Newsflash: video files can really bloat up a hard drive. In an increasingly mobile device-oriented world, this scenario only gets worse. It's especially aggravating when your "hard drive" is only 32GB of flash storage on an iPad (or worse, the 8GB variant of the Nexus 7 Android tablet). But if you're stuck with a low-capacity mobile device, you can add a terabyte or more to it without having to replace it entirely. All this requires is an investment of $200 in a device like the Seagate Wireless Plus.
The Wireless Plus is a portable, battery-powered hard drive with built-in Wi-Fi capabilities and 1TB of storage. It's an update to the GoFlex Satellite drive, which debuted in 2011 with a few hours of battery life and a max of 500GB of data. Devices like the iPad may have bumped up to a whopping 128GB of flash storage in recent years, but that doesn't make transferring video and music to them easier. You still have to sync them through iTunes, quite an arduous process. Android users may not have this particular problem thanks to the ease of drag-and-drop for most devices, but it’s a nuisance there too. Who wants to try keeping all of that media with only 64GB of storage? (We're factoring in 32GB of internal storage with an additional 32GB microSD card—if an expansion slot is even available). When you've got contacts, applications, downloaded documents, e-books, and photos to account for, media like music and movies can sometimes take a back seat.
So there are plenty of obvious use cases for a device like the Seagate Wireless Plus, and the company has given this line of drives a new reboot accordingly. Ars took a look at the new device's capabilities and whether or not it's something you should consider.
A hard drive and a hot spot go out on a date...
The 5 x 3.5 x 0.78-inch Wireless Plus is a tad bit bigger than its predecessor, but both weigh just a little more than half a pound. On the rear, the Wireless Plus has a SATA port that accepts different adapters for various connection types—what's referred to as the Universal Storage Module. By default, the Wireless Plus comes with a USB 3.0 adapter and detachable cable, but you can also separately purchase FireWire 800 or Thunderbolt connectors depending on your usage. As an aside, Seagate’s connection adapters are all universally usable with the company’s Backup Plus and GoFlex portable drives. So if you happen to already own those products or are thinking of investing in the Seagate portable drive family, one adapter will work for all.
The Wireless Plus also comes with a USB-connected wall adapter, though it will charge while it’s plugged into a computer. Unfortunately, there is no car adapter available for the device, which can be a bit of a drawback for parents who were looking to use this device to keep the kids distracted. Also, it can only perform one particular function at a time: it is either a portable hard drive or a streaming device—it cannot be both. You'll also need to turn the device off and on before you switch functions, otherwise it gets a little confused.
Inside the brushed steel chassis, there’s a 2.5-inch, 5,400 RPM hard drive. Windows users can simply connect the Seagate Wireless Plus to their computers and start dragging and dropping files over. Mac users will have to double-click the Mac Installer.dmg located in the Seagate folder on the drive to install NTFS driver software. Also, the drive can not be reformatted or it will not work as intended.
Stream it to me
To stream content from the Wireless Plus, users connect to the Wi-Fi network the device broadcasts, then launch the application and go through a quick set up process. The Wireless Plus will stream HD content to up to three iOS, Android, or Kindle Fire devices, though up to 8 devices can connect to it at once and retrieve less taxing content like photos and documents. The Wireless Plus can also connect to an existing Wi-Fi network and share it with the device that it’s streaming to. These options can be configured in the Seagate Media application (which we’ll discuss more thoroughly in the next section).
As long as your device is connected to the Wireless Plus, you can stream content anywhere in the house, in a car, or even on an airplane halfway around the world. Seagate says that the device can stream to DLNA-compliant devices like consoles and Samsung Smart TVs once it's connected to your home network. It can also stream to the Apple TV via Airplay, though we were unable to properly test this ourselves.
The Wireless Plus advertises that it can last up to 10 hours of continuous playback. We streamed a long playlist of music to a third-generation iPad and several back-to-back videos on a Nexus 7 simultaneously for four-and-a-half hours and the Wireless Plus burned through 66 percent of its battery life. We started it at 92 percent and when we returned it was down to 26 percent, according to the app's built-in battery indicator. While it certainly didn't peter out in the middle of testing, that means it used up about 15 percent of its power per hour, which would have only given it another hour and a half of streaming. That adds up to about six hours—four less than expected.
Playback was smooth on both iOS and Android devices; there was hardly any stuttering on video except at the beginning as it was buffering. Music also played as crisply as if it lived natively on a tablet or phone device. However, playback is limited to certain file types and it differs by platform. Windows Media Player, AVI, and MKV files were not available on either iOS or Android devices, while3GP files were not playable on the iPad. The iOS version of the app at least encourages users to download the file to their device and find a third-party app that supports the video type, though this defeats the purpose of having an external drive to house all of that media. On Android, it will merely sprout an alert that a file is unplayable if there's no compatible app. Then it simply lets you skip to the next file.
Seagate has given a major overhaul to its iOS and Android application since the initial release of the GoFlex Satellite. It looks sleeker, is much easier to use, and it features some useful settings and options. As we mentioned, the Seagate Media app also allows you to connect to an existing Wi-Fi network so that your devices aren't limited to the Wireless Plus. Annoyingly, both the iPad and Android tablet apps are limited to horizontal orientation while you're navigating through content.
All of the available files are laid out as thumbnails by default, though you can switch to list view and then categorize by data, size, type, or name. When selecting a video or music file, the app will begin playback while photos launch individually. If a song gets stuck in the background, you can hit the Now Playing button to pause, turn up the volume, or skip to the next track. For over-sharers, there is a slideshow option that works well with tablets. There’s even an option to add a background track that's stored on the Wireless Plus device and use different transitions to make the slideshow more dynamic.
On the iPad, selecting a document will ask you if you want to preview or open it in another application. On Android, you’ll simply be prompted to select an application to export it to.
Users can customize the Wireless Plus from the settings, like the name of its wireless access point. There are also options to help extend its battery life, clear its cache, and you can view how many users are connected to it at a time. There’s an option to check for firmware updates or restart the Wireless Plus unit, as well as reset it to factory defaults or view how much storage space is left on the device.
Should you buy it?
The Seagate Wireless Plus certainly offers plenty of space for your media, whether it's music, movies, photos, or other miscellaneous files you might need. It'd be great for family road trips a few hours away or solo plane rides across the Atlantic. It could even act as a portable NAS drive of sorts for traveling business folk. The Wireless Plus proves especially useful for a household with many different devices, and the drag-and-drop method is certainly easier than waiting for iTunes to sync.
You've also got a bit of choice here: the GoFlex Satellite is a few years older than the Wireless Plus and it has a shorter battery life and smaller capacity, but Amazon still offers the device at a lower price (around $160). If streaming for the kids is your main concern, you might consider this predecessor, which also feels more child-friendly because of its chassis.
- Streams HD content to three devices simultaneously; eight for things like documents and photos
- 1TB capacity lets you use limited smartphone or tablet space for things other than media files
- Extremely portable, easy to stow away in your carry on
- Much easier to bring along kids' content without using your device's native storage capabilities
- Swappable adapters means the Wireless Plus can take any type of connection
- App won't playback MKV or AVI files on either Android or iOS devices
- Mac users have to install NTFS driver
- Battery life is a bit shorter than advertised
- The price tag—$200 is rather steep for a commodity product