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Wi-Fi Portable Storage Devices: First Impressions

2013/02/23

As the cost of Solid-State storage continues to drop and the popularity of smartphone and tablet technolgies continue to climb, the need for portable storage has begun to emerge.  While Seagate and other suppliers have been offering devices in this marketsince at least 2009, the devices are just beginning to emerge as serious contenders for consumer dolalrs, and potential platforms for commercial Information Technology (IT) integration shops.

I purchased two leaders devices in an effort to better understand their potential and what challenges they might offer for IT professions.  I was also interested in how they might meed my consumer needs, including the challenge of hosting my 30,000 track iTunes library or my ever-expanding library of high-definition video files, including on-line training videos, conference proceedings and the occasional home movie.  Being able to take some or all of this along on a trip might go a long way towards reducing the stress of travel delays, assuming you have the access to power you will need at some point.  (You do have that power-pack, too, right?)

So, I’ve spent a week with an unmodified Seagate GoFlex Satellite.  I was impressed with storage capacity and ease of use.  The legacy Seagate, the GFS, offers 500MB of storage in a 2.5″ laptop disk drive.  In spite of the real drive, it claims to offer 5-8 of active streaming time on a charge.  I believe them.  I did many demo’s for friends and family over several days on the initial charge.  I only recharged it when I was expecting to do a formal presentation where I expected to have several in the audience accessing it at the same time.

Ease of use with the Seagate GFS is easiest at the playback.  You simply take your wireless smartphone or tablet (or desktop) and select the wireless access offered by the GFS.  Once you’ve completed that, you open your browser and type something like goflex/ in the address bar and you’ll see the very basic Seagate standard content-browsing webpage. Nothing fancy, and not effective when you have large collections copied over, but it’s there and you can use it.  It’s all based on Javascript and JQuery, so, well, software developers won’t look at the default screen for very long.  There is one group in Singapore offering a replacement firmware for US$35 that cleans this up a lot, and that represents about 15 minutes of a developer’s time, so you pick your priority.

The entire Seagate system is based upon an open source project, so if you are comfortable with cross-compilers and toolchains, you definately have an interesting platform to take along on your next trip – either to code a better interface or to stream the conference videos that explain how to do it.  Or both.

The Kingston I’ve had less time with, since it just arrived today.  The first thing about it is the size.  It is about 1/5 the volume of the Seagate GFS and smaller than an iPhone 5 (not that I’ve ever seen an iPhone outside a massive protective case).  The Kingston Wi-Drive is small, light and almost stealth.  When I connect this to a Linux computer, I immediate mount two filesystems:  KINGSTON and CDROM.  The Seagate GFS only mounted one, and you reached the second through telnet.

The challenge for the Kingston Wi-Drive is capacity.  The SSD promises better life for a given battery capacity, but Kingston make the battery smaller, and possibly too small.  The SSD is obviously smaller capacity than the current laptop drives, so my media files won’t all fit and I’d have to decide what not to take.  I’m not good at those decisions, so the Seagate might get more use.  I did find good references to the open source licenses on the Kingston, and there are posts that will point you to the source code for the device, so both of these choices allow the software hacker a chance to customize the device to how they want it.

Security is fast becoming an early question in the mobile space.  The Seagate doesn’t offer much in that area.  The Kingston says it offers WPA2 for the wireless connection.  For the consumer, this probably doesn’t matter.  For the commercial users, I definitely does.  Most professionals will also be interested in disk encryption so they can put Private and Secure information on the device and not worry too much when they do lose it in the seat of the train, plane or automobile.  I’ll be experimenting with these to see how easy they are to modify and how hard they are to enhance security.

Seagate is due for a product refresh to 1TB of storage, and that was announced at 2013 CES.  A tear-down suggests the interior construction is much better than the legacy model.  It’s been four years since the last model was designed, so this one should be better, faster and cheaper.  The Kingson, on the other hand, seems to be hard to improve near-term since it sports a 128GB SSD, and it will take time for 256GB and 512GB to drop to where they make sense here.

So, if you have more than 128GB to take along the Seagate GFS may be your best option.  If the Kingston works for you, maybe you just need a bigger iPad or smartphone to get the media on the device itself.  If you want to share with those around you, like the family watching movies int he back of the car, either one will meet that need rather nicely.  And each person can watch a different movie!  Now, that’s a vacation!!

 

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