I don't often feel old, but the other day I was talking to a teenager who asked a few questions about what it had been like when I was at school. After a while I was asked whether I used to send texts to other pupils when the teacher wasn't looking. I had to gently break the news that when I was at school nobody outside yuppiedom had a mobile phone, and that texting didn't exist at all. (The first commercial SMS services did not appear until 1993, fact fans.) When this sort of thing happens, I half-expect the sort of reaction I'd have to someone who had no electricity in their own childhood home.
One of the other things that produces similar reactions is USB. Those who weren't around before this wonderful technology came into being are unlikely to appreciate just how incredible the very first USB memory sticks seemed, yet they too quickly became commonplace, and by the time this Integral stick appeared it was already rare for even cheap computers not to sport multiple USB ports. The ENVOYplus is annoyingly named, and it's far from clear what might be "plus" about it - the only difference I can see from the original ENVOY is a mild tweaking of the design - but it does a job.
Admittedly the capacity is a mere ("mere"? You see how blasé we have become!) 512 MB, but tiny though that may be in these days when eight-gig sticks cost about as much as a cinema ticket - and have fewer teenagers giggling, unless you like that sort of video file - it's still enough to be useful. Just think of how many of your product reviews you could get in that space! (If the answer is "two", then you might want to think about being a little more concise in future...) Unless you're carting around game files, Linux distro images or videos, the Integral has quite enough space on to be useful. I use mine for storing documents such as PDFs and photos of medium size (a meg or so each) and it's fine for that.
As has sometimes been the fashion with memory sticks, unfortunately if you ask me, this one came divided into two partitions: the larger, of around 480 MB, was a standard data space, but there was also a 32 MB partition on which was, so Integral proudly boasted, "free Windows encryption and compression software". I think I looked at this once (I was still using Windows XP regularly when I got it) and decided there wasn't really much point. These days there's even less, as the software would be very outdated and probably lull the user into a false sense of security. If you have the know-how, you might as well reformat the whole drive into one large conventional partition; if not, be aware that you won't be getting quite the full 512 MB.
Another exciting(?) feature of the ENVOYplus was its support for "ReadyBoost". This was a wheeze of Microsoft's, probably dreamed up when they discovered that Windows Vista was the most almighty resource hog and so many of those lovely paying customers wouldn't have systems that could cope with it properly. In brief, it allows the operating system to use the USB stick as disk cache, rather than using the traditional (and slower) method of swapping files out to the hard disk. It does work, but really the best cure for Vista's slowness, for those who wish to stick with Windows, is to upgrade to the infinitely superior Windows 7. ReadyBoost still exists in 7, but it's not nearly such a big deal.
You wouldn't call this stick a speed demon. It is USB 2.0, rather than the Neolithic 1.1, so copying files isn't a horrible chore, but my impression is that my various SanDisk Cruzer sticks are slightly but noticeably more efficient in this department. Okay, so given the Integral's relatively small capacity it's not likely to be a deal-breaker, but it might be worth bearing in mind. As for look and feel, my own stick is a pleasant dark blue colour, and usefully has "512 MB" in largish type just below the maker's name. It's light, too, one of the lightest sticks I've ever used, which has the usual pros and cons. Unfortunately rather than a slideable contact it also has a conventional removable cap, which inevitably I've lost!
This was the smallest capacity made in the ENVOYplus series, and so it's not particularly good value. You're not all that likely to find one new any more, though just occasionally a shop will dig out some old stocks from their bunker, and most people would be better off with a 4 MB or 8 MB stick. However, if you happen to see the 512 MB stick going cheap (meaning no more than two of three pounds) second-hand then it's probably worth a look. That's about as enthusiastic as I can really get about the Integral, and as such it scores a middle-of-the-road three stars.
[The subject line is a quotation by Aldous Huxley.]