel. Photographers, digital nomads, and budget travelers wishing to lighten their kits should especially take note.
- Size and weight
- Solid construction
- Crazy fast transfer rate
- Admittedly nitpicky, I would love for the XS1000 to include a rubber sleeve like its pricier counterpart, the XS2000.
- The listed operating temperature range is 0°C ~ 40°C. I sometimes find myself working outside of those boundaries (e.g., Sumatra or the Himalayas).
How to Back Up Photos While Traveling
Once upon a time in the early 2000s, I packed blank DVDs for every trip. The ones that didn’t get shattered in my backpack (there were always casualties) were used to mail photos back home, my crude method for backing up memories while in Asia.
Successfully burning photos onto these DVDs required some dark magic and many hours spent in smoke-filled internet cafes.
Switching to the Cloud
Enter, “the cloud.”
Yes, the cloud is a convenient way to back up photos while traveling, but there’s a catch: using it requires large swaths of bandwidth—still a precious resource in some of the places I travel.
I can always tell when other budget travelers have returned to the guesthouse from an adventure. Without fail, their many iPhones sense Wi-Fi for the first time that day and begin silently syncing gigabytes of selfies to the cloud. The rest of us are left with the equivalent of a 56K connection.
In family-run hotels, the kid playing Minecraft behind the reception desk (there always seems to be one) would often begin swearing in Thai. I felt his pain.
Any digital nomad whose livelihood relies on data still needs a trustworthy method for offline backups. The cloud is only useful for mass storage when you have ample bandwidth—often when the kid at reception finally goes to bed.
Why Switch to a Portable SSD for Travel?
Until recently, portable SSDs were simply too pricey to risk to the elements on one of my typical trips. I stuck to carrying many different portable hard drive options.
Over time, these heavy, mechanical HDDs shrank in weight and grew in capacity; however, they were still fragile and needed to be babied in padded cases. They were power hungry and gobbled up my precious laptop battery selfishly as if outlets could be found in all parts of the airport, which isn’t the case.
Solid State Drives (SSDs) offer many advantages over HDDs. Along with being smaller, lighter, faster, and more polite about power consumption, they run quietly without succumbing to Southeast Asia’s heat.
More importantly, unlike traditional hard drives, SSDs lack moving parts. An accidental drop isn’t going to result in the catastrophic loss of photos from a trip.
The Kingston XS1000 Portable SSD for Travel
My first impression?
When I began opening the XS1000, I thought maybe they had forgotten to put it inside the small, retail box. It’s that light.
At roughly 29 grams, the XS1000 weighs barely more than a single AA battery.
That’s great news for those of us who know far too well how grams eventually add up to kilograms, and kilograms add up to luggage fees and sore shoulders.
Despite the insignificant weight, the XS1000 manages not to feel “cheap.” I have a nasty habit of squeezing thumbdrives and other devices to see if they flex any, betraying their inferior build. The combination of black aluminum and hard plastic keeps the XS1000 feeling solid with zero bend.
I also like the low profile of the XS1000. It won’t attract a lot of attention while on the road.
Can It Take a Beating?
First things first, my gear has to be able to take a beating while on the road, and I’m certain the XS1000 can handle everyday travel needs.
That said, someone like climber / adventure photographer Jimmy Chin will probably prefer the Kingston XS2000, an even faster portable SSD for travel that includes a ruggedized sleeve (providing an IP55 rating). Those features come with a higher price point.
Some Technical Specs
- Interface: USB 3.2 Gen 2 (USB-C)
- Speed: Up to 1,050MB/s read and ~1GB/s write. (As always with speed ratings, these results highly depend on your computer.)
- Capacity: 1 TB or 2 TB (2,000 gigabytes)
- Weight: 28.7 grams
- Physical Size: 1.25 x 2.75 inches (3.18 cm x 7 cm)
- Partitioning: exFAT
- Price: (depends on retailer)
Included in the Box
- The portable SSD unit
- A stubby, 12-inch USB-A to USB-C cable
Review for the Kingston XS1000 Portable SSD
Let’s get down to the messy business of data transfer and using the XS1000.
First, how do you know if someone runs Linux as their primary operating system? Wait five minutes (they’ll tell you).
I’ve been a Linux user since 1998, so I did my testing with an Asus laptop running Ubuntu 20.04.6 LTS.
As expected, the XS1000 performed flawlessly.
The XS1000 comes formatted with one large exFAT partition, meaning it will work on nearly every device (Windows, Linux, MacOS, Chrome OS, Android, and iOS) out of the box.
If you don’t know the difference between FAT32, exFAT, and NTFS, this article does a good job of explaining.
The problem, however, is that exFAT doesn’t provide encryption—and all travelers should encrypt their storage devices. Sadly, bags and gear do become lost, either at the hands of indifferent airport staff, or in the worst cases, thieves. You don’t want to compound the headache by potentially providing a stranger with access to all your data in cleartext.
Securing portable media can be accomplished in a variety of ways, beyond the scope of this review.
As a geeky certified Secure Infrastructure Specialist (CSIS), I promptly reformatted the XS1000 with EXT4 and LUKS, providing seamless encryption. For now, at least until Best Buy begins stocking quantum computers, no one will be able to easily decrypt my gigabytes of cat pictures.
Instead of including the usual screenshots of benchmarks and obligatory graphs that mean little to most readers, here’s my highly technical analysis: I found the XS1000 to be insanely fast.
Although, as expected, transfer speeds fell short of the advertised specifications (they almost always do). That said, I copied over 60,000 travel photos in under five minutes. Then I did another 143 GB transfer of video footage in less time.
Keep in mind, that includes the overhead of encryption.
The XS1000 never stuttered. The tiny LED activity light hammering away was a beautiful sight. Although the device did warm up noticeably, I was never concerned.
Even while earning a living on the road, I’m just as guilty as any backpacker who walks 30 minutes across town to save 50 cents on pad thai. My travel funds are a closely guarded resource.
Fortunately, the 2 TB version of the XS1000 retails for around only $109.99. You can get the 1TB model for $64.99.
Kingston is a brand I have used and trusted throughout my technical career. They’ve been around a long time.
Still, I recommend only purchasing portable SSDs for travel through a trusted retailer. Unscrupulous sellers have been found guilty of installing malware onto devices such as USB drives and resealing the retail boxes. Yes, that’s a thing.
My Opinion About the Kingston XS1000 Portable SSD
Although the XS2000 might arguably be a better choice for some adventurous travelers, I don’t feel the additional speed and rubber sleeve merit the extra expense.
With all the aforementioned features and excellent price point, the Kingston XS1000 is the best portable SSD for travel and remote work as a digital nomad.
You can also find an inexpensive, third-party hard case for the XS1000 and XS2000 on Amazon.
See you on the road!
Note: The Kingston XS1000 portable SSD was launched in September 2023.
Disclaimer: My opinions on the best portable SSD for travel are based on my experience as a technologist and digital nomad. I was not paid to write this; however, I was provided with a sample XS1000 by Kingston before launch. As with all travel gear, I approached this review as a skeptic before deciding to make a recommendation to readers here.
Links in red are Amazon affiliate links that occasionally pay for noodles.