Product Review: SanDisk Connect Wireless Media Drive

October 31, 2013

By Theano Nikitas

Sharing content across mobile devices isn’t exactly a walk in the park. Yes, cloud services provide the broadest level of sharing and storage, but you need an Internet connection to access your files. And, yes, there are wireless hard drives that allow you to sync and stream content to and from mobile devices. But the recently announced SanDisk Connect Wireless Media Drive is an affordable and compact solution for photographers who need to transfer or stream images or video clips to one or more mobile devices simultaneously with—or, more importantly, without—an Internet connection. One of its main benefits is the Media Drive’s ability to transfer and stream data wirelessly. While there’s nothing extraordinary about the storage aspect of this device, its wireless capabilities are what really makes the Media Drive a useful piece of hardware.

This battery-operated compact device is available with 32 GB or 64 GB of internal storage, which can be expanded to about 192 GB by inserting an SD/SDHC/SDXC card into the built-in card slot. Images, videos, and other files can be transferred wirelessly to or from the Media Drive (and/or inserted media card) and iOS or Android mobile devices. Although tedious, you can also offload files from your camera’s SD/SDHC/SDXC card when it is inserted into the Media Drive’s card slot. The Media Drive can also be connected to a computer with a USB cable to offload or upload files and perform other functions. (We’ll discuss both of these options in more detail later in the review.)

The Media Drive also serves as a wireless hub, so photographers can conveniently transfer images or stream videos to and from mobile devices over the Media Drive’s wireless network or any available Internet connection. This comes in handy when you have a room full of clients who want to share images (they’ll need to download the free SanDisk Connect Wireless Media Drive app from the App Store, Google Play or Amazon first). And, if you’re shooting video, footage (up to the capacity of the Media Drive or media card) can be streamed to up to eight different mobile devices simultaneously.

The Media Drive comes with a micro-USB cable and an AC adapter. Its nonreplaceable lithium ion battery can be charged by plugging the USB cable into a computer or with the AC adapter. USB charging disables its wireless connection but AC charging does not.

Attractively designed and sturdy, the device features an aluminum exterior with a nonslip rubber bottom. It measures a compact 2.6 x 2.6 x 0.52 inches and weighs 2.5 ounces. The Media Drive’s wireless range is about 150 feet so it will work even if your clients (and their mobile devices) are in another room. We didn’t have enough space to test the full wireless range between the drive and an iPad but the connection was maintained and everything was operational for about half that distance, through a door and around the corner to another room.

You’ll need to download the free SanDisk app, as previously noted, but be sure to get the Connect Wireless Media Drive app and not the one for the SanDisk Connect Wireless Flash Drive (see the end of this review for more information about the Flash Drive). The Media Drive is compatible with PCs (Windows XP, Vista, 7 or 8) and Macs (OS 10.6 or higher) and works with iOS (version 5.0 or higher) or Android (version 2.3 or higher) smartphones and tablets.

User Experience
We tested the Media Drive with a 2-year old MacBook Pro, an iPhone 4S and an original (version 1) Wi-Fi-enabled iPad, as well as several different SD/SDHC/SDXC cards of varying speeds. (Android users may notice some differences between what is described here and the operation of their devices.)

SanDisk cautions that charging can take up to three hours but the drive was almost fully charged out of the box, so the green power indicator light came on within about 30 minutes. A full charge should provide up to eight hours of heavy usage but even with the drive powered on steadily for several hours and moving images between devices, the drive’s battery still showed about 88 percent power. When the battery reaches 20 percent capacity, the drive’s green LED light turns red; alternatively, you can go into the app’s settings to view how much power (by percentage) remains.

After downloading the app to an iPhone and iPad, connecting the mobile devices to the Media Drive required nothing more than going into iOS Settings, selecting the Media Drive network and opening the software. This step has to be repeated each time the drive or devices are powered off and on. Unfortunately, each time the iPhone or iPad went to sleep, we had to reconnect to the network again so be sure to adjust your device’s sleep settings accordingly. Although mobile devices can connect with the Media Drive via the Internet as well as its own wireless network, both networks can’t be used at the same time.

The Media Drive app worked fine on the iPhone but we had to delete and re-install the app on the iPad since the first installation froze. After the second installation, it worked perfectly.
Before you start, go into the app’s settings menu to set a password to secure the network, otherwise anyone with the app installed can access your files by connecting to the drive’s network. But if you want clients to view or download images on their mobile device during a shoot, be sure to disable the password protection.

Overall, the app is intuitive and easy to use. Just a couple of taps opens a gallery of still images, plays a video and displays the PDF user manual. Images can be viewed in ascending or descending order and further organized alphabetically, by date or by file type; however, this feature is only available when viewing the images in the Files folder (rather than the Photos folder). The app has very basic editing tools, including rotate, auto enhance and crop, with the option to save the adjusted image. Uploading and downloading images between mobile devices and the Media Drive or the SD card is pretty simple, as is creating and running a slide show. Files can also be shared via e-mail, on Facebook and Picasa, and by copying and pasting.

File format compatibility is dependent on the mobile device. For example, we were able to view RAW files from certain cameras within the app but not others because iOS did not support those particular RAW files.

The app and the Media Drive have several quirks. There’s no option to select all the images from an album or folder; you have to tap each image individually. If you want to move images to a specific folder, you need to select the images, tap Copy, then navigate back to the destination folder or album, press Folder and tap Paste. This tedious and time-consuming process is especially frustrating when moving files between the Media Drive and the SD card. Frankly, given SanDisk’s expertise in flash memory, media cards and card readers, you’d think the transfer process between the Media Drive and the card would be seamless. The only workaround is connecting the Media Drive, with the SD card inserted, to a computer and using the standard copy/paste or drag/drop functionalities to move the files or folders. You’ll also need to connect the Media Drive and SD card to the computer in order to create an album on the drive or the card. For iOS devices, you can create an album on your mobile device using its native OS but it requires iOS 6 (the app itself only requires a minimum of iOS 5). It would be nice to have more flexibility to create albums from within the app itself.

But perhaps a bigger problem is speed. The drive’s USB 2.0 computer connectivity is slower than we’d like, as is the somewhat sluggish refresh rate on mobile devices when scrolling through a photo gallery. Images appeared more quickly in a gallery grid on the iPhone than the iPad, so part of the issue may be device dependent. Wireless transfer times weren’t bad on either device, depending on file quantity and file size.

About the SanDisk Connect Wireless Flash Drive
SanDisk also offers a Connect Wireless Flash Drive but, after testing both devices, the Media Drive offers several benefits that the smaller Flash Drive does not. The most notable difference is that the Media Drive is equipped with a solid state hard drive and an SD/SDHC/SDXC card slot for extra storage and, more importantly, for accessing images straight from the camera. The Flash Drive, however, utilizes a well-hidden (and difficult to eject) SanDisk Ultra microSDHC card, which is included with a choice of 16 GB or 32 GB. Additionally, the Flash Drive is limited to files sizes of about 4 GB, while the Media Drive—according to specifications—can handle files over 64 GB. At about four hours, the Flash Drive’s battery life is half as long as the Media Drive’s.

The Flash Drive is smaller, lighter and data can be viewed from a Web browser, a feature that we wish the Media Drive offered. Still, it was clear to us that the Media Drive offered more benefits to photographers.

The Bottom Line
While the SanDisk Connect Wireless Media Drive has some issues, it’s a good concept and is—for the most part—a convenient way to store, transfer, and share images and videos. The entire process of sharing and viewing images and videos could be faster, but video playback was quite good and clips were smoothly rendered. Along with speed and adding a few features to the app, SanDisk may want to consider a second “pro” model with a CompactFlash slot. Still, being able to view the card’s contents on your mobile device is a good thing and can be almost as client-pleasing as tethered shooting.

Pros: Compact; SD card slot; images can be viewed or shared between iOS and Android devices; intuitive app

Cons: Relatively slow performance; USB 2.0 (versus USB 3.0); app needs broader functionality in certain areas

Prices: $80 for 32 GB; $100 for 64 GB;