Back in May of 2011, we took at look at Seagate's GoFlex Satellite, a battery-powered mobile hard drive that you access wirelessly. It wasn't a bad little thing, but it had some quirks, and Seagate has just released a completely new version that works almost exactly like we'd fantasized that a wireless hard drive should.
Seagate's Wireless Plus external hard drive ($199) is just exactly what it sounds like: it's an external hard drive that you access wirelessly. You don't need a USB connection, and you don't need a power cable: the drive has its own battery, and creates its own Wi-Fi hotspot that you can tap into with a laptop, tablet, or smartphone. The general idea with this thing is that you'll stuff the drive with movies and music and other media, slip it into your backpack, and then use it to add an extra terabyte of capacity to your mobile devices. Essentially, this drive allows you to carry around like a 500 full-length HD movies on your eight gig (or whatever) smartphone or tablet. And it really is nearly that transparent.
The way the drive works is dead simple. You turn it on by pushing a power button on the side, and it starts up its wireless network. You connect to it like you're connecting to a router. You open your web browser, and bam, there's all your media, presented in and easy to browse (and let's face it, kinda pretty) way.
On a mobile device (iOS, Android, or Kindle Fire HD), you can use Seagate's free app, which does essentially the same thing. Here's how the browser looks on my Nexus S:
And if your device is not supported directly, the service should still work as long as you've got some sort of web browser and media player.
The Wireless Plus drive is capable of supporting eight connections simultaneously, and streaming HD movies to three different devices at once over 802.11n at 150 Mbps. We can't handle watching three movies at once, because we were able to successfully stream both Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and WALL-E at the same time and that was enough to bring us to full nerdgasm.
Like any good hard drive, the Wireless Plus doesn't try to do anything fancy on the software side. It's there to serve files, not play media. The result is that you can play whatever media (with DRM or not) that your device is capable of digesting.
All of this fanciness is useless, of course, if the drive can't keep itself running for as long as your mobile devices can. The battery is able to power both the drive and the Wi-Fi for ten hours straight, but in practice, you should get more than that since it's smart enough to send a movie to your device all at once and then put itself in sleep mode until it needs to do something again. In pure sleep mode, it's good for over 24 hours of on time, and if you run it dry, just a two hour charge will put it back up to 80%. There's also a battery monitor in the drive interface that gives and exact percentage remaining, and you can even power the thing down remotely. Seagate has done a very nice job of making sure that you can just turn this thing on, stash it in your bag, and then basically forget about it.
As far as overall bulk goes, the Wireless Plus is surprisingly small for everything that it manages to do. The above pic shows it up against Seagate's previous generation GoFlex Satellite, and here's a view of how it stacks up against a Seagate 1TB regular HD:
Obviously, the wireless drive packing the 10 hour battery is a bit heavier, but it's not that much heavier, and you'll hardly notice in practice. Some other niftyness about the drive itself includes a drop sensor, automatic firmware updates, compatibility with both PCs and Macs, DLNA certification, and (thankfully) a physical USM interface behind a panel that will accommodate USM connectors, meaning that you can stick a USB 3.0 or FireWire connector on there if you want to transfer a bunch of stuff quickly. The drive ships with a USB 3.0 connector, which is a much appreciated touch.
Now, you may have spotted a problem here, which is that by accessing the drive over a Wi-Fi connection, it generally precludes you from accessing the Internet using a router or hotspot. Seagate is way ahead of things, though: the drive itself can connect to a Wi-Fi router, and then pipe the Internet straight through to your computer. This works quite well, and is (as far as I was able to tell) seamless, with SpeedTest.net confirming that the extra step didn't make much of a bottleneck in bandwidth or ping. An added benefit is that the drive can provide Internet to every device that's connected to it, meaning that you can (say) pay for Wi-Fi access somewhere once, and have eight people using the same connection through the drive. Nice.
There is one thing that I don't like about this drive. I guess you could say it's a minor thing, but still, it bugs the heck of out me, and it's this:
Yes, it's some sort of weird charging socket that takes its own cable and plug. I don't like this because it's a monotasker: it's yet another thing to carry around that is only useful for one purpose. I would have much preferred a power-only mini or micro USB socket, since I can then use one cable to charge the drive and my phone and my GoPro and all the other crap that I carry around. There is a work-around, sort of, in that you can plug the USM USB 3.0 cable directly into a USB charger and charge the drive that way, but doing so kills off the drive's wireless network.
Otherwise, the only thing I can say about this drive is that I'd like to be able to access the file structure through Windows Explorer, since I'm old school like that. What Seagate has done, however, is enabled remote uploading, which allows you to send files wirelessly to the drive with just a few clicks. At this point, it might not be an especially useful feature, but what we're excited about is the future potential: for example, you remember those Eye-Fi wireless SD cards? What if they could somehow be rigged to communicate with the Wireless Plus drive, effectively giving you a 1TB SD card in your camera? Or you could use it with one of the new Wi-Fi enabled GoPros to accomplish something similar.
We're impressed by how much of an evolution this is from Seagate's first generation wireless hard drive. Really, just about everything has been made better. Having a piece of hardware like this means that you can forget about the storage restrictions on your mobile devices: it's like having cloud access to your media without having to deal with the bandwidth and latency and cost and inconvenience and occasional inaccessibility of the cloud itself. And plus, there's just something so incredibly awesome about having a solid terabyte of hard drive space sitting there, purring along and serving up movies with nary a cable in sight. This is what the future should be like, and Seagate has delivered.
So now that we've told you how much we like this thing, you're probably thinking that you'll never be able to afford it. But, considering that you'll pay anywhere from $100 to $150 for a boring old regular 1TB portable HD, Seagate's price of $199 for the Wireless Plus seems totally reasonable. It's available starting today from Amazon and Best Buy.
All images by Evan Ackerman for DVICE.