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Wireless Storage Conclusion Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

14 January 2014

Well, that was fun. Apart from what seemed to be some iOS 7 WiFi connection glitches, these little gadgets can be relied on to get the job done.

All three of the devices we tested provided reliable wireless, external storage for our mobile devices. And all three of them could share their data with and even stream HD movies to, multiple users who set their WiFi setting to the device and, using a free app, bridged from the device to a router connected to the Internet.

So you can't really go wrong with any of the products we tested. But there are some issues with the species. And each of the devices has its own personality as well.

Let's go through that.

WIRELESS SPEED | Back to Contents

None of the specifications sheets for any of the devices list the wireless connection speed. So the question is whether they are Wireless B, Wireless G, Wireless N or Wireless AC devices?

MediaFlair. The 12-volt adapter is pure genius.

At this price, we suspect they are all Wireless B devices. Our Wireless B network name was all they showed available, although the Flash Drive did report our preferred network being the Wireless N name. Still, we suspect they are all Wireless B radios.

That makes them compatible with even Wireless AC routers. But there's a problem. Running a Wireless B device on a faster network channel means the channel has to run only at that speed. Routers typically allow you to set a policy for fast channels that prohibits B devices for just that reason.

The solution is to provide a network for Wireless B devices. These storage devices are not likely to be your only ones. Printers and multifunction devices are often Wireless B devices, too. Your smartphone and tablet are likely faster.

You can provide a second network with a dual-band router like the Apple Airport Extreme. That's really the simple way. But you can also just use a second router you can connect via Ethernet to your main, faster router.

BATTERY LIFE | Back to Contents

All three devices use rechargeable lithium-ion batteries. These can last for years but they will only recharge so many times.

Media Drive. Internal storage plus a card reader is tempting for photographers.

At the end of their life cycle their capacity will drop off sharply. You'll love this at first because it won't take long to recharge them. But then you'll get the picture. There isn't much capacity left to recharge.

When that happens they aren't going to be much use unless they're plugged in for power. You'll have to relegate them to external storage only status and forget about using the WiFi feature.

But who knows, by then the kids could be in college.

PERSONALITY | Back to Contents

So which one should you get?

You'll want to consider the personality of each device to answer that question.

Flash Drive. A break for students.

For example, the MediaFlair has no built-in storage but comes with a 12-volt adapter so you can power it in your car.

So if you take long car rides want to entertain your passengers by streaming movies to their tablets or phones, this would be the smart choice.

You can load a lot of movies on a large SD card or just have a selection on several cards. And on the way back from vacation, they can watch all the video everyone took, too.

On the other end of the spectrum, the Flash Drive behaves like a thumbdrive and sports the lowest cost. It makes it pretty easy to transfer files from a tablet to the drive and access them from a computer.

So if you're a student who takes notes on a tablet but writes papers on a laptop, this is the baby for you.

And in the middle of those options, the Media Drive has a lot of built-in storage plus a card reader.

So if you're a photographer working on location (like, you know, a parent on vacation), you can dump your camera's card contents to the built-in memory and reclaim the card space for more images.

CONFESSION | Back to Contents

Our own usage patterns fell short of those scenarios, we confess.

We have but dislike keyboarding on a tablet. We'd feel differently about that if we used a keyboard but that, we feel, is what laptops are for, with all their writing aids and handy references. So while we did copy documents, it didn't change our life.

We've been playing the wedding video from Apple TV for various family members who were involved in the production. We could have suggested they whip out their phones, download an app and log into one of these devices. But then they'd all be on different scenes. And we couldn't narrate.

As for photos, well, there too we just couldn't fit these devices into our workflow. We use CompactFlash cards, after all, not SD cards.

So, as time went on, we just tested the devices rather than relied on them.


We did try to copy a JPEG from the card reader to built-in memory on the Media Drive again, as promised, BTW. But again tapping the Share icon and selecting Copy to Media Drive simply crashed the Media Drive app. We were able to copy the JPEG from the card to the iPad, however, using that button. So we may just be an app update away from that fix.

Strangely enough (since there's a button for it in the app), online support documentation does not say this is supported. And it has not been.

But in the support forums, SanDisk Guru drlucky detailed a method that did work. Here's his step-by-step list:

  1. In the navigation bar select Files
  2. Choose Media Drive (this is the internal memory) and browse to the files you want to move to external memory
  3. Select the upload/download button in the upper right corner (iPad) lower left (iPhone, iPod)
  4. Select the files or folders you want to transfer
  5. Select Share at the bottom and then select Copy
  6. Now navigate to Files>Media Card Drive
  7. Navigate to the location you want to transfer the files to
  8. Long press and you will get an option to Paste Here

We did it the other way around, selecting the card and copying the image before returning to the Files listing (not using the Share button), tapping on the Media Drive name and long-pressing on the Photos folder in the list to get the Paste Here option.

Select All. Then Copy.

Paste Here. Long-press Photos.

Progress. A count is displayed.

Complete. 84 files copied.

The first time we tried drlucky's method, we just copied a single image. Tapping on the image displays it full screen with the Share button on the bottom.

If you want to Select All, you do that from the file name listing by tapping the Select button and then Select All. A Share button appears on the top so you can copy everything. We copied a set of Raw+JPEG images from the card to the built-in memory in a few minutes, longer than we used to with CompactFlash but reasonable. Especially if we were on the road.

It was awkward, certainly. But it worked.

CONCLUSION | Back to Contents

Two things bugged us about all of these devices, though. And it's really the platform's problem, not the devices. In fact the device engineers should be commended for working around the issues.

The first is the lack of any sort of transparent file system. Apps like a text editor manage their own output and can't share or make it easy to see what you've done outside the app. So how do you share that text file? The storage device app has to know where to look.

The second and more annoying problem was the need to change our WiFi settings. It's too bad the devices can't just make themselves available on your wireless network. But you have to connect to them through your mobile device's WiFi radio and then tell the storage device to bridge from there to the router that accesses the Internet.

That gets old fast.

If you use the device all the time (you won't because you have to carry it around, too), that scenario would be workable. But most of the time, we just want to flip the cover on our tablet and look something up on the Web. We don't want to configure the thing.

So the best place for external storage is on the other side of your router, on the Web, not in front of it so you have to bridge to your router.

That's the price of doing business with these external storage solutions. But we've called them solutions for a reason. They do extend your mobile device's storage beyond its internal capacity. And they even let you share that with other mobile devices.

Which is pretty cool.

(Editor's Note: This is the fifth of a five-part series on wireless storage. Links to the other stories are in the main table of contents at the top right of each story.)

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