A media server in your pocket?
Have you ever gone “Gee, I wish I could watch Crazy Horse and the Rabid Rectums from Uranus on my iPad” only to be totally frustrated when iTunes didn’t sync it… or because you’d need to convert the friggin’ thing into a format iTunes will cope with? Or maybe you just have a massive media library and would like to be able to call up any video you could name to play on your device.
There’s a way to accomplish that. It’s called a media server, and you probably already knew that. But not everyone has the inclination to set up a second computer to act as a server of media… and your options are slightly more limited under iOS. Also that computer doesn’t move around on battery power (unless it’s a laptop I guess), so what do you do if you want to take it with you?
Seagate have shoved a small media server and a hard drive into the same package and are selling it as a wireless HDD, aimed at people who want to fill it with videos to play on their iOS or Android device. At face value, this is pretty friggin’ handy, but does it work all that well?
What is it?
It’s a hard drive media server combo. I don’t actually know the internals but I’m going to hazard a guess at there being some sort of Linux-based system-on-chip solution shoved into this little box, as well as an 802.11n wireless access point and a USB3 connection interface. And a battery, because it’s portable. The drive comes formatted as NTFS and it needs to stay that way, but Seagate kindly include an OS X NTFS driver (and really, it’s worth having an NTFS driver for OS X anyway for write access).
The drive can set up its own wireless network that you connect directly to in order to access content, or you can connect it to an existing network. Media can be accessed through Seagate’s iOS/Android app, though a web portal run by the drive, or via DLNA or SMB. You’ll need to use the mobile app to actually set up the device, while copying files to it is done from a PC or Mac (though the app will let you back up some media from your mobile device to the drive). Since it has a battery, you can unplug it and take it with you, and it’ll pipe media to your device until its battery dies. Alternatively, you can plug it into an AC port using the supplied adapter.
How is it?
It works. It doesn’t work quite as advertised, but it does work if you’re capable of working around some of its flaws. Firstly, while the Seagate media app is absolutely essential for setting the drive up, it’s almost useless at playing media. In an apparent admission of failure, Seagate even recommend installing Good Player (under iOS) for playing files it doesn’t support. Good Player works remarkably well and it played everything I threw at it, but for the best results you’ll need to use DLNA or SMB shares. You can also use the Seagate app to pipe a HTML link to Good Player, which theoretically improves battery life, but it’s a bit messy and doesn’t always work.
The Seagate app itself is actually not very good – it’s slow, clunky, poorly set out, and isn’t even that good at playing files. It insists on using landscape orientation and randomly flips for no reason. Infuriatingly, videos can play in portrait mode… so what the hell, guys? In order to get the most use out of this device, you need a third party app like Good Player. Also, and I don’t know if this was an issue with my Mac or the device, but occasionally it seems to freeze and can crash the Finder when attempting to eject. Not sure what’s going on there.
It has some quirks, but when it works – it works well. It can also handle music and pictures. I didn’t test music playback but I’d assume it’ll work with your MP3 collection (I didn’t test FLAC support) and photo file format support is ridiculously common so I don’t see any problems there. Battery life is hard to gauge, but I’m going to guess that it would last through a full movie, and then little else. And that’s being conservative with use.
Should I get it?
Depends. This device has problems, but the concept is sound. Seagate’s app is good only as a file browser (and it’s a pain in the arse), after which a third party app like Good Player is almost essential. But when things work, it works very well, and it’s one of the easiest ways to carry media with you without running a media PC. Seagate’s app needs an overhaul, and battery life isn’t particularly good, but if you’re looking for a way to carry your movies around to watch on your tablet, this might do the trick. The fact that it also boasts DLNA and SMB support only adds icing on the cake.