WANTED: More Smart Device Storage! Help my iPad out.

On Wednesday, September 14, 2011 0 comments

One of the main reasons I have not upgraded my original iPad to an iPad 2 is the fact that they both had the same maximum storage capacity...64 gigabytes. As it is currently I am having to choose what comes and goes on my iPad more than I would like. I really never know what I will need when I am on the road and I travel a great deal.

What is taking up most of my space on the iPad? Mostly apps and documents. Less than 4gb of video and that is the most painful part. I watch people enjoying TV shows and movies when they travel but I am hard pressed to have enough video content for the flight out let alone coming home as I am so constrained with the limited available storage and no direct memory expansion options (ie: memory cards or hard drive connectivity.

I clearly must not be the only person with this problem because there is so much talk today about cloud storage and streaming solutions in the media and from tons of different solutions providers. But one of the most challenging aspects of these streaming/online solutions is the need for being connected to the web. WiFi is not everywhere and seems to not be where I need it when I need it. My iPad does have 3G cellular connectivity but service can be spotty and bandwidth limitations do exist. So I am constantly on the quest for a personal storage solutions for the iPad and in theory any mobile smart device that can provide extra content no matter where I am.

To date, most of these solutions have looked a bit "hackery", in other words, not a lot of thought or engineering to make working through the physical limitations Apple has imposed on the iPad. And it is not just the iPad...tablet computing by its very nature is about mobility, convenience and simplicity. Simplicity to-date has meant limiting options for accessing and browsing data.

The general solutions for today rely on applications and their associated documents as "one". Very little has been done for universal solutions whereby a document is accessible by a multitude of applications. Yes, Dropbox, Goodreader and the like try to be a single solution for a universe of media types but in use they still have substantial limitations. There is also initiatives to develop standards to allow for multiple applications and solutions to view, edit and distribute compatible documents.

But there is a group of companies trying to solve my immediate problem of simply having extra storage for my iPad or smart devices in general, so let's dive in on a new trend of products rolling out that try to solve my dilemma.


The first product I was watching this year was Airstash. Truth be told it came out a year ago but it was in a very early, almost crude stage and didn't warrant purchasing. But the crew over at Airstash have been busy and they have added a great deal of functionality and stability to the product. The product is pretty straightforward. Airstash is a USB SD card reader that has an embedded wireless web server to access the contents on any SD cards (up to 64 gigabytes). This device is the smallest of the bunch at 1.9 x 3.6 x 0.5-inches and cheapest at $99.99. 

So this device in essence could give you up to double the capacity for your iPad or smart device at any given time. And of course, you could carry multiple SD cards if you want to organize and/or sort the files appropriately if you need more storage capacity. 

From a physical standpoint, the product is pretty easy to understand. Plug the device into your computer to charge the battery (5 hours of streaming) on the device and copy files over to the SD card installed. You can put images, music, videos and documents. Your files are sharable via the Airstash's built in wifi server once you unplug it from the computer and turn it on. Multiple users (documentation claims up to 8 connections but only supports 3 audio/video streams at one time) can log into this device's wifi signal and access the files stored on the SD card via their web browser. This does bring up a couple issues though. First if you log onto this wifi signal, your smart device does not have access to the internet if wifi is your devices primary internet access point. Secondly, the wifi connection is limited to 802.11g which is substantially challenging for broadcasting higher resolution content bandwidth needs.

The Airstash does support a web developer standard protocol for making documents compatible with one another called WebDAV. And the team at Airstash are also offering a software development kit for app developers to natively support/leverage Airstash's content directly from their apps.

A recent announcement is that a next generation version is coming to market by Maxell who has partnered with Airstash to distribute the product going forward. This new version will most likely include an SD card as part of the package.

Kingston Wi-Drive 32GB
You may not be familiar Kingston but there's a good chance you have or use their products. Kingston is a well respected manufacturer of RAM memory and solid-state hard drives for computers as well as storage cards used in cameras. If something uses solid-state memory...there is a good chance Kingston's makes one. But the Wi-Drive is definitely one of their first consumer electronics offerings.

This device is specifically targeting the Apple smart device crowd. The only application to access the media on the device is available for the iOS. The design of the physical device is even reminiscent of an iPhone or iPod Touch with it's black finish and overall shape.

From a features standpoint, you have a compact device (4.8 x 0.4 x 2.4 inches) that can fit in your pocket. A rechargeable battery that provides up to 4 hours of continuous use. A swift 802.11n wifi speed. A well executed native iOS application to access documents, images, music and videos is provided with this device and it handles everything quite smoothly. A nice addition over the Airstash we previously reviewed, is that the Wi-Drive can be linked to a wifi internet connection and everyone connecting to the Wi-Drive can share that internet connection as well as access the content on the device.

There are three concerning items that make this not an viable choice.

1) An obvious limitation is the storage capacity VS price. 32GB of extra space for your Apple devices for a price of $199 on the Kingston website or $150 on Amazon.com seems extreme. I understand that this is a lot of hardware (wifi, memory, etc) but that said it is still hard to justify.

2) Another limitation is if I am getting a storage device, I am not happy that it is restricted to iOS products. Kingston does indicate that they have an Android app forthcoming but this really don't open the doors to the content in any meaningful way. I would like to access the content on my other PCs and smart devices.

3) And lastly, the manufacturer makes it even hard to locate information on their site. Just doesn't feel supported in the marketplace.

If your curious what 32GB of storage will get you, Kingston provided the following chart to illustrate the storage capacity based on available memory...these are purely estimates. Every file differs in size based on a slew of variables like resolution, compressions, etc.

    MP3 Songs
    Word/ Excel

Seagate GoFlex Satellite
If size does matter on storage capacity but doesn't matter on what you will have to lug around in your computer bag...you should check out Seagate's solution to this portable wifi storage challenge. 

The GoFlex Satellite is a substantial 500GB hard drive with a high-speed USB3/USB2 connection to your computer for quick file transfers and a wifi access point capable of streaming 3 high-dev videos simultaneously to your tablet (iOS, Android, etc.)...pretty much anything with a wifi connection and a browser. It is larger than the previous two devices at 6.3 x 2.1 x 6.7 inches and online prices have it around $180.

There is also a native iOS app. The GoFlex Media app allows you to sort through your media library via filters, keywords, by folders and thumbnail views. Another feature is the apps ability to download content to your Apple smart device for playback when you are not connected to the Satellite. An issue is that all the content must be accessed through the app. And the app is not as full-featured as some of the pre-installed Apple apps with comparable functions...an update just added a finger swipe to sort through your photos. But the product suffered from many user interface challenges and lacks key features such as music playlists and the like. The user experience seems to be an issue for many people that purchased the product online. iTunes reviews of the app are not favorable with just a 3-star rating on the latest release.

Seagate's GoFlex capability allows for consumers to buy different cable interfaces depending on the computer they want to hook up with to transfer new files including eSATA, Firewire 800, etc.

A single charge will last up to 5 hours of continual streaming or 25 hours of standby.

Hitachi G-Connect
The G-Connect is the latest entrant in this category and offers very similar features to those discussed in the previous products. It offers 500gb of storage for your media and documents, 802.11n wireless streaming of 5 standard definition or 3 high-def videos and includes an iOS app for managing and viewing your content. Non-Apple devices can access the content via their browser. It also addressed the ability to share an internet connection allowing devices that hook-up to the G-Connect via wifi to still have internet functionality. 

While its dimensions (2.4 x 7.2 x 5.1 inches) are similar to the Satellite...it is surprisingly lacking one major feature of the other devices in the group...it does not have a battery to allow for on the go capabilities. Hitachi chose not to include this functionality instead the device derives its power from a multitude of sources via a USB port.

But there is also a slew of new or differentiated features worth considering. First of all, the device is DNLA-compliant, this means that it can be seen on the network as a media server for streaming content to other devices, it also shares music via an included iTunes server and is AirPlay compliant for streaming to an AppleTV. These options open the door for a wide range of devices to access the content...not just Apple iOS devices.

The device can be connected to a PC/Mac via the USB 2.0 port to derive power and functions as a TimeMachine-compatible back-up drive for your computer while you travel. Another handy feature is the ability to have both public and private folders of content available on the network, allowing an additional level of security or customization like sets of work vs personal documents.

As the only device in the review that includes a gigabyte ethernet port, you can take advantage of directly connecting to a network and offer wifi network access to multiple PCs and smart devices within a 150' range.

The only challenge is that I've only seen this device at tradeshows and is due to ship shortly. As such there is a slew of questions that will need to be answered about its reliability, functionality and versatility before we can directly compare it in this set.

Currently I am only seeing retail prices of $199 on G-Technologies website and Amazon. Hopefully, once this product ships, we'll have better visibility and I'll update everyone following me.

Based on everything I have seen, I should really like the G-Connect but except for it's Achilles heel of lacking a battery in my opinion. I want to use my content when I don't have internet access and most of those situations involve traveling, in a vehicle and having no power. I do have a NewTrent portable power pack I use in emergencies when traveling to keep my iPad and iPhone charged and this could address that need for me but I'd hate to recommend getting the G-Connect AND a power pack.

NewTrent Portable Power Pack

I had hoped when I started this analysis I would settle on a viable solution but that didn't pan out. As it stands today none of these products are something I would run out and purchase. I'd suggest we wait a bit and check out the next Airstash as a cheaper solution or Seagate can address their current shortcomings with some firmware/software updates.

Just my 2-cents.



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