Is this wireless memory card reader the modern photographer's Swiss pocket knife?
DPNow.com rating: 82% or 4/5 stars
Imagine the scenario: you've taken some shots on your camera and you need to get them onto Facebook (or Flickr, or whatever...) immediately. Your camera doesn't have a WiFi facility and you can't plug your SD card into your smartphone. To make matters worse, your phone is low on battery! What do you do? The solution could be in the form of a Kingston MobileLite Wireless. It's a USB flash drive and SD Card reader that can connect to your smartphone or tablet wirelessly and it has a battery that can help charge your device if it's going flat. It can also work as a conventional USB wired card reader. We've been trying out the MobileLite Wireless.
This time last year we reviewed the Kingston Wi-Drive, a battery-powered pocketable flash storage device that could be loaded with your images and videos, etc., so you could access and view them wirelessly on your smartphone or tablet. It was interesting but probably not useful enough for photographers to set their worlds on fire. Kingston has since come up with another flash memory/wireless device that we think is much more interesting for photographers. The major benefit of the Kingston MobileLite Wireless is that you can use it as a WiFi-connected card reader so you can transfer photos and video from your camera's SD Card, with the help of Android or Apple iOS apps, to your mobile device. That means even if your camera doesn't have a WiFi facility, and let's face it the vast majority still don't, you can now get your photos online in a matter of minutes after having taken them as long as you mobile device has an Internet connection. A bonus feature is that Kingston has cleverly made the MobileLite Wireless' battery work as an optional charger for your phone, similar to accessories like the Mophie Power Juice Pack Powerstation.
A MobileLite Wireless is about 6cm across, 16.5cm long and 1.5cm thick. It's roughly the size of a small smartphone, but thicker. It weighs just under 100g, which is lighter than most smartphones. At one end there is a single SD Card slot. It is spring loaded and the card fits inside the slot, clicking once inserted, without sticking out. Press the end of the card again to unlock and out it comes again. At the other end you will find two USB ports; one full-size and one Micro-B USB port, which is the same as practically all smartphones today, apart from Apple i-devices. The top of the MobileLite Wireless is divided into two; a large area of grey finish and a smaller area to the USB port end that is in darker plastic. This is where you will find a 3-light LED indicator.
Firstly, you need to charge the battery inside the MobileLite Wireless. A charger is not supplied but you do get a USB-to-Micro B USB cable, much the same as the one that is supplied with many phones and tablets. You can charge the MobileLite Wireless using your computer's USB port, although this will be relatively slow. The USB cable charges via the Micro B port on the MobileLite Wireless. Much faster is to use your phone or tablet's AC charger because this supplies more current. One green LED will flash until the battery is fully charged, at which time the LED stops flashing and is continuously on to indicate that it remains connected to the charger.
To use the MobileLite Wireless as a charger, the supplied cable (or the phone or tablet's cable) is reversed and plugged into the full size USB port. You can use the proprietary cable for your Apple iOS device for charging. In my experience the MobileLite Wireless battery, rated at 1800mAh, will barely charge a single smartphone from flat to 100%. Something like a Mophie Power Juice Pack Powerstation has more than three times the charge capacity. And once the MobileLite Wireless is out of battery you can't use it for wireless operation. However, Kingston says the battery has enough juice for up to 5 hours of wireless connection, so perhaps good enough for watching a couple of feature length movies. Although the battery charge feature is really only enough for topping up your phone or tablet, it's nice to have available in emergencies.
USB connectivity options
Using the Micro B USB port you can use the appropriate USB cable to connect the MobileLite Wireless to a host computer and the card reader works just like a conventional one. It's a USB 2.0 High Speed connection, not USB 3.0, which is slightly disappointing. A USB memory drive can be plugged directly into the full sized USB port. If an SD card is also mounted you can copy between SD and USB drive, but only while connected to a host computer via the USB cable. No lights flicker to indicate data transfers are happening.
The MobileLite Wireless is designed to be used wirelessly using Kingston's MobileLite Wireless app for Android and Apple iOS devices. It's probably possible to connect and access files using a PC but this is not documented and we didn't try it. The app is quite simple and some limitations are evident. First of all the default connection mode is without any wireless security, but WPA security is an option. By long-pressing the one button on the MobileLite Wireless device the unit waits for an app-equipped smartphone or tablet to connect to its wireless hotspot. Once connected you are presented with a simple file explorer. On our Android Samsung Galaxy Note smartphone the file explorer didn't enable us to navigate to an additional 32GB of microSD memory fitted to the phone. Only the built-in 16GB of storage was visible. A wide range of commonly used still, audio and video file formats are recognised and some of these can be shown in a thumbnail view. You can also open individual images and pinch/zoom to examine details. RAW files aren't supported.
In my view the file browser is really best left to its primary task of selecting and copying files or folders you want to your phone/tablet. Unfortunately, there is no provision for marking a selection of files or folders to copy - only individual items can be moved at one time. If you want to move a lot of files in one action make sure they are all in one folder! However, it is possibly to share individual items to Facebook or Twitter. The unit can be programmed to bridge an Internet connection to a preferred WiFi network while your phone or tablet is connected to the MobileLite Wireless. Kingston also point out that if your phone/tablet is getting full, you can move files off onto either an SD card or USB memory drive attached to the MobileLite Wireless.
So there you have it, as long as you have a compatible smartphone or tablet you can quickly and fairly easily copy or move photos and video from your camera's SD card to your phone/tablet and thereafter share or simply archive them online. The dedicated app is rather simple, but it does the basics. The additional function of an emergency charger for your phone is also nice to have, but don't expect to be able fully charge your device. The price seems to range widely depending on supplier, but at around £50 inevitably some will feel the MobileLite Wireless is a bit of a luxury, but it's certainly one that could make your life easier if you want to get your images onto the Internet without having to get back to base first.
DPNow.com rating: 82% or 4/5 stars
Below, you can explore our thumbnail gallery of Mobilelite Wireless product images and app screen grabs.
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