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GadgeTell Review: SanDisk Connect Wireless Media Drive

Sections: Accessories, Communications, Mobile, Peripherals, Reviews, Smartphones, Storage

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By nature, we like to have plenty of choices and options. We’re also social creatures, so sharing time and experiences together is also very important to us.

Cloud storage is expensive, and by “expensive” I mean that I’m not willing to pay any monthly fee to store my collection of music and videos. Yet I want to be able to enjoy them on the go as well as share with my friends and family.

At some point SanDisk realized this, but also decided that wireless and portable were excellent features to complement an external storage device.

No monthly fees. Streaming where I like it to. That’s the SanDisk Connect Wireless Media Drive.

Design

SanDisk Connect Media Drive front

Closeup of the drive and LED lights

Right out of the box, the 32GB SanDisk Connect Wireless Media Drive features a slim and clean look. Though lightweight and made of plastic, it’s actually built pretty well.

Smooth edges prevent it from snagging on the inside of bags. It’s sturdy enough to sit on (I did), but I wouldn’t recommend putting direct pressure, such as elbow weight, on the drive.

The power button on the front requires long-presses to turn it on and off. Clearly, SanDisk was expecting this little thing to be carried around with other gear in pockets or bags.

There are three LED lights on the front to indicate internet connection, wireless connection, and battery power. The Micro USB port is located on the back and a SD card slot on the side.

The SanDisk Connect Wireless Media Drive’s card slot provides file transferring and data expansion. Popping cards in and out is not the easiest. If you don’t have long(er) nails, you’ll need to use a key or a credit card to press the SD card in far enough to eject. It’s guaranteed to stay in place no matter what, though it’s sort of a pain to get it in and out.

SanDisk App

SanDisk Connect Media Drive rear

SD card slot and Micro USB port

The SanDisk Connect app is available as a free download from the App Store or Google Play.

The instructions that come in the box are brief and worth a quick skim, though many should be able to figure the setup without it. The app options are straightforward.

While the app itself is far from flashy, it’s easy to navigate. The large icons and clean layout get the job done. Non-admin users gain access to stored data and help files only. The admin has those, but can also modify additional settings such as network connection and passwords.

Make note that passwords only work when the drive is not connected to a wireless network. When the drive is connected to a network, anyone with the Connect app that can also connect to that network, can join in on your data without your knowledge. So beware when using public wireless networks.

The app also features a handy battery life indicator. There is no need to look at an array of LED lights and guess when it’s best to recharge. The app will also notify you when the battery hits 10% and 5% life left.

The app does not shift to landscape mode, which is a bummer since I use my Samsung Galaxy Note 2 (used throughout in testing the device) in that orientation quite a bit.

Connectivity

SanDisk Connect Media Drive icons

Start screen on the SanDisk Connect Android app

Once it’s powered up, the SanDisk Connect Wireless Media Drive takes only about 5 to 20 seconds to be discovered by nearby wireless devices. I own other drives that take closer to a minute, so this is certainly an improvement for me.

You can have a smartphone or tablet connect to the drive without any network connection.

The other option is to set the drive to connect to a local wireless network, so connected devices gain web access. The SanDisk app makes it very clear and lets you switch it easily.

If you choose to have access to a wireless network through the SanDisk drive, be warned that you’ll only have half the download speed of what you would normally experience from the network. Ping and upload speeds remain the same. This is easily checked with the SpeedTest.net app, and all my results were consistent. The difference in speed can be noticeable depending on your bandwidth and what you happen to be doing at that time. Again, this can be fairly typical with such wireless-enabled storage drives.

I never lost connection to the drive or internet unless I stepped out of range. I received an “authentication error” a couple of times when trying to connect to the SanDisk Connect Wireless Media drive. “Forgetting” the network connection and then reconnecting was all it took to fix.

The wireless function will not work on the drive while it’s connected with a USB cable. This means you should check for a good charge before you decide to move or watch files within the drive, since it can be done only with the app (wirelessly).

 

Data Transferring

Information needs to get on the drive before it can be accessed or shared (naturally). This is where a little patience comes in handy.

When plugged into my Windows XP desktop computer, the SanDisk Connect Wireless Media Drive shows up as two drives. The first drive letter, which is unaccessible (says it needs formatting first), is the SanDisk Media Drive itself. The second drive letter is for the SD card slot, basically making the drive a flash card reader.

The same applies to my wife’s Windows 8 laptop, except that I can see all of the folders and contents. On Windows 8, all it takes is copy-paste to move anything.

There are two ways to copy data within the app itself. One way involves the download button, which copies data cross-device (only) to folder created and (usually) named as “Media Drive Upload.” The second way is to copy-paste, which can copy either cross-device or internally. Part of the process that can be confusing is how the download button needs to be clicked first, since it opens the multi-selection for files. Select files and press it again to download. The option to copy files pops up at the bottom of the “export to” list, which becomes available only once files have been selected. Once you hit copy, navigate to whatever drive location you want, select “paste” from the menu and that’s it.

The process is not as terrible as it sounds; I’ve worked with worse. I also found that sometimes the file progress bars won’t change. Have patience. It just can be really slow to update, though in reality files are being moved. This is more common with files closer to a gigabyte in size or bigger. You’ll just never know how much has been done until you cancel and look.

6.27 MBps: It took 30 minutes to transfer 11.3GB from the SD card to the SanDisk drive internally.

3.76 MBps: It took 50 minutes to transfer 11.3GB from a Windows 8 laptop to the SanDisk Drive (itself) through USB.

2.1 MBps: It took 23 minutes to transfer 2.9GB from the SanDisk Drive to my Galaxy Note 2 through wireless.

The wireless transfer speeds are right there with similar devices I own. The SanDisk Connect Wireless Media Drive is slow through the USB port. Painfully so. With the typical write speed range of SanDisk flash drives being between 3 MBps to 14 MBps, the Connect Wireless Media drive plants it’s butt firmly at the bottom of the chart.

If you have data on your smartphone or tablet that you want to wirelessly copy/transfer to the SanDisk drive, individual file sizes of 2.0GB or larger won’t work. There is no explanation. I tried with several devices only to get the same result. Internal copying doesn’t seem to have a limit except for the SD card limitations. My Kensingtion 16GB SD HC card won’t accept individual files 4.2GB or larger in size. So if I wanted to, I would have to USB transfer a file (larger than 2GB and smaller than 4.2GB) to the SD card first, then copy it from there to the drive.

The drive did not work with my OTG to USB 2.0 cable. When plugged in, the SanDisk drive would be disconnected after the smartphone scrolled a notification indicating the device was “damaged.” Later, it would still self-disconnect but without any mention of damage. Odd.

As for range, I was able to connect to the SanDisk Connect Wireless Media Drive from pretty much anywhere in the house. The signal is strong enough to pass through walls and upstairs to provide streaming and downloading. I wasn’t able to measure the exact distance traveled in my backyard, but the wireless range of the drive provided coverage from corner to corner – at least 35 yards (105 feet). The data rate was still good at that distance, though I only had one bar of signal strength.

 

Photos, Music, & Video Streaming

SanDisk Connect Media Drive play

Streaming music to HTC EVO Shift 4G

When it comes to photos, Dropbox automatically copies all of my images from my smartphone so I can erase and take more. Exceptions are usually during camping or wherever I am with no signal.

Being able to dump photos on a storage device is handier for some more than others, depending on the amount of photos or video taken, I assume. For me, the SanDisk Connect Wireless Media Drive provides more of a storage convenience than a method to share photos with others nearby.

I transferred over 2.3GB worth of 200 images. When I went to browse through them in the app, the thumbnails popped up within a couple of seconds of me scrolling past them on the screen. Mostly. There was one folder of 25 images that didn’t. It wouldn’t show thumbnails until I deleted it and copied again. Overall, it worked as intended.

The music controls are basic, standard. Music files can be viewed by genre, artist, album, and also by song title. Individual playlists can be created, edited, and deleted. I think that the player and controls in the SanDisk Wireless Media Drive feel like a previous version of the Google Play Music app for Android. It would be nice if there was a search function. Also, file names are very specific, so “brujeria” and “Brujeria” are listed as separate artists though they’re one and the same.

Streaming music and video files from the SanDisk Connect Wireless Media Drive sound and look as if they were on my smartphone itself. Movie files start and stop on demand, and here has been no skipping, playback, or quality issues whatsoever. All of my stuff is either .MP3 or .MP4, and everything has worked. So far, aside from the physical portability, this has been my favorite feature of the SanDisk Wireless Media Drive – flawless media enjoyment.

This enjoyment quickly changed for me as soon as I started streaming video and music to more than one device. Be warned.

Battery Life

SanDisk Connect Media Drive menu

Easy menu, no more guessing battery life

The SanDisk Connect Wireless Media Drive uses a built-in lithium ion battery, which is non-replaceable except through SanDisk. One of my other portable wireless media has a known feature (I call it a feature because it’s documented as purposeful design) of losing full battery charge over the course of two weeks.

After receiving my unit, I charged it to full and let it sit, untouched, for over a week. I’m thrilled that it didn’t lose a bit of battery life during that time.

When the battery is low, it doesn’t take that long to charge it back up. Around three hours. The power LED blinks green while charging and goes solid when it’s done – there is no automatic shutoff.

I tested the battery life for streaming audio and then video. In each instance, I was able to have nearly eactly eight hours of playtime before the drive lost power and shut itself off. I wasn’t able to determine what type of battery life can be expected with two or more devices streaming at the same time, which was a problem.

 

Problems

The issue I encountered with having more than one device streaming at the same time is how the SanDisk Connect Wireless Media Drive shuts itself off after 2o minutes or so. I tested all combinations with a Samsung Galaxy Note 2, Samsung Galaxy S2, Apple iPhone 5, and HTC EVO Shift 4G. So long as any two or more were connected, the SanDisk drive would shut itself off. Even if it was only music! It didn’t matter if the smartphones were streaming or downloading. Having a full charge on the drive and setting it a few feet away from the smartphones had no effect either.

While videos and songs could be manually resumed, downloads had to be restarted. Did you forget how slow the data transfer rates are? I haven’t.

Everything looked great while it was working for those 20 minutes. The videos were a little shy of 1280 by 720 and between a 2 to 3 Mbps stream rate. I did notice that movies would pause for about five seconds here or there when two or more smartphones were streaming. Who wants to restart a movie and seek the spot you were at last, three or more times an hour?

 

Verdict

The SanDisk Connect Wireless Media Drive can hold a small video library or multiple days worth of music. It’s easy to use and doesn’t drown you in excessive menus or options. It stores all the media files so your smartphones and tablets don’t have to. The drive is lightweight and thin enough to fit in your shirt pocket and carry anywhere.

In my opinion, the best use for the SanDisk Connect Wireless Media Drive is for semi-permanent data. While it’s great for offloading files (e.g. digital camera files from an SD card) in a pinch, the drive really shines when it comes to playing video and music content. Think about camping or backpacking. Think about how your workplace might not have a data connection to let you stream music from Pandora or the web. Think about that corner of the backyard with the hammock that is just out of range of your home network.

The drawbacks to the SanDisk Connect Wireless Media Drive are: eccentric data transfer method within the app, and the slow slow slow data transfer rate. If one can look past these shortcomings, it’s easy to appreciate how this device is good and reliable at heart. What it lacks in data transfer rates, it more than makes up for it with its portability and battery life.

With all that being said, I wasn’t able to perform any true sharing and streaming like I was hoping to. This is egg on the face, since the SanDisk packaging touts that up to 5 devices can connect for simultaneous streaming. I couldn’t even get two, let alone five, devices to stream music, let alone video, without the SanDisk Connect Wireless Media Drive shutting itself off. It would be easier to simply pass the drive around one by one and let people download what they want to enjoy later.

If an individual doesn’t care too much about sharing, it might be hard to justify paying a premium for the built-in wireless and card slot. SanDisk has other flash memory devices equipped with more storage in a smaller size for less money.

I’m hoping that future firmware updates will smooth things out and fix the multi-user streaming, or maybe that my experience was some sort of fluke. Fingers crossed. I love what the SanDisk Connect Wireless Media Drive wants to be, but at $79.99 it’s just way too overpriced for what it currently is and does.

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