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Best USB flash drives in 2021: Top USB memory sticks

Best USB drives
(Image credit: Kingston)

If you've got one or more of the best USB flash drives readily accessible, your most important files will be easily and universally portable. You'll have the ability to move data quickly from one computer to another, or to printers, tablets, smartphones or even TV sets, without much trouble. All you need do is plug the flash drive into a USB port and drag-and-drop the files you need.

As the cost of storage falls and USB transfer speeds improve, USB memory sticks are cheaper, faster and more capacious than ever before. For prices starting at just a few dollars, you can keep copies of all the personal files on your PC right in your pocket.

However, choosing the right USB memory stick isn't as simple as it may seem. Right now, you've got at least four different kinds of connection protocols: USB 2.0, USB 3.0, USB 3.1 and USB 3.2, with each being much faster than the previous one. 

There are also different physical plugs types. Most USB sticks still use the original USB-A plug with the rectangular profile, but some use the rounded USB-C plugs instead, and a few even use Apple's Lightning plug as an option.

Different USB sticks also have different read and write speeds. For transfers of large files, you'll definitely want something fast. Some drives also offer built-in encryption should the drive get lost or fall into the wrong hands.

To help you choose the best USB memory stick you can buy right now, we've rounded up 10 of our favorites. They vary widely by price, format, speed, physical size and storage size. But regardless of which one you select, it should hold every file you care about in a simple, easy-to-use package.

What are the best USB flash drives?

In a world where portable memory sticks are easy to come by, finding a portable memory stick that gets the job done and delivers significant value isn't the simplest of tasks. 

After testing and using a variety of devices, we found the Samsung Fit Plus (MUF-128AB) to be the best USB flash drive. It offers an outstanding mix of features and affordability, with USB 3.1 support, read speeds up to 300 MB/s and a design that's so compact that you can leave it plugged into your laptop without worrying about damage.

We also found the SanDisk Cruzer CZ36 to be a great choice, as you get secure 128-bit AES encryption for a very low price. You just have to be willing to live with USB 2.0 compatibility. If you want zippy read/write speeds, you'll be hard-pressed to find many USB storage devices better than the Kingston Digital DataTraveler G4

The best USB flash drives you can buy today

Samsung Fit Plus (MUF-128AB) (Image credit: Samsung)

1. Samsung Fit Plus (MUF-128AB)

The best flash drive overall

Specifications
USB type: USB 3.1
Storage: 32GB-256GB
Size: 0.9 x 0.7 x 0.3 inches
Weight: 0.16 ounces
Reasons to buy
+Compact design+Plenty of storage+Fast read/write speeds
Reasons to avoid
-May be easy to misplace

If you're looking for a flash drive that offers a good mix of features and affordability, the Samsung Fit Plus (MUF-128AB) is a great place to start. 

The device's tiny design makes it easy to carry around. It's available in a variety of sizes, ranging from 32GB to 256GB, and supports USB 3.1 connectivity with data-transfer speeds up to 300 MBps. That's significantly faster than other USB memory-stick options.

To keep your data safe, the Samsung Fit Plus is water-, shock-, magnet-, temperature- and X-ray-proof, which means you can bring it just about anywhere without fear of damaging your content. Because this memory stick is backward-compatible with USB 2.0, it'll work in just about any device you have. 

Be aware, however, that the Samsung USB flash drive is a bit on the pricey side, making it not the best option for those looking to save a few bucks.

SanDisk Cruzer CZ36 (Image credit: SanDisk)

2. SanDisk Cruzer CZ36

A compact and secure USB flash drive

Specifications
USB type: USB 2.0
Storage: 16GB-256GB
Size: 2.31 x 0.8 x 0.4 inches
Weight: 0.6 ounces
Reasons to buy
+Great price+Easy to protect+Universal compatibility
Reasons to avoid
-Works over USB 2.0-No 256-bit encryption

For years, the SanDisk Cruzer CZ36 has proven to be one of the most popular USB drives on the market. It has earned that popularity with its solid design, support for encryption and, most important, an exceedingly affordable price. 

The Cruzer CZ36 comes with a black finish and a red slider that lets you extend or retract the USB connector so you can keep your connector safe without worrying about damage.

The drive itself comes with USB 2.0 connectivity, which is on the older side. However, the SanDisk's 128-bit AES encryption and included SanDisk SecureAccess Software make this one of the best flash drives for the money. 

Overall, the SanDisk Cruzer CZ36 is a solid choice for transferring anything from music and photos to videos and business files.

Kingston Digital DataTraveler G4 (Image credit: Kingston)

3. Kingston DataTraveler G4

An unbeatable USB flash drive bargain

Specifications
USB type: USB 3.0
Storage: 32GB-128GB
Size: 2.65 x 0.4 x 0.83 inches
Weight: 0.35 ounces
Reasons to buy
+USB 3.0 support+Cap protects plug+Easy traveling
Reasons to avoid
-Standard read/write speeds-Less capacity than some other options

For those who don't want to spend a lot of cash, Kingston has one of the best USB flash drives regarding value. 

The company's DataTraveler G4 starts at under $10 for a USB drive with 32GB of storage and USB 3.0 support. For just a few bucks, you can get a device that stores your content, easily and quickly transfers it, and does it all without putting itself at risk of damaging your data. 

A cap on the connector keeps the drive safe from damage when it's not in use, and thanks to a loop at the end, you can connect the DataTraveler to a keychain to reduce your chances of losing it when you're walking around town. 

That said, because the Kingston DataTraveler G4 maxes out at 128GB, you're not going to get as much storage as some of the other options available. Get this drive only if you're not transferring a large amount of data.

PNY Turbo (Image credit: PNY)

4. PNY Turbo

Lots of storage for less

Specifications
USB type: USB 3.0
Storage: 32GB-256GB
Size: 5.28 x 0.25 x 3.9 inches
Weight: 0.6 ounces
Reasons to buy
+USB 3.0 support+Plenty of storage+Sliding collar for protection 
Reasons to avoid
-A little pricey-Limited color options

PNY's popular Turbo flash drive sports both a rugged design and ample storage, making it an ideal choice for someone who often travels and doesn't want to risk losing their data. 

The USB 3.0 device offers transfer speeds of up to 10 times what you get in a comparable USB 2.0 drive. Add that to Turbo's maximum 256GB of storage, and you should be able to store nearly 48,000 songs on the device — and transfer them with ease.

The drive comes with a sliding-collar design that protects the connector when it's not in use, which is especially important for road warriors. Thanks to the device's integrated loop, you can attach the PNY Turbo to a keychain or backpack to reduce chances of misplacing it when you travel. 

Overall, the PNY Turbo offers a nice mix of features, storage and travel-friendliness, which is why it's one of the best USB flash drives.

SanDisk Extreme Pro SDCZ880 (Image credit: Western Digital)

5. SanDisk Extreme Pro SDCZ880

Premium finish and huge storage meets fast speeds

Specifications
USB type: USB 3.2
Storage: 128GB-1TB
Size: 2.79 x 0.84 x 0.45 inches
Weight: 0.6 ounces
Reasons to buy
+Ultrafast performance+Great design+Lifetime limited warranty
Reasons to avoid
-Pricey

SanDisk's Extreme Pro is one of its most capable USB devices, but be ready to spend some serious cash to get your hands on it. 

The drive comes with at least 128GB of storage, going all the way up to 1TB, and delivers USB 3.2 connectivity, ensuring fast data speeds. According to SanDisk, the memory stick can deliver read speeds of up to 420 MBps and write speeds of up to 380 MBps. That makes the Extreme Pro one of the best USB flash drives for pure performance.

Thanks to an aluminum finish, the Extreme Pro should be able to withstand shocks and other damage and keep working without causing you worry about your data. SanDisk's drive, which is also compatible with USB 3.0 and USB 2.0, offers a lifetime limited warranty. And with 128-bit AES encryption, you can safeguard data you don't want others to steal.

Corsair Flash Survivor Stealth (Image credit: Corsair)

6. Corsair Flash Survivor Stealth

Seriously durable design

Specifications
USB type: USB 3.0
Storage: 16GB-256GB
Size: 3 x 1 x 1 inches
Weight: 1.3 ounces
Reasons to buy
+Great design+Outstanding protection from damage+Works cross-platform without drivers
Reasons to avoid
-A bit pricey-Limited warranty

Corsair's Flash Survivor Stealth is all about one thing: keeping your data safe regardless of where you are or where you are going. The device has a cylindrical design and an anodized, aircraft-grade aluminum housing to limit the risk of damage if you drop it. 

This best USB flash drive pick also features a water seal to reduce chances of liquid intrusion. And it has a shock-damping collar around the ends to keep your data safe if you drop it.

Regarding connectivity, the Corsair Flash Survivor Stealth supports USB 3.0. And with a maximum 256GB of storage, the memory stick will store plenty of content without  damage. But for all of that, you should be aware that this USB drive costs more than some competing devices. 

You should also know that the device ships with a limited five-year warranty; that's not bad, but it reduces your options for replacement several years down the road.

SanDisk Ultra USB-C (Image credit: SanDisk)

7. SanDisk Ultra Dual Drive USB-C SDDDC2

Best for USB-C ports

Specifications
USB type: USB 3.1
Storage: 32GB-256GB
Size: 0.37 x 1.5 x 0.79 x 0.37 inches
Weight: 1.3 ounces
Reasons to buy
+USB-C and regular USB support+Fast read/write speeds+Mobile storage for Android phones
Reasons to avoid
-Relatively pricey-Limited manufacturer warranty

SanDisk's Ultra Dual Drive USB-C is a slick-looking flash drive that offers plenty of storage and fast data transfers. This is easily the best USB drive for newer laptops, like the MacBook Air and the MacBook Pro, that have only USB-C ports. 

Since it has both USB-A and USB-C plugs — there's a slide to expose one or the other — the SanDisk Ultra USB-C offers a nice mix of fast data transfers and future-proofing, so you can be sure it'll work with a variety of devices going forward.

The memory stick comes with up to 256GB of storage and accommodates data transfers to and from a range of devices; for example, from your computer to an Android smartphone, as well as Apple's latest Macs. SanDisk says that the drive achieves data-transfer speeds of up to 150 MBps. 

When the USB flash drive is not in use, you can retract both connectors to limit chances of damage and keep your data away from harm and readily accessible. Just be aware that you'll pay a bit more for this USB-C drive compared with other options.

Kingston Digital DataTraveler Elite G2 (Image credit: Kingston)

8. Kingston Digital DataTraveler Elite G2 DTEG2

Helpful LED light

Specifications
USB type: USB 3.1
Storage: 32GB-128GB
Size: 2.34 x 0.75 x 0.43 inches
Weight: 0.7 ounces
Reasons to buy
+Great design+Fast read/write speeds+Plenty of storage options
Reasons to avoid
-Could be easy to misplace-Limited manufacturer warranty

Another favorite from Kingston Digital, the DataTraveler Elite G2 is a popular USB drive that has USB 3.1 connectivity, letting it deliver ultrafast read and write speeds and store your content with ease. 

Best of all, it comes with an LED light that tells you when it's connected and data is transferring, so you don't need to guess at what's happening during use.

The memory stick, which comes in versions ranging from 8GB to 256GB, allows for data-transfer speeds of 180 MBps. If you don't have USB 3.1 ports, you can also rely on this drive to transfer data at USB 2.0 speeds. 

The model that ships with 64GB of storage, a solid amount for most uses, is very affordable. But prices will vary depending on the version you choose. The limited five-year manufacturer's warranty isn't the best, but overall, this is one of the best USB flash drives available.

Samsung 32GB Bar (Image credit: Samsung)

9. Samsung 32GB Bar MUF-32BE3/AM

Premium (and tough) metal design

Specifications
USB type: USB 3.0
Storage: 32GB-64GB
Size: 1.57 x 0.48 x 0.43 inches
Weight: 0.3 ounces
Reasons to buy
+Great design+Fast read-write speeds+Damage-proof
Reasons to avoid
-Expensive -Limited warranty

Samsung has delivered one of the better-looking USB drives with the 32GB Bar. And if it's a head-turning device you're after, Samsung's option might be the best flash drive period. 

The device, which is made from high-quality metal, has a ring that you can use to attach the drive to so you don't lose it. Better yet, not only is it waterproof but also shock-, magnet-, temperature and X-ray-proof, limiting the chances of damage. 

Thanks to this flash drive's USB 3.0 support, you should expect fast data transfers. You also get USB 2.0 compatibility, which means it'll work with just about any device. The Samsung Bar is a bit pricey compared with many other USB flash drives, but this is a device that will let you easily bring your data wherever you go, and will look darn good doing it.

SanDisk iXpand Flash Drive (Image credit: SanDisk)

10. SanDisk iXpand Flash Drive SDIX30N

Works with iPhone and iPad

Specifications
USB type: USB 3.0
Storage: 32GB-256GB
Size: 2.32 x 0.51 x 0.66 inches
Weight: 0.2 ounces
Reasons to buy
+Works with iPhone, iPad+Plenty of storage options+Can free up space on Apple devices
Reasons to avoid
-Pricey-Adapter costs extra

If you're in the market for one of the very best USB drives available, and you're just fine spending some cash to get it, check out the SanDisk iXpand flash drive. The device starts at 32GB of storage, though you can configure the iXpand to have up to 256GB of space. It has a metal finish to improve its durability, and thanks to its USB 3.0 connectivity, the device will deliver fast data transfers.

The iXpand flash drive's most important feature is its Lightning connector, which lets you connect to an iPhone or iPad and transfer data to and from that device. Considering how difficult it can be to transfer data from those devices without Apple's help, that feature alone could be a major selling point for the iXpand. But to get all that, be ready to shell out: The SanDisk iXpand USB flash drive is on the expensive side.

How to choose the best USB drive for you

When buying USB flash drives, you'll want to focus first on storage. If you have a large number of files, videos, or songs you want to carry around with you on a device, getting a USB drive with at least 64GB is critical, and many go up to 256GB or more. 

If you're more concerned about getting a cheap memory stick for carrying fewer files, you can probably get by with 16GB or 32B.

Aside from that, you’ll want to consider other critical features, like read/write speeds. The faster the speeds, the more data you can write to the drive and access when you’re trying to see files. That’s why we would look for USB 3.1 support or (at the least) USB 3.0 support if you care about performance.

Another factor to consider is design. Flash drives aren’t the sexiest of devices, but they come in a variety of shapes and sizes. In terms of durability, look for USB drives that have shock-proof designs, waterproof-designs, and other features that limit chances of your drive being damaged. Last but least, check the warranty on that USB flash drive; a lifetime warranty is preferred but 5 years is a decent fallback option.

Don Reisinger is a communications strategist, consultant, and copywriter who has also written for many leading technology and business publications including CNET, Fortune Magazine and The New York Times, as well as Tom's Guide. 

  • I
    Disappointing review, didn't really focus on the durable all metal and worst of all, didn't show benchmarks. To the point, mainly I was looking for something with good performance, good meaning better than average (!!) while most of those are worse than average (!!) without spending as much as a Sandisk Extreme Pro costs.
    Reply