The best USB flash drives are a great way to store oodles of data and take them with you. Whereas primitive floppy disks could barely store a single Elton John song, USB flash drives are large enough to store entire computers on them, with every drive holding at least a few gigabytes on them. Best of all, every “thumb drive” is small enough to throw in a backpack, desk drawer, or even your pocket.
— Best Overall: SanDisk Extreme Pro USB 3.2 Drive
— Best Security: Lexar Jumpdrive Fingerprint
— Best Durability: Corsair Flash Survivor
— Best USB Type A: PNY Turbo Attache 4 USB Flash Drive
— Best 3.1: Samsung FIT Plus
— Best for the Money: Verbatim Pinstripe 16GB 5-Pack
Best USB Flash Drives: Reviews and Recommendations
For a hot second in history, USB thumb drives were given away along with pens, hats, and beer koozies by everyone from credit unions to your real estate agent. These drives, despite their ubiquity, weren’t exactly reliable, and you’d lose your data if you even looked at them funny. Opting for a branded USB drive is highly recommended, but there are occasional pratfalls there too. Here are some things to consider when picking out a good USB flash drive.
Compatibility: A USB flash drive should be a reliable way to transfer data from one place to another. This shouldn’t be dependent on the OS. One USB flash drive should work equally well on Mac OS, Windows, and even Linux PCs. Compatibility with Android OS and iOS is also great, but not necessary. For more storage, check out our guide to the best external hard drives.
Build Quality: USB sticks have come a long way in build quality, but that doesn’t mean you don’t occasionally come across shoddy thumbsticks that aren’t worth what little money you pay for them. Less-than-optimized builds usually mean that the tech specs within these devices will also be an afterthought.
Speed: Why are some USB flash drives so much more expensive than others, even though they look similar in build quality? It all has to do with how fast USB drives operate when it comes to filling them with data and unloading that data from place to place. Higher transfer rates mean less waiting, whether you’re backing up files, folders, or your entire hard drive.
Bonus Features: All a good USB drive has to do to be effective and one of the best is to save data, transfer data, and keep data safe. Some models come with extra features you didn’t even know you wanted, mostly to do with ease of use and security. The more user-friendly features, the better.
Best USB Flash Drives in 2023: Reviews and Recommendations
Best Overall: SanDisk Extreme Pro USB 3.2 Drive
Why It Made The Cut: A tough case and an app that lets you recover files makes the SanDisk Extreme Pro USB Drive simply unbeatable
— Dimensions: 2.79 inches L x 0.84 inches W x 0.45 inches H
— Weight: 0.65 ounces
— Available Sizes: 128 GB (gigabytes) to 1 TB (terabyte)
— Incredibly fast read and write speeds
— Durable metal casing
— Lets you recover deleted files
Be honest: do you safely remove your USB drive before removing it from your computer? Or maybe you’re a little fast and loose when it comes to removing files to make space for new ones. SanDisk Extreme Pro USB 3.2 Drive is ready to deal with accident-prone file movers.
Each purchase of the Extreme Pro USB 3.2 Drive comes with a complimentary one-year subscription download of RescuePro Deluxe (available on Mac and Windows) that lets you recover files that you accidentally deleted. This would typically run you $60, but it comes totally gratis with the purchase of this USB flash drive. Aside from being nearly accident proof with its retractable input, it’s fast enough to make your head spin. Transfer an entire 4K movie in as little as 15 seconds, or 1,000 photos in as little as 25 seconds. All this wondrous tech comes inside an aluminum casing that feels and looks like a premium product. And even with that RescuePro Deluxe subscription, this device will run a pretty penny. There’s no arguing with its reliability, build-quality, and read and write speeds.
Best Security: Lexar Jumpdrive Fingerprint
Why It Made The Cut: You don’t need to be a James Bond-like super spy to take advantage of the space-age security inside the Lexar Jumpdrive Fingerprint USB flash drive.
— Dimensions: 2.53 inches L x 0.81 inches W x 0.31 inches H
— Weight: 0.8 ounces
— Available Sizes: 32 GB to 256 GB
— Fingerprint-scan for optimal security
— Easy setup
— Share with up to 10 different fingerprint profiles
— Won’t work when plugged into hubs
— A little too safe
No, we don’t have flying cars yet, but plenty of tech from doors to phones unlocks with your thumbprint, an admittedly very cool idea that used to be the domain of sci-fi. The Lexar Jumpdrive Fingerprint USB flash drive uses this tech for the best in security.
For keeping files as safe as possible, unlocking this drive is done by scanning your thumbprint on a small divot on the top end of the device. The Lexar Jumpdrive Fingerprint recognizes up to ten different fingerprint profiles, all in less than one second — faster than inputting a password manually. All this wonderful tech takes minutes to set up, whether you’re working with a single fingerprint or several. It all adds up to some seriously great security features. Of course, there are a few trade offs when dealing with the Lexar Jumpdrive Fingerprint. For one, it won’t work if you plug it into a USB hub. If you want your device to read this flash drive, you have to plug it directly into your computer. Annoying at best, and terrible at worst, considering that newer MacBook devices don’t even have USB Type-A inputs. It will keep your data safe, and perhaps a little too safe. Occasionally, the reader has trouble recognizing thumbprints. Keep the device and your own digits clean, and this should minimize this problem.
Best Durability: Corsair Flash Survivor
Why It Made The Cut: For the absolutely safest data storage, Corsair Flash Survivor is unmatched.
— Dimensions: 3.03 inches L x 0.94 inches W x 0.94 inches H
— Weight: 1.83 ounces
— Available Sizes: 32 GB to 1 TB
— Anodized, aircraft-grade case
— Waterproof up to 200 meters
— Fast file sharing
— Less durable when out of the case
USB drives are pretty resilient, but for military-grade readiness, the Corsair Flash Survivor is an aptly named device that comes ready to face both the elements and user error.
It’s not just a USB flash drive: it’s a USB-flash drive inside a very safe case that can withstand just about anything. The attractive black housing is made of anodized, aircraft-grade aluminum which resists vibration and shock with ease. It’s even totally waterproof up to 200 meters. The drive within the housing isn’t a slouch either, with incredibly fast file reading and writing whether you’re using its native USB 3.0 or USB 2.0 on a legacy PC. Its speed makes it easy to view files including videos on the drive itself, without the need to save them to the hard drive first. And while the USB flash drive is nearly impossible to damage in the case, once it's out, it’s perhaps more sensitive than it should be. That said, some users reported the USB input breaking when not enough care was taken to insert and remove the device from a PC. Keep that in mind, and always keep this USB flash drive in its case when not in use.
Best USB Type A: PNY Turbo Attache 4 USB Flash Drive
Why It Made The Cut: The PNY Turbo Attache 4 is a sleek little device that just plain works.
— Dimensions: 2.25 inches L x 0.8 inches W x 0.5 inches H
— Weight: 0.63 ounces
— Available Sizes: 32 GB to 256 GB
— USB 3.0 ready, with backwards compatibility
— Works across multiple devices
— Retractable connector
— Occasionally runs slow
We’d bet real money that you’ve seen the PNY Turbo Attache 4 USB Flash Drive somewhere in the wild. This device is popular for a myriad of reasons.
For one, its build quality is good and sturdy. The connector isn’t flimsy like on some flash drives, and even retracts when it's not in use. It’s USB 3.0 ready but is totally compatible with USB 2.0 to work across new and legacy devices. Whether it’s plugged into a Windows or a Mac device, it will work equally well and keep your data safe and secure. Even if you decide to top out with the 256-GB size, PNY Turbo Attache 4 is still one of the most affordable drives out there. It runs a little slower than others in its class, but not enough to make transferring files to and from the USB to a hard drive an annoying prospect.
Best 3.1: Samsung FIT Plus
Why It Made The Cut: Samsung FIT Plus takes full advantage of the latest in USB-C technology making it an absolute speed demon.
— Dimensions: 0.9 inches L x 0.7 inches W x 0.3 inches H
— Weight: 0.112 ounces
— Available Sizes: 32 GB to 256 GB
— Incredibly compact
— Wide device compatibility
— Difficult to reformat
USB 3.1 is renowned for its reliability and speed, and Samsung FIT Plus takes full advantage of this new format.
Samsung FIT Plus is incredibly small, and whether its low-profile design is a bug or a feature is up to you. We lean towards the latter, as it blends seamlessly into a laptop, PC, and smartphone unlike its longer brethren in its class. Plus, it comes with a small loop to live on a keyring in case you’re the type who loses USB drives easily. With its USB Type C connectivity, it’s compatible with all manner of devices and is even at home leaving it in a streaming device, gaming console, or PC to add extra permanent storage. Despite its size, this baby is fast. So fast that a 3 GB 4K video will unload from the FIT Plus to a PC in as little as 10 seconds. Of course, many of these speed times are dependent on your hardware, but no matter where you’re moving files, it's no slouch. It’s great for traveling too, with a surprising amount of resilience being water, shock, temperature, magnet, and even X-ray-proof. Reformatting from its native Exfat format takes a few extra steps, but if you can live with that, it’s a fairly great USB flash drive.
Best for the Money: Verbatim Pinstripe 16GB 5-Pack
Why It Made The Cut: Why buy one budget-priced USB when you can get five Verbatim Pinstripe USB drives?
— Dimensions: 2.08 inches L x 0.79 inches W x 0.37 inches H
— Weight: 1.76 ounces
— Available Sizes: 8 GB to 32 GB
— Five USB drives for the price of one
— Different colors easier to categorize
— Slim and safe retractable design
— Slower than average
Cheaper USB flash drives come with a few compromises, usually when it comes to speed. Verbatim Pinstripe is no different in this case, but the value here is unbeatable.
Instead of one USB flash drive, this pack comes with five, all for the price of one, in vibrant colors no less. Color coding seems like an unnecessary feature, but it makes keeping track of files a little more simple. Blue for photos, green for videos, and red for important files, for example. When the Verbatim Pinstripe USB flash drives aren’t in use, they retract, keeping dust and debris away from the sensitive USB Type-A input. Attractive as they are, they do come a bit chunkier than usual, even if they still fit easily into a pocket or drawer. File transfer rate lags behind the pricier offerings here, but it's always good to have a few spares lying around for emergencies.
Things To Consider Before Buying a USB Flash Drive
We’re willing to bet that most USB flash drive purchases happen on impulse. Sussing out the difference between a great USB flash drive and a less-than-great one isn’t always obvious, or even worth the investment for that matter. “Investment” is used loosely here, considering how affordable USB flash drives are, even when you get into the terabyte range. Still, here are a few tips to consider when buying your next USB flash drive.
In the past, a single gigabyte was an impressive amount. Nowadays, a single movie can span anywhere from 3 to 20GB, especially in the 4K range. In general, it’s always better to opt for more space. After all, you can categorize all your photos, movies, documents, and whatever else you shove onto these devices using handy folders, and whatever encryption your OS will allow. For USB flash drives bound for smart devices like the Samsung FIT Plus, the floor should be 32 GB, not 16. Photo file sizes on fancier phones tend to be larger than they used to be, and phone hard drive space fills up fast, especially if you’re snapping everything from selfies to nature shots. For PCs and laptops, 16 GB may be more than enough, but it all depends on the types of files you’re looking to back up. If you’re using a backup system for security like Time Machine, anything less than 1 TB would be a dicey prospect.
Those of us that primarily use MacBooks also carry a heavy burden: there’s not a single USB-A input to be found. Conversely, some older PCs and laptops don’t contain any USB-C inputs. Always ensure that you get the right USB flash drive for your needs. This stretches farther than whether you’re a Mac or PC person. A USB flash drive is a great way to backup or extend file space on a smart device like a Samsung Galaxy. For a good USB Type-A flash drive, the PNY Turbo Attache 4 is fantastic. USB Type C fans will be more than happy with the Samsung FIT Plus.
Q: How much do USB flash drives cost?
USB flash drives cost anywhere from $20 all the way up to a couple hundred dollars, depending on features and how much data they store. Our best overall pick, the SanDisk Extreme Pro USB 3.2 Drive, is affordable if you go for the 256 GB offering.
Q: Is there a difference between a USB drive and a flash drive?
To put it simply, the difference between a USB drive and a USB flash drive is that a flash drive can be formatted over and over. On the whole, USB flash drives are also far more reliable and resilient.
Q: How long will data on a USB flash drive last?
Under normal conditions, a USB flash drive will hold onto data for up to 10 years. Always backup your data on a hard drive if it's especially important.
Q: Can you store photos on a USB flash drive?
Of course, you can store photos on a USB flash drive. Drives like the Samsung FIT Plus are especially great for backing up photos and videos from your smart device.
Q: Can data on a USB flash drive be deleted and reused?
Yes. Unlike a traditional thumb drive, a USB flash drive’s data can be deleted, reused, and even totally formatted.
Q: Are there different types of USB flash drives?
USB flash drives come in different sizes, shapes, and input types and vary in speed and reliability. The SanDisk Ultra Dual Drive Luxe USB Type-C, for example, contains both USB Type-A and Type connectors.
Final Thoughts on USB Flash Drives
The best USB flash drive is a must if you want to keep your files safe, take them with you, or simply pad out your hard drive space a little bit. The SanDisk Extreme Pro USB 3.2 Drive is our overall best, because of its speed, gorgeous build quality, and its complimentary file recovery app. Samsung FIT Plus is a great USB 3.1 offering, a USB flash drive so low profile that you forget it’s there. If all you need is a spare USB drive in a clutch, the Verbatim Pinstripe 16GB 5-Pack is an excellent value.
This post was created by a non-news editorial team at Recurrent Media, Futurism’s owner. Futurism may receive a portion of sales on products linked within this post.