Until last week, the list of companies making visually stunning external hard drives began and ended with one name: LaCie. Partnered with respected industrial designers including Philippe Starck, LaCie has released more drool-worthy accessories than any other company in the Mac space — and that’s saying something. Numerous design successes led to LaCie’s acquisition by hard drive manufacturer Seagate, and at the 2015 CES, their combination bore fruit: the LaCie brand now has another beautiful hard drive called Mirror ($280), and Seagate debuted a designer hard drive called Seven ($100) — the thinnest 500GB portable drive ever made.
Although they’re cosmetically different and arguably designed to suit different users’ needs, Mirror and Seven have a lot in common, so we’re looking at them together in this review. Read on for photos and our hands-on test results.
To get the technical details out of the way, Mirror and Seven are both USB 3.0 drives with backward compatibility for older USB 2.0 Macs and PCs. Mirror is sold solely in a 1TB capacity, and Seven is exclusively a 500GB drive, both using traditional laptop-sized hard drive mechanisms rather than solid state memory. Tests of both drives with a USB 3-equipped Retina MacBook Pro yielded read and write speeds in the 105MB/second range, versus USB 2 speeds between 31-37MB. These are not the fastest USB 3 drives you’ll ever see, but they’re way quicker than the pre-USB 3 drives that most people are using, transferring small files in the blink of an eye.
Of the two drives, Mirror is closest to a traditional LaCie product. Over the years, LaCie has sought to hide hard disks inside enclosures that don’t look boring on desks, notably including the techno-organic Philippe Starck-designed Blade Runner and the silver Christopfle Sphere — either one could have been featured in a really good sci-fi movie. Though it’s simple, the Pauline Deltour-designed Mirror similarly looks like a piece of modern art.
It’s a basic silver box measuring 5″ long by 3.15″ tall by 0.5″ thick with mirrors on every side, seemingly designed not to be touched after it’s placed on its included stand. For shipment, LaCie covers each of its mirrors with a piece of plastic; you pull them off, use an included cleaning cloth to eliminate your fingerprints, then gawk at the completely reflective box. Mirror doesn’t blend in with a desk; rather, it will just sit there waiting to draw your gaze or inspire discussion. A small LaCie badge on the USB port edge is the only power indicator; it glows white when powered on, and flashes when the drive’s being accessed.
Mirror ships with a light gray fabric USB cable and an ebony wood stand, the former arguably a little too short at only 18″, and the latter similarly an unusually organic contrast for the silver monolith. The stand has been designed with one notch for Mirror and a larger groove for a pen or pencil. While the wood is certainly nice, we’d like to see LaCie offer additional – and more modern – stand options in the future. Should you want to stand Mirror up tall rather than wide, you can do so, achieving an iPod/iPhone-like recline with the USB cable sticking out of its top. It’s only in this position that you can actually use Mirror as a personal mirror; in wide mode, you’ll at most see reflections of your chest.
There are two other pieces in the Mirror box: a cleaning cloth — the value of which is self-evident given the drive’s susceptibility to fingerprints and dust – and a fabric drawstring carrying bag. Though Mirror is small, it’s somewhat surprising that LaCie is pitching it as worth carrying around, since you’ll need to constantly wipe it down when you handle it. That said, all of its surfaces are covered in Gorilla Glass for protection, so it’s not going to get roughed up unless you drop it. No rubber feet or other pieces are included, so it’s best left resting on the carrying bag when you’re traveling without the stand.
Seagate’s Seven is an equally impressive achievement, but for entirely different reasons. Only seven millimeters thick, it’s actually smaller than an iPhone 6 Plus — at 3.25″ wide by 4.8″ tall by 0.28″ thick, it’s a hint thinner, a lot shorter, and only a little wider. The design looks so much like an internal hard drive that some people who saw Seven at CES thought that it was internal — only a recessed blue power/status light on the top and a USB 3.0 port on its adjacent edge hint otherwise.
Interestingly, though Seven is probably a safer choice for portability than Mirror, Seagate doesn’t include a carrying case with this model: instead, Seven is made from resilient stainless steel, which feels as solid and substantial as can be in person. Due to its size — a current-generation iPod touch-like thinness and height, plus roughly an inch of width — it can fit in almost any bag pocket that would hold an iPod or iPhone, without a case. Like Mirror, it includes an 18-inch fabric cable, which is identical other than its jet black coloration.
Of these two drives, the one that’s easier to recommend on raw price-to-performance is the Seagate Seven. For a lower price, it delivers the same speeds via the same USB 3.0/2.0 interface, an impressively smaller profile, and a longer warranty — three years versus Mirror’s two. But Mirror is a comparatively beautiful alternative, packed with extra frills and twice the storage capacity. Is it worth nearly three times the price? As with all designer products, you’ll have to answer that for yourself, but it’s certainly a real standout compared with 95% of the Mac accessories out there today. If you like shiny new things, there’s not a shinier or newer hard drive around.