There's only so much you can do with a pocket-sized hard drive, beyond making it pocket sized in the first place. Western Digital's pretty much tried every design trick possible by now, and to look at it by itself, the My Passport Elite isn't much different. Our 500GB review sample was bright red, but it's also available in blue or black. Or if you like marketing speak, the My Passport Elite comes in "Anodized Red", "Anodized Blue" or "Charcoal Metallic" colours. As we said, Red, Blue or Black.
Where Western Digital applies the "elite" moniker is in a few key differentiating features. For a start, the drive itself has a small LED light that runs up one side indicating available capacity. It's a very simple trick, and one that even Western Digital's pulled out before in other external hard drive lines, but we're still somewhat impressed with it from a pure "here's some happy lights to show off your cool tech" kind of way.
The My Passport Elite also comes with a dedicated desktop dock. It's not that fancy to look at, but it does make it a more pleasant drive to use for desktop users, as you can safely install it to a rear-mounted USB port on your PC and not have to worry about freeing up ports or scrabbling around under desks to plug and unplug USB cables.
Western Digital sells the My Passport Elite in five different size variants according to the Western Digital website, although only three different sizes are being offered to the Australian marketplace — 320GB (AU$149.99), 500GB (AU$199.99) and 640GB (AU$239.99) according to the official local press release.
The My Passport Elite comes with Western Digital's SmartWare software solution which it also offers on other drives such as the My Passport Essential SE. SmartWare is one part backup, one part data encryption and one part data display software. Once installed and running it scans the drives attached to your system and gives you a visual interface broken down by file types. This gives you an at-a-glance view of how much space your pictures, music, movies and documents are taking up, and how much space on the drive you're already using.
Western Digital's SmartWare suite won't appeal to everybody, and if you've already got a backup solution in mind it's not going to appeal per se. Still, as included backup suites go, SmartWare is smart enough to do its thing and get out of the way while still being clear and obvious enough for users to configure it and retrieve files when needed. It's one of those universal truths that nobody has enough backups, so any extras are well worth doing.
We're a bit split on whether the My Passport Elite's dock is a good thing or not. You're not tied into using it — a USB cable is provided for direct connection — and while it's useful, it also has a rather snug fit. This makes really quickly docking the drive a tad on the fiddly side. It's not so hard to remove the drive, but if you needed to quickly and accurately place the drive in the dock, you basically can't.
As with other USB 2.0 connected drives, there's only so fast you can pump out data, and while you'll lose some portability in the bargain speed freaks may still do better with a pricier FireWire or eSATA connected drive. We managed an average read/write speed of 35.3/26.9MB/s copying a single large video file, and a slightly slower 26.06/19.6MB/s with a folder of files.