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One of the main issues with today’s mobile devices is internal storage space, especially with iOS devices. We are supposed to pay around $100 for 16GB of additional storage space. This is in a day and age when you can buy a 16GB thumb drive -and a really good one - for less than $10.
SanDisk is attempting to solve this problem with this wireless external drive capable of streaming videos, music and pictures to your iOS or Android device. Since it’s not hard drive based like offerings from other manufacturers, it is pretty fast. Also, given the connection is made via WiFi instead of Bluetooth, it is - in theory - more reliable.
The SanDisk Connect wireless Media Drive is basically a portable WiFi hotspot with internal storage capacity (either 32 Gb or 64Gb). It can stream videos to several devices at the same time and it doubles as a portable USB drive when connected to your computer (although it is just an USB 2.0 connection).
In addition to the internal storage, SanDisk included an SDHC/SDXC card slot. This is a very nice feature that allows you to easily increase the device’s storage capacity without breaking the bank. You could also backup pictures from your DSLR’s SD card if you wanted to.
One of the main disadvantages of this kind of devices is that since they create their own WiFi network, you cannot connect to another one while using them. That means you wouldn’t have access to Internet. Luckily, SanDisk worked around this problem by allowing the device to connect to a nearby wireless network. In order to do this, you need to configure the free SanDisk Connect Wireless Media Drive App provided by SanDisk in the App Store with the other WiFi network credentials. Then, the device would act as a bridge between your connected mobile devices and Internet.
SanDisk knocked it out of the park with this device’s design, it is simply gorgeous. It feels solid and elegant at the same time. As it can be seen in the images, its footprint is not bad either, you can even put it in your pocket shirt (in case you don’t feel fashionable, that is).
It has three small LED lights showing battery life, network connectivity and Internet access. There is a power button that should be pressed and held down for more than three seconds to both turn on and off the device. If the device is not being accessed by a wireless device for more than 10 minutes, it puts itself to sleep. This is great for preserving battery life.
Speaking of battery, SanDisk claims it can last up to 8 hours of wireless streaming per charge. I wasn’t lucky enough to get to that number, mine was closer to 7 hours (streaming to just one device), which isn’t bad at all.
As indicated above, the link between your mobile device (i.e. iPad, iPhone or Android device) and the Connect Wireless Media Drive is the free app that SanDisk makes available through the App Store (iOS). It has already been optimized for iOS 7. When connecting the drive to my computer, I had to download and install a firmware update. So it looks like SanDisk does a good job keeping the software updated.
Unfortunately the iOS App is kind of clunky, especially in the Settings section. Setting up an external WiFi network for accessing Internet can be a hassle as it doesn’t look like it would let you connect to WiFi networks that ask you for both a Username and a Password. However, if the WiFi network only asks for either a WEP or a WPA password, you should be fine.
The SanDisk’s App can only stream video formats which are supported by the iOS device by default (i.e. mp4). Although there are many Apps in the App Store that support a wide variety of video formats and resolutions, not many are compatible with the SanDisk Connect Wireless Media Drive. As a matter of fact, if you dig deep into their Support pages, you’ll find that - by the time of this writing - there are only two Apps that support this device: Real Player Cloud and It’s Playing Pro. I tried both of them and can only recommend It’s Playing Pro. It supports more video formats, it is more responsive and straight forward to use. You can access other wireless streaming devices, windows shared drives and even upload videos to the iPad to be played offline from the App.
With regards to performance, the SanDisk Connect Wireless Media Drive is a mixed bag. Video streaming and photo viewing is great regardless of the application you use (either using SanDisk’s own App or any of the two third party offerings). You can stop, pause, play, fast forward and rewind videos with very limited lag. Buffering seems to be handled exceptionally well (at least in both an iPad Air and an iPhone 5). Connection range seems to be typical of a WiFi hotspot. I have streamed videos to my iPad while the wireless drive is in my bag at airports or between floors when I’m home.
However, the SanDisk App general performance is lackluster. The fact that you cannot connect to WiFi networks that ask for Username/Pasword is a big downside if you are looking to connect to Hotel WiFi networks through this device when on the road.
Additionally, it looks like Internet connection speed is considerably lowered when the Wireless Drive is used as an Internet bridge (see below the Speedtest X screens).
Another annoying issue is that iOS devices doesn’t seem to consistently remember the SanDisk Connect Wireless Drive network password (that is if you set up a password to connect to it, which I wholeheartedly recommend). I guess it’s a downside associated to this device as I have had no similar problems connecting to other WiFi networks.
Copying files to and from the drive when connected to a computer works just as expected. Although it would have been nice if SanDisk had made it USB 3.0 compatible.
Overall is a nice gadget for for streaming movies and series to your mobile devices. Since I’ve moved from iTunes for video content, it’s really a godsend for me.
It is also an excellent tool for on-the-go backup and for transferring large files between computers in different networks. Photographers will find this device very useful for reviewing photos on the go. With the appropriate App, you could even see RAW images in your iPad after a shoot. However, if you need to connect to Internet while doing any of these tasks, you may want to look elsewhere.