Kingston answers the call for external storage on mobile devices. (July 23rd, 2012)
Product Manufacturer: Kingston
Price: $49.95 (16GB) to $149.99 (64GB)
- Extends media storage by up to 64GB
- Sleek, portable design
- Supports iOS and Android
- Can share media with several devices simultaneously
- Normally monopolizes mobile devices' Internet connections
- Becomes hot to touch during use
- Limited file format support
- File access funneled through crude app
- Buffering times may make sharing too slow
(Updated with user feedback) One of the relatively few mistakes I think Apple's made with the iPad is omitting external storage. It's probably not a gaffe from their perspective, of course; they charge you far more for a 32 or 64GB upgrade than it actually costs to manufacture. The iPad is closer to a computer than an iPhone though, and thus has much higher demands for some people, especially when it comes to storage. Kingston's Wi-Drive is one of several available workarounds, and we'll put it to the test in our review.
The concept behind the Wi-Drive is simple: it serves as a wireless external drive you carry in your bag or pocket. 16, 32, and 64GB options are available, and we tested the 32GB unit. It should be noted that Wi-Drive can also pair with Android devices, though for this review, we concentrated exclusively on iOS. With a special emphasis on the iPad in fact, since iPhone owners are constantly online, and usually carrying less on their devices.
In terms of loading content, the Wi-Drive behaves like a USB stick. You plug it into a computer using a supplied USB cable, and simply drag and drop any files and folders into the main directory. There seems to be no limit to what kind of files you can copy, though realistically, only so many filetypes can be opened -- more on that later. One thing to be prepared for is that because you're operating at USB 2.0 speeds, it can take a very long time to transfer anything in bulk. A couple of 720p movies (or one extremely long one) can easily take an hour and a half.
As you'd expect, the name of the Wi-Drive stems from how you connect a device to it. It creates its own hotspot, to which up to three devices can connect simultaneously. Here, though, is where the product starts running into limitations. Although it's an 802.11g/n device, realistically, it's probably a bad idea for more than one person to stream from it at a time. With just one user it can take a few moments for things like podcasts or movies to buffer before playback.
Files can also only be accessed through the Wi-Drive's namesake iOS and Android apps. Their interface is functional, but crude. A worse problem is format support -- the only allowed audio formats are MP3 and WAV, and the only compatible video types are M4V and MP4, which must additionally be encoded using H.264. That means that you'll probably have to convert any videos using software like Handbrake before copying them over. You can forget about copying over any videos bought from the iTunes Store, of course, since despite being in the right format, those are copy-protected.
Some other supported filetypes include PDF documents, and JPEG and TIFF images. The boundaries are a little unclear, actually -- in the iOS app I was able to view (but not edit) text files and Excel spreadsheets, and Kingston mentions neither in its official specifications. If I were buying a Wi-Drive, I wouldn't make any assumptions about compatibility.
There are two potential dealbreakers with the hardware. The first is -- as some of you might have guessed -- dependency on a Wi-Fi connection. If you're connected to the Wi-Drive, you're not connected to the Internet, which means you can't, say, receive email or notifications. There's also a natural lag between turning the Wi-Drive on and when you can connect to it, which may annoy some people, even if I was willing to put up with it.
Update: One reader explains that it is possible to use the drive and an Internet connection simultaneously -- this, however, revealed a pretty serious flaw with the iOS app. To toggle the option you need to go into the app's Settings menu, which in my testing didn't initially appear. After some time, however, it will eventually appear, at which point you can go into a Network Connections menu that lets you pick a Wi-Fi network to join, or auto-scan for networks. Even once you've selected a network though the Wi-Drive has to reboot, making for an awkward workaround unless it's a network you're on frequently.
A little more alarming is the heat the drive generates. During intense use it can become surprisingly hot in a short amount of time, to the point that I was reluctant to touch it. I doubt it could ever burn someone, but that doesn't bode well for the product's longevity, especially if you intend to use it in hot summer weather.
At best then the Wi-Drive is a utilitarian option for carrying more media files with you than a device might ordinarily have space for. If you know how to rip DVD and Blu-ray video and convert it to mobile formats, it might even be quite handy for entertainment when you're traveling or stuck at work. Otherwise it's only practical if you can't bear to be without as much of your media collection as possible, or you don't mind treating it as a USB/Wi-Fi version of your Dropbox account. Even then it's hampered by a rudimentary app and heat problems, which should make anyone think twice.