Wi-Fi hard drive doesn't live up to its promise

A couple of weeks ago I wrote briefly about the Kingston Wi-Drive and now that it's shipping and I've got the latest firmware installed on my evaluation unit, it's time to take a deeper look.

The Wi-Drive is a portable, battery-powered, Wi-Fi-enabled storage system designed to provide additional storage capacity for up to three computers over Wi-Fi connections. It can support bridging to another Wi-Fi service, and offers specific support for iOS devices through free apps.

At 121mm by 62mm by 10mm, the Wi-Drive is smaller than an iPhone and weighs a mere 85 grams (I've gone metric this week ... that's three ounces in real money).

There's a USB 2.0 port, two of the dreaded blue LEDs to indicate Wi-Fi and bridging activity, and a power button that lights up according to the battery charge (green for 75%-100%, orange for 25%-75% and red for less than 25%). Curiously, for once, the LEDs aren't too bright; if anything, they aren't bright enough! In particular, the power button color is hardly visible under regular office lighting!

The rechargeable battery is good for about four hours of use though, once running, you can connect it to the included power adapter and have unlimited operation time.

The Wi-Drive provides secured 802.11n Wi-Fi access (both WPA and WEP are supported) to both its content and to any network it bridges to. Wi-Fi access to onboard content is read-only via HTTP, but you'll want to be careful who you let access your Wi-Drive as there are no other access controls for content, bridging or the Wi-Drive's configuration.

ANALYSIS: Why Wi-Fi as we know it is in trouble

The iOS apps are, as I noted in my previous column, stable and functional, but they aren't particularly sophisticated. For example, they don't attempt to switch the Wi-Fi connection to connect to the Wi-Drive; if the Wi-Drive can't be found, the app just dumbly sits there until you get a connection and click on the application's "home" button.

The iOS apps actually aren't complicated: They simply reframe Web pages loaded from the Wi-Drive via HTTP, which means any device with a Web browser connected to the Wi-Drive via Wi-Fi can also access the same Web pages, albeit with a slightly "clunkier" user interface.

When bridging is used the Wi-Drive can also be accessed from the network it bridges to, but there's no way to modify the Wi-Drive's content and there's no security to prevent viewing anything on the Wi-Drive. I would have expected these issues to be addressed, but maybe that will happen in a later release.

So, the only way to add, modify or delete content on a Wi-Drive is to connect it via its USB 2.0 port to a computer running OS X, Windows or Linux. Unfortunately, when the Wi-Drive is mounted as a USB drive, its Wi-Fi services are disabled. This is a shame; being able to sync content from a PC in real time over USB to the Wi-Drive and have simultaneous Wi-Fi access would make the Wi-Drive more useful.

Priced at $149.99 for 16GB of storage and $199.99 for 32GB (the final prices changed since my previous column), the Wi-Drive is a little on the "spendy" side considering that, for example, buying a 32GB iPad rather than a 16GB iPad increases the iPad's price by $100 ... in other words, $50 less than adding 16GB of storage with a Wi-Drive. And when it comes to a buying a 64GB iPad instead of a 32GB version, Apple charges the same, $100, as the 16GB upgrade, making the 32GB Wi-Drive at $200 look very expensive.

So, the Kingston Wi-Drive is a good idea but its weaknesses (the high relative cost of Wi-Drive storage along with the lack of anything more than basic security and the simplistic iOS apps) get it a rating of 3 out of 5.

Gibbs rates in Ventura, Calif. Your score to gearhead@gibbs.com.

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This story, "Wi-Fi hard drive doesn't live up to its promise" was originally published by NetworkWorld.

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