File recovery programs are generally difficult to use, whether it's because they offer you little in the way of direction or suffer from an interface that makes DOS look sleek. But that can't be said of Raxco's PerfectFileRecovery (£54, feature-limited demo), a utility that not only helped me find multiple lost files easily, but also looked good doing it.
PerfectFileRecovery isn't cheap, at £54 for a single PC licence, or £78 for a total home licence. Rivals like Recuva and FreeUndelete are free, while Symantec offers a three-PC licence of its PC Tools File Recover application for £29. See also: How to recover deleted files and photos.
So, what does PerfectFileRecovery offer for that extra dough? It is easy to use, but so is PC Tools File Recover. What PerfectFileRecovery offers is far more scanning options, which come in handy when you're not quite sure where your lost or deleted file might be.
When you launch PerfectFileRecovery, you're presented with a Wizard (which you can cancel out of and disable in the future, should you desire) that leads you through the recovery process. I found the Wizard extremely helpful when getting started with the application, as it not only leads you through the steps but also explains your options. You can choose to begin with File Recovery, to find deleted files, or Drive Image, to copy and secure a drive.
When you select File Recovery, you're then led to select a drive, which can be a mapped drive or a physical drive. You also can connect a mobile device via USB, and scan that, too. You're then given a choice of looking for files that were recently deleted, lost due to a reformatted drive, lost due to a deleted partition, or located on a corrupt drive. If none of these fits your situation, you can select other.
Then, you can set search parameters if you know what type of file you're looking for, and its name. Then you sit back and let PerfectFileRecovery go to work. Depending on where you're looking and how open-ended your search may be, it can take a while. But, in my tests, the wait was worth it: PerfectFileRecovery found the majority of the files I was looking for, as well as a few I didn't even realize were missing.
Recovered files are displayed in a list, which is sorted by file types, making it easy to browse through. It labels the condition of the file for you, but I was somewhat perplexed by some of its labels: perfect audio files were labeled "moderate" but so were Excel spreadsheets that were so corrupt as to be undecipherable.
But what's nice is that PerfectFileRecovery displays a preview of the file at the bottom of the screen, so you can see at a quick glance if this is the file you're looking for and whether it's in a state worth recovering. And -- once you download an extra codec -- you can even preview audio and video files right inside PerfectFileRecovery. Once you decide which files to recover, you can tell PerfectFileRecovery where to save them. The entire experience is user friendly, making file recovery as easy as can be.
The biggest downside to PerfectFileRecovery is the price: if you're looking for a lost file, you might want to try a free application first. But after you spend some time wrestling with that piece of software, you may be more willing than ever to spring for this pricier option.