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Accessory review: SanDisk Connect wireless media drives

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SanDisk is offering two new storage solutions with built-in wireless: the smaller Wireless Flash Drive and larger Wireless Media Drive.

Looking for an easy way to share your photos with nearby smartphone and tablet users? There are plenty of options, and SanDisk has a couple of their own in a new SanDisk Connect line of flash memory storage devices with built-in wireless that you can access from any device. We can't fault the name — Connect — but the system itself leaves much to be desired.

The basic idea is this: put your media on a SanDisk drive while at home or on the go, and others can connect to it using an app and view the photos or stream media without the need for an Internet connection. It definitely does that, but it does so in such a minimally functional way that it's hard to recommend for photographers.

Simple setup

There are two physical varieties of the device, each with two internal storage options.

First, there's a small, thumbdrive-sized Wireless Flash Drive with a built-in USB connector that comes in 16GB and 32GB options ($49.99 and $59.99 respectively). It has a MicroSD card slot for adding extra space.

Then there's the larger Wireless Media Drive, about the size of a smartphone folded in half, with a micro USB port for wired connections and a full-size SD card slot to add storage. In addition to offering up to 64GB ($99.99, or $79.99 for 32GB) of internal storage, this one allows for high-definition streaming, and to more concurrent users.

Both devices are tastefully designed and feel fairly well-built. I would feel no compunction tossing either into a crowded camera bag or back seat.

Basic operation works quite as advertised: by hitting the only button on the device, a wireless hotspot is created, to which you can connect your smartphone, tablet or PC. Then you'll need to launch SanDisk Connect, a free app for iOS and Android, which asks for a password (if you've set one) — and then boom, there's your media. You can upload new photos, view old ones or stream video and audio stored on the device.

If you're around a known Wi-Fi point, you can set up each device to automatically connect to the Internet through it, allowing basic sharing through email, Facebook and Picasa. It can't do that through your phone's cellular data plan, however.

... Almost too simple

Unfortunately, that's about the limit of the good news. The app itself is rather clunky, especially on iPad, where it routinely froze up or crashed while scanning for photos and failed to render previews for a couple hundred shots fresh off my DSLR. It also had trouble reconnecting to the drive sometimes and would have to be manually shut down and restarted.

No, that's not abstract photography — that's the Connect app failing to generate thumbnails for a card full of pictures, something that happened a couple times.

Once you do connect, you can view photos and do some elementary edits (crop, rotate, "enhance") but beyond that your options are extremely limited. Incredibly, you can't even zoom in on iOS, and on Android it zooms but only into the preview image. I had thought it would be useful to share shots quickly with assistants or friends, but what's the point if they can't do anything but perform the most cursory examination and tasks?

Another potential use case would be as a quick backup for pictures you've taken recently. Being able to share the last 40 or 50 shots with friends nearby is a nice idea, and indeed the SanDisk drives do make that possible — assuming they have the app installed or an Internet connection to download it.

The problem there is that, bafflingly, there's no way to copy shots directly from a card to the media drive. You just can't! Your card is only available while it's slotted into the drive. Instead, you'll have to copy the shots to your tablet first, and then copy them from there over to the media drive. Why is such an obvious and useful functionality missing?

Raw files don't show up in the photo browser, and can't be sent to another program through the app; you have to copy them to your iPad first. Same with any unrecognized file format.

One situation that comes to mind is if you are frequently around the same set of people, all of whom want to view images or video on their own device. While that's not very common in photography (people do love to crowd a single LCD, but this seems too involved), it may occur elsewhere.

You can always use these drives for off-phone backup for your camera roll so you're covered in case of disaster. It's a little redundant with cloud backup, but could be good for a little extra peace of mind.

Portable media center?

What the devices may actually be useful for is the easy storage of several people's media for simultaneous consumption on smartphones and tablets. Copy all the media you think you'll need to the media drive, and everyone can connect to it during a road trip or when otherwise off the grid: Junior can catch up on Spongebob, you can play your driving playlist and your spouse can pipe a podcast to their headphones.

SanDisk's Wireless Media Drive and stream to multiple devices at once.

As long as the format is natively compatible with the device you're watching it on, that's not a problem. A few videos I'd downloaded from the web only worked partially, but iTunes, Amazon and Google videos ought to be fine.

The music part of the app was surprisingly decent, and I can see keeping a stash of tracks on this thing rather than on your phone to save space without using data-intensive streaming apps like Spotify.

One other thing to be aware of when streaming to a mobile phone: if you're not near a known Wi-Fi point, you won't be able to connect to the Internet via cellular data while using a Connect drive. A couple hours of music or a movie will disconnect you from email and other updates for the duration.

Conclusion

While these devices are easy to set up and work on a basic level as advertised, they don't do much more than that. Photographers will find little use for them versus something like an Eye-Fi Mobi or simple camera connection kit and ordinary photo editing apps.

Parents or people whose devices are already filled to the gills with shows, pictures, podcasts and so on might appreciate these drives as a portable local server, but even then the cases where it's more convenient to use the SanDisk drives are few and far between.

With things like Eye-Fi and AirDrop to transfer files, and the inclusion of automated backup like Google+ and DropBox, there just isn't much of a place for a device like this in a photographer's gear bag. If SanDisk ups the ante on the software (and fixes the bugs), that could change. 

Comments

Total comments: 32
abubasim
By abubasim (4 months ago)

What make and model is that red phone showing video streaming?

0 upvotes
abubasim
By abubasim (4 months ago)

After looking closely I see no receiver for phone calls so it must be a media player.

0 upvotes
abubasim
By abubasim (4 months ago)

It is actually a phone. It's the HTC First.

0 upvotes
DaytonR
By DaytonR (4 months ago)

wow this is interesting !

0 upvotes
More On
By More On (4 months ago)

Rather than vent at Sandisk etc, how about pointing the finger at Apple?

If IOS had a mature OS with proper file management, including read/write access to portable media and a shared storage locker (common to all Apps), all this would be easy sailing.

As it is, it's a complete and utter pain in the ass and Apple shows no sign whatsover of moving forward.

In spite of this expect future reviews of Apple portables to spend most of their word counts analyzing the icon drop shadows.

3 upvotes
Menneisyys
By Menneisyys (4 months ago)

Thye'll NEVER add official support for freely accessible external file systems over the Camera Connection Kit. That'd mean an end to their lucrative additional storage business ($100 / doubling), at least with people willing to use an external dongle / card reader connected via the CCK.

The underlying support, however, is there. Even symlinks can be used via the CCK on jailbroken non-iPhone/iPod touch devices - see for example http://www.iphonelife.com/blog/87/tutorial-how-you-can-use-your-memory-card-appstore-apps-external-ipad-storage-memory

Comment edited 21 seconds after posting
0 upvotes
Jerry Ci
By Jerry Ci (4 months ago)

Devin -- you repeatedly refer to connections to an iPad, rather than tablet. Are you saying that Sandisk Connect ONLY works with an Apple product? Or, instead, are you simply an iTard that doesn't recognize there is a universe outside of Apple products?

1 upvote
Richard Shih
By Richard Shih (4 months ago)

Sandisk's Connect app is available for both iOS and Android operating systems.

0 upvotes
Jay Siegel
By Jay Siegel (4 months ago)

I use the media drive to transfer my E-M5 jpg's from the SD card to my smartphone to post on social media. For this purpose, the simplicity of the Media Drive is great. I can do this while in the mountains and be already to post to social media when I get back into cell or wi-fi range from my smartphone. While all the new Oly cameras have wi-fi and can transfer jpg's directly to a smartphone. I really like my E-M5 and don't want to upgrade just for wi-fi capability.

Comment edited 3 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
M Jesper
By M Jesper (4 months ago)

USB2.0 and 4MB/s write speed, what are they smoking?

http://reviews.cnet.com/hard-drives/sandisk-connect-wireless-media/4505-3186_7-35823379.html

This thing seems like a redundant middleman. There are better ways for whatever people think this will help them with, even if it must be wireless, but i prefer using devices that simply take sd or micro-sd in the first place.

2 upvotes
More On
By More On (4 months ago)

Exactly. In most decent Android devices it's simply a matter of plugging in the SD card or USB reader and away you go.

There are loads of reasons to prefer IOS over Android, but this is by far the most compelling reason to reject it.

Unfortunately, I don't see Apple ever doing anything about it. Heck, it expects you to manage your iPad with a extraordinarily clunky music player which five generations on doesn't even have its own photo section.

Apple is treating photographers with complete contempt.

I thought things might improve with Jobs gone, but unfortunately not.

Comment edited 3 times, last edit 3 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
Menneisyys
By Menneisyys (4 months ago)

"Apple is treating photographers with complete contempt."

Also add the lack of almost all manual settings not only in the stock Camera app, but also even in the API. This is why there are no true manual setting apps for iOS, unlike for Nokia's Windows Phone 8 dialect, where even manual focus is possible, in addition to all the other manual settings.

0 upvotes
duchamp
By duchamp (4 months ago)

line 5: "put your media on a Samsung drive"

Have you meant Sandisk?

0 upvotes
Richard Shih
By Richard Shih (4 months ago)

Thanks. Fixed.

0 upvotes
Glamour by Jim
By Glamour by Jim (4 months ago)

I bought the media drive as soon as it was available. When I travel I shoot a different card every day, and at the end of the day I want to back up that card.

The media drive does this great for me. I am very pleased and would recommend it highly. There is an app for Apple table that will allow image editing.

Has anyone ever lost a disk, or been unable to download (at home) important shots taken on a trip. I have, and it not fun.

0 upvotes
mypobox
By mypobox (4 months ago)

we all do this, its called a laptop.

4 upvotes
ageha
By ageha (4 months ago)

Are laptops already available?

3 upvotes
M Jesper
By M Jesper (4 months ago)

I think a laptop is slightly bigger to travel with and more expensive to lose. Makes sense to travel free of computers once in a while.

0 upvotes
Suntan
By Suntan (4 months ago)

This can be done with certain mobile devices already. Plug a simple usb hub into the phone, plug a card reader in one port and a USB drive on another. Then just copy over with any file manager app.

Personally, I'm not a fan of these wireless options. Slower transfers and unnecessary drainage of the batteries.

-Suntan

1 upvote
larsbc
By larsbc (4 months ago)

You can simplify that even further by using an inexpensive integrated hub and SD card reader. That plus an OTG cable and you can use a great many Android phones/tablets to backup the SD card to a USB HD or USB data stick.

0 upvotes
Ian
By Ian (4 months ago)

I was looking for something similar for my Nexus 5 and found the tiny Meenova drive that plugs into a micro USB port and reads microSD cards. Sure, you have to shoot with an adapter for most cameras, but if you have a camera with multiple slots, like my 5DIII, you can copy it to the (micro)SD card and then plug it in your phone. For $15 with shipping, it's a good deal, and C-Net and others have given it good reviews. DPReview Connect might consider reviewing it - and I can follow up on this post once mine arrives.

0 upvotes
Impulses
By Impulses (4 months ago)

I've got one of those, works perfectly fine, very clever and very small, though ironically it's a little bigger than the smallest microSD readers for full size USB ports (those can get away with putting the card inside the actual male plug, so they're literally the size of a male USB plug plus a little edge).

I don't really use it for anything related to my camera though, mostly for quickly moving stuff between tablet/phone etc. Since I prefer to use my full size SD cards on my camera I'll just use a regular USB SD reader (thumb drive sized) and a 3" USB OTG cable... That is, if I don't simply use my camera's wifi.

The OTG dongle + reader is useful for quick backups to the tablet tho (or to another drive), and less battery intensive. Having all these options, I can't see myself ever going back to iOS, though this is like the tip of the iceberg as far as that's concerned.

0 upvotes
pwmoree
By pwmoree (4 months ago)

Wanted: a small flashdrive, battery operated, just to backup my in camera card. With the options *copy only* and *copy and delete on original card*. I am sure many photographers would buy that.

4 upvotes
JWest
By JWest (4 months ago)

If it's just to free up the card, wouldn't you rather buy more cards rather than risk losing your shots in the transfer process?

1 upvote
ageha
By ageha (4 months ago)

Exactly, additional cards are much safer than "copy and delete".

1 upvote
pwmoree
By pwmoree (4 months ago)

You are both right of course. It is morethe idea to have an easy portable backup away from the camera (and bag) so as to have copies of my shots when (and not IF unfortunately) the camera gets stolen again.

0 upvotes
JWest
By JWest (4 months ago)

That makes perfect sense, it was more your requirement for a "copy and delete" option which had me worried.

I suppose it'd be nice to have it on the device as an option, but I'd almost rather it wasn't included, just in case I hit it by accident.

0 upvotes
JohnEwing
By JohnEwing (4 months ago)

So did anyone fold their iPhone in two?

Comment edited 16 seconds after posting
3 upvotes
Gediminas 8
By Gediminas 8 (4 months ago)

RAV, was that commercial advertising?

0 upvotes
llamacide
By llamacide (4 months ago)

I have a RavPower too…. and it it awesome… it does much more than the Sandisk…… I found it on Amazon for under $50.00 USD and it uses USB, SD and you can charge your mobile device from its battery in a pinch…. I just took it on a flight over Thxgvg week and streamed two different movies to two different iPads at the same time. And this is not an advertisement - just a satisfied user!

Comment edited 41 seconds after posting
0 upvotes
RAV13
By RAV13 (4 months ago)

The RAVPower 5-in-1 filehub will cost much less and bring functions of wireless media streaming, wi-fi hotspot, 3000mAh backup battery charger, and more.

1 upvote
CharlesRievone
By CharlesRievone (4 months ago)

I use Yoobao Mytour.

0 upvotes
Total comments: 32
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