Kingston's Wi-Drive is a wireless alternative to a USB memory drive that works with smartphones and tablets
About the size of a small smartphone, but lighter, the Kingston Wi-Drive has Apple and Android support for accessing stored files using your smartphone or tablet computer, and conventional computers
If your smartphone or tablet doesn't have enough onboard storage, or an option to install more via a memory card, Kingston Technology's Wi-Drive pocket-sized wireless storage device, available in 16GB, 32GB (tested here), and 64GB capacities, could be for you. Free Wi-Drive apps are available for Android and Apple iOS devices. You can also use it via your desktop or notebook computer, although this is best done using the Wi-Drive tethered to your computer via a USB cable, which doubles as a charger. You can use the Wi-Drive for storing photos, music, and videos, as well as documents, for playback and viewing on smartphones, tablets, and other computers. The Wi-Drive has two ways of connecting; via USB cable or via wireless (WiFi) network connection. You could describe the Wi-Drive as a half way house between a NAS (Network Attached Server) drive and a USB drive.
The Wi-Drive app is browser-based and very simplistic
Up to three people can connect to a Wi-Drive over 802.11g or 802.11n WiFi, and serves files wirelessly but in reality its 'server' capabilities are extremely limited. You can only access the drive wirelessly using a Web browser or App client. It is possible, when using the Wi-Drive app to copy files from your mobile device to the Wi-Drive and vice-versa, but not - as far as I can see - just using a Web browser. Conventional FTP client access is not supported. Neither the W-Drive nor companion apps provide player support; you need to ensure that the media and documents you want to use are compatible with the players or readers installed on the host device.
Even so, for example, although I had an Android media player installed capable of playing AVCHD MTS movies straight from a digital camera, the Wi-Drive app file browser didn't recognise these movies as playable. I was, however, able to play AVI, MP4 and MOV movies, music tracks, JPEG images and the more common document formats like Word files, plain text files, PDFs, and even Excel spreadsheets, all of which are dependent on your device supporting these file formats. Users of the Android or iPhone/iPad app, which are downloadable for free from respective app stores, are offered a simple sorting facility to list photos, music and videos separately. When you have found the file you want to use, tap or click on it and if you have the correct client software installed, away you go.
The relative dimensions of the Wi-Drive are clear side by side with an iPhone 4s
WiFi capabilities and setups
You can set up your Wi-Drive to connect to your mobile or tablet device directly and maintain Internet connection through a separate network connection
802.11 G and N wireless protocols are supported. All the normal choices of wireless security are provided and you are able to connect wirelessly direct with the Wi-Drive acting as its own hotspot, or you can attach the Wi-Drive to your wireless network. The best arrangement is to configure the Wi-Drive to be connected to the Internet via your WiFi network at the same time as being connected peer-to-peer with your mobile device via the Wi-Drive app. This means you can access the contents of the Wi-Drive and maintain Internet access at the same time. However, for many this would not be trivial to set up and I'd like to see better instructions included for setting up the network connectivity.
Kingston have done a good job on the aesthetic design of the Wi-Drive
USB connection and power
The best way to load up your Wi-Drive with content is via USB connection. The USB port is also for charging the Wi-Drive's battery, which is good for around four hours of WiFi connection. You can't, however, be wirelessly connected to a Wi-Drive while a live USB cable is connected. If your Wi-Drive's battery is flat, unless you can connect via USB, you will be left high and dry.
To power-on your Wi-Drive for wireless connection you simply long-press a button on the side of the device, which also doubles as an indicator light. It glows a steady green when wireless is active and two smaller blue LEDs indicate wireless data activity. When the battery is near exhaustion the power button light changes to orange. While connected to USB and charging the light blinks green.
The underside of the Wi-Drive
Performance and ease of use
Arguably the Wi-Drive is a playback device so write performance was probably not a priority for Kingston's designers. So don't expect fast-transfer performance when copying files to the device over USB. It's with very large transfers that this is most noticeable; our 2GB test folder of f images and video files only averaged 4.5MB per second, noticeably slower than a lot of USB Flash drives. That means copying a 1GB movie file will take almost four minutes. Filling the entire 32GB capacity of the Wi-Drive will take 2 hours.
Simplicity rather than elegance is what the W-Drive app delivers
But what about playing back content from the Wi-Drive wirelessly? Access via app using a Samsung Galaxy Note was absolutely trouble free when viewing photos and documents. Viewing of low resolution movie clips is also glitch-free. We occasionally noticed a hiccup or two at the start of a 720HD movie, but assuming the video player you're using is correctly configured for your device and supports hardware acceleration where appropriate, you can enjoy a smooth playback experience. Playing 1080 full-HD movie files straight from a camera was a bit more challenging. Most of the time we had smooth playback but expect the occasional glitch. Wireless performance is definitely better when connected directly to the W-Drive than via your wireless router, even when wireless-N mode on the router is enabled.
In terms of ease of use, the app-based file browser is very bare-bones but also simple once it has been set up. It's the setting up that will cause the most headaches. Not to be ignored is the ever-present problem of wireless network issues. Interference from neighbouring routers and quirks in your mobile device are more than likely to be experienced than not.
I'd like to imagine what the team at Kingston thought about the potential for the Wi-Drive when it was first proposed. It's a clever idea, but I suspect that the process of making it a commercial product has cost us features, like a richer server environment and browsing experience. As it stands, the wireless usability from a desktop or notebook computer perspective, being only able to connect via a Web browser, is extremely limited. By using less exotic (cheaper) flash memory the W-Drive doesn't even excel in USB-connected mode. It's easy to point a finger at Kingston and say that this could have been a much better product that could enjoy a wider appeal.
But if you narrow the perspective and consider the product as a simple way to supplement the onboard storage of your mobile or tablet device, the Wi-Drive works, although it's a bit rough around the edges. For that reason, along with the pleasant appearance and design of the device, we can recommend it as worthy of consideration.
75% review rating and 3.5/5 stars
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