Rating: ★★★½☆

Hard drives, while a necessity, aren’t exactly a product that warrants much fervored discussion.  However, Segate’s latest GoFlex Satellite hard drive is a new breed of storage thanks to built-in WiFi and a battery, and it’s, well, kind of exciting.

The Seagate GoFlex Satellite Mobile Wireless Storage, model STBF500101, can store up to 500GB of data, and while it is geared largely towards iPad users, it can be used by any tablet, laptop or computer with a built-in WiFi or USB connection.

Design


Recessed power button adds a nice touch – click to enlarge

The enclosure of the drive is all plastic, so it’s not the sleekest or most svelte of drives that I’ve seen from Seagate, but that’s a caveat I’m willing to accept given the unique feature set.

Two small LED lights adorn the face of the drive indicating wireless status and remaining battery power.  A recessed power button is embedded on the edge of the drive and sits adjacent to the LED lights.  On the opposite side is a 5V DC port, which unfortunately is not mini or micro-USB.  Nonetheless, Seagate has provide not only a USB wall wart for charging the internal battery, but an unusually handy and small car adapter that isn’t any larger than a mini Bic lighter.

Much like all of Seagate GoFlex line of hard drives, there is a proprietary port that is covered by a small plastic flap.  Remove it and you can plug in the included USB 3.0 cable.  The cover is small and black, so I could see myself easily losing it in the depths of my bag.

Battery and connectivity status LED lights – click to enlarge

The internals of the drive have been designed to be extra rugged.  Drop it or give the drive a sudden jolt while the spindle is rotating and it will automatically lock into place to prevent any damage to your data. However, I’m not sure I can say the same for the plastic casing.

Accessing the drive takes about 45-60 seconds, but once connected it is as simple as opening your web browser and punching in any URL; by default your browser will redirect to the drive’s built-in menu system.  If you’re accessing the drive from an iOS device, you can use the aforementioned method or download the accompanying app from the iTunes store.  Both are a mirror images of one and other, though the app is useful since in theory it speeds things up a bit for an iOS device since it doesn’t have to waste seconds downloading additional data.  On the other hand you can upload a file to the drive when accessing it from a computer, something not available in the iOS app.  Simply navigate to “folder view” where upon an upload button will appear.

A variety of tabs divide up the drive’s content by type.  So if it’s an MP3 files it will be listed under “music”, if a MOV file then under “videos” and so forth.    Unfortunately, the drive’s firmware hasn’t been designed to catalogue files and more importantly music using the embeded MP3 ID3 tags. As a result you’ll have to manually search and painstakingly crawl through you library to locate a track, though there is a search feature.  In other words, you can’t sort by artist, song title, time or any other info, which is what makes iTunes so useful.  Furthermore, this storage device, when connected wirelessly, doesn’t behave like a ‘host USB’ device, so you won’t be able to access the stored files from the iTunes application. Ultimately, this seriously diminishes the drive’s usability for the sake of taking your music on the go.  But Seagate’s intention is market this drive to those who are looking to the watch movies while in the car or on a plane.  So by the very nature of the movie files, which are generally speaking large in size, there will be less of them, so sorting and finding what you’re looking for shouldn’t be such an endeavor.  So to summarize the drive’s UI and app, while intuitive, is anything BUT analogous to that of the native iTunes apps for the iPhone or iPad.

Update: Seagate reached out and said they’re planning to launch a new firmware update on 10/16 which will address some of the sorting and UI concerns that I’ve stated above.  Expect an update around this time.

On a separate note, the iOS app will open files stored in an iTunes folder in the iOS browser, while other files, located I suppose else where, are opened directly in the app.  I’m not sure what the logic is here, but I can only presume that this has something to do with an Apple stipulation.

Connectivity

Seagate GoFlex interface – click to enlarge

Plug the Seagate GoFlex Satellite Mobile Wireless Storage in via USB and it behaves like a standard hard drive.  However, it is formatted for PCs, so you’ll need to install the included Paragon software to make it Mac compatible for writing contents to its memory.  Seagate was quick to point out that this is a $50 piece of software that they’re including for “free”.

Connecting to the drive wirelessly, although not entirely unorthodox might take a bit more patience than you’re generally accustom to.  First you must find the drive’s SSID in your WiFi menu.  Once you’ve forged a connection you won’t be able to access the drive’s contents and surf the net simultaneously; it’s one or the other, though Seagate says they’re working on a firmware update that might negate this shortcoming.  If you’d like, you can add a WEP security pass code to the drive, much like a router, so your neighbor can’t login and steal your data.

I did have a few issues connecting directly with the drive wirelessly. However, I should point out that you need to be patient.  The drive takes about 30 seconds to appears in your computer or iPad’s WiFi list and another 30-45 seconds to form a connection.  In terms of connectivity, the drive froze on me a few times requiring me to power cycle it.  When the LED battery light glowed red this issue seemed to be a more prevalent, but perhaps the battery was almost dead and didn’t have enough juice to stream a movie or form a connection, despite emitting a wireless signal and SSID.

When testing the drive at my local Starbucks, I was able to make an initial connection, but after a few minutes, once my iPhone locked and the display turned off, the connection to the drive was lost requiring me to return to my iPhone’s settings menu, reinput the WEP code, and relaunch (as in close the background process) the Seagate accompanying app.  So fair to say that making and maintaining a connection, especially after adding a WEP security code, is a laborious task.  This is complete conjecture on my behalf, but the connectivity issues largely erose after adding the WEP security code.

Update: A recently issued Firmware update seems to have improved the drive’s overall connectivity. It now connects faster and maintains a connection with my iPhone or iPad despite it locking.

Connecting to the drive using a laptop or computer is a slightly different experience than an iOS device.  While you can stream movies directly from the wireless hard drive on an iOS handset, I was forced to download them to my computer’s local storage before I could use them.  Unfortunately, mid way through my testing, I was unable to access the drive using my laptop’s browser despite connecting to the drive’s WiFi signal.

Update: I managed to find a work around, which is to punch in the “router’s” IP address: 192.168.0.1.  Unfortunately, using this method I wasn’t able to view or download .m4v files, although .mov files played in the browser.  I’m still trying to figure out a better resolve, if any exists.

Performance

5V DC port – click to enlarge

The battery on the GoFlex Satellite Mobile Wireless Storage is designed to last for up to 5 hours.  Expect to get about 25 hours on standby mode, which means the drive won’t be spinning, but will be available if you decide to connect to it.  If the battery status LED light glows green it is fully charged or has more than 50 minutes of juice left. Once it glows red the drive’s battery needs to be recharged.  I would have preferred if Seagate added another LED color to indicate a wider range of charge remaining as 5 hours and 51 minutes is a pretty large gray area.  During my testing I can say that this battery life isn’t quite on par and it seems to be questionable as to when the drive enters standby mode.  During one day of testing, after a full over night charge, the red LED light turned on after little to no use of the drive, although it had been in “standby mode” for 6 hours.

In terms of playback performance and usability I had a few issues when initially testing the drive.  Playback was a bit spotty when streaming my first movie, “True Legend,” but has ceased to be a problem since.  The drive’s refresh between menus aren’t exactly what I’d call speedy and you’ll need to be a bit patient when accessing content compared to the speed of natively stored files on the iPhone, iPad or laptop.  Despite my initial streaming issues I was able to “scrub” through a movie’s time line with little to no delay with image and audio appearing almost instantly.

Up to 3 devices can access the drive simultaneously.  That, in my opinion, is a feat in and upon itself.  But the buck doesn’t stop there.  Those same devices can stream an HD movie simultaneously.  And not just the same movie, different movies. I tested this feature on two iOS devices and the speed and quality at which the content played back was seamless, almost to the point where anyone none the wiser wouldn’t believe it was being drawn from the same wireless source.

Conclusion

We’ll probably never see a day when the iPad and iPhone can store 500GB of data.  Not because it isn’t plausible, but because the storage landscape is rapidly shifting to the cloud, negating the need for large amounts of local storage.  Pair that with 4G networks which can deliver theoretical download speed of up to 50mbps, and mass local storage for portable devices is all but needed.  Netflix is a perfect example of this shift as is Spotify (amongst others). But nonetheless, all of the aforementioned technologies have yet to to mature to the point where it negates a device such as Seagate’s wireless hard drive.

As a result Seagate’s GoFlex Satellite Mobile Wireless Storage solution is a excellent product for families and friends that are traveling together and want to be able to share their media.  However, the firmware or software leaves something to be desired, at least for now.  They’ve been listening to their customers and have plans to continue to issue updates that will improve and streamline its UI.  In fact, Seagate will launch the next Firmware update 10/16 which will address many of the shortcomings I unearthed during my testing.

Bottom line: It’s a stellar wired hard drive that happens to boast a wireless connection when you need it. So the way I see it, it’s all gravy, though you’ll pay a premium for that sauce.

The Seagate GoFlex Satellite Mobile Wireless Storage can be purchased from Amazon and a variety of retails for starting at $179.

Pros:

  • Wirelessly streams up to 3 HD movies simultaneously
  • Can be used as a normal 500GB hard drive to store contents
  • Rechargeable battery includes a tiny car adapter

Cons:

  • Cannot simultaneously connect to the net and the hard drive
  • Can’t access stored content wirelessly from a native iOS apps such as iTunes; won’t behave like a USB host device
  • Battery life is questionable

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Christen Costa

 
Grew up back East, got sick of the cold and headed West. Since I was small I have been pushing buttons - both electronic and human. With an insatiable need for tech I thought "why not start a blog focusing on technology, and use my dislikes and likes to post on gadgets."