As a digital photographer, a universal card reader is a vital accessory. The issue is that there are many different card types out there and you need a reader that can handle as many of them as possible. The fact that many cellphones now support add-on memory cards further adds to the importance of a reader..
You may also ask why not just use the camera (or phone) since most cameras can be directly connected to a computer via USB. This is true; however, the performance of copying pictures from a camera to a computer via the built-on USB is typically super slow. This may also require you maintain multiple separate cables for each camera and phone that you use.
The obvious solution to the above issues is purchasing an external multi-card reader. These devices are very inexpensive and can be purchased for as little as $5 on eBay and for less than $20 on a amazon.com. I originally took the $5 eBay route figuring that there is not that much difference between readers; I was completely wrong.
I currently have three readers and decided to benchmark them to compare performance. In each case, I used a 4 GB Sandisk Extreme IV Card and measured the time between when I selected copy on the computer menu and when the process completed. I copied 69 MB of image data on each test run. The results were rather surprising:
|Firewire Compact Flash Reader||2 Seconds|
|Transcend M5 Reader||4 Seconds|
|eBay Special Reader||25 Seconds!|
Obviously, the Firewire reader is the fastest, but it is amazing how slow the eBay special was. I would have expected it to be somewhat slower, but never 1/6th the performance. As you would imagine, the slow performance of the eBay special is immediately noticeable even without running these detailed analyses.
The long and short is that you get what you pay for with multi-card readers. The $5 special on eBay is not worth the money. You are better spending less than $20 on a name brand reader such as the Transcend that I tested.