Portable file storage is something like the gray flannel suit in the world of photo technology. It’s unassuming, usually dependable and, when working correctly, completely boring. If that suits you, you may as well skip what follows (we won’t be offended), but if you want more versatility from your portable drive, read on.
Western Digital’s new My Passport Wireless joins a growing crowd of portable hard drives that offer wireless capability so you can access the drive’s contents from mobile devices. While most of these drives are targeted at consumers looking to free up space on their phones and tablets, WD’s My Passport Wireless broadens the pitch to professional photographers with the inclusion of two key features: First, there’s an SD card slot that supports UHS-I and II cards for off-loading files and second, there’s support for wireless FTP, so Canon and Nikon shooters with the requisite wireless accessories (WFT and WT-2, respectively) can wirelessly back-up images on the fly. (A full list of supported cameras and wireless transmitters is available at www.wd.com.)
We threw a 2TB My Passport Wireless into our camera bag to see whether we’d trade that gray flannel in for something flashier.
CUTTING THE CORD
The My Passport Wireless is formatted out of the box to work on both Mac OSX and Windows 7 or 8 operating systems and is designed not just to connect to other devices using Wi-Fi, but to share an Internet connection with up to eight other devices. This way, your phone or computer won’t lose access to the Internet when paired with the My Passport.
Setting up the drive is straightforward, though not quite plug-and-play. First, you connect the drive via its short USB cable to your computer to configure it to access your home network. Then load up your mobile devices with the free My Cloud app and connect those devices to the drive. In all, it took us about seven minutes to connect a desktop, a laptop, a smartphone and a tablet. Configuring wireless FTP is also painless, although it will require a bit more digging into the user’s manual to find the server and port addresses.
After all the requisite devices are connected, there are two general ways to use the My Passport Wireless—as a backup device or a media hub. We found it performed well in both roles.
The workflow with an SD card is smooth. When transferring images directly from a card, the drive can erase all the transferred images or simply make a duplicate copy. It can also be configured to automatically transfer any files whenever a card is inserted into the slot. When we transferred an SD card with about 1GB worth of data, it took about 31 seconds for the images to show up in our Mac’s Finder and 35 seconds to pop up into the SD Card Transfers folder on the My Cloud app. By comparison, it took our Mac nearly three minutes to load these files onto the card itself.
While the card transfer process is speedy, there’s one small limitation: you can’t actually preview an SD card’s contents using the My Cloud app unless you first transfer all of your files onto the drive. The My Passport Wireless drive can store most any file type, but the My Cloud app will only display files that are supported by your device—so you if you’re loading RAW files to the Passport and your phone doesn’t support them, you can’t view them.
Backing up images stored on your phone or tablet requires manually transferring them to the drive using the My Cloud app. Unfortunately, the app won’t monitor your camera roll and do it for you automatically when it detects new photos or videos. However, you can access your device’s camera from within the My Cloud app so that any photo you snap is then backed up to the My Passport.
You can also forgo all the wireless functionality of the drive and use it as you would any external hard drive. We enjoyed write speeds of around 70MBps and read speeds of 90MBps over USB 3.0 when testing the drive with Blackmagic Design’s Disk Speed Test. The same 1GB folder of images that took 3 minutes to transfer to our SD card zipped off the My Passport and back onto our Mac in under a minute.
There are multiple ways to access the My Passport Wireless. When you connect a desktop or laptop wirelessly, the drive will appear as a networked storage device, giving you access to the drive’s contents. You can also access a specialized dashboard through a Web browser that provides information on remaining capacity and battery life, and lets you adjust drive settings. Oddly, you can’t actually access your files in the browser dashboard. We think it would have been more convenient if you could.
The My Cloud app is a little less intuitive than the Web dashboard, but after a day of regular use we got the hang of it. The app organizes all your files into folders, but will let you sort files by photo, video and stills on the bottom navigation pane. Once you’re viewing a given media format, you’ll have further options to view all, view by date, or by album name. You can also view device status (remaining battery life, capacity, etc.) although you’ll have to dig a bit for it in the app.
Thanks to its dual-stream 802.11n Wi-Fi, the drive can stream HD video to up to four devices simultaneously. We played two different 720p video files off the device— one to an iPhone and another to a Mac Mini—while using an iPad to browse through a 300-plus image library stored on the WD. We didn’t experience any lag in the video playback. At other times, it wasn’t a consistently flawless experience. There were delays and buffering on video playback even when only streaming to just one device, but that was the exception. WD says the bit-stream will top out at 8Mbps to any single device, so there’s obviously a limit on how large an HD file you’ll want to push through the Passport’s Wi-Fi, but we found video streaming to work quite well overall.
Photo browsing was a slower and less consistent experience, however. It often took 20 seconds or more to load an initial image, though once an album loads on the app, subsequent images populate more quickly.
WD promises six hours of battery life on the drive. In our tests, we sometimes fell short of that, but never by more than a few minutes. Battery status is readily available on the app, browser dashboard and (less precisely) on the drive’s LED status monitor. We found that the Passport’s advertised range of 150 feet was pretty spot-on for uploading and browsing files on the device, but not for video streaming, which started to buffer beyond the 40–50 foot range.
The device itself measures in at 5 x 3.39 x 1.17 inches and weighs 0.77 pounds. The 2TB version is the thickest and heaviest of the My Passport Wireless family—which includes a 500GB and 1TB version— but it’s still unobtrusive in a camera bag or backpack, and on par with other wireless portable drives.
The WD My Passport Wireless is a versatile tool that photographers should find quite useful. The drive is available in 500GB, 1TB and 2TB capacities for $130, $180 and $220, respectively, prices that are roughly in line with the competition. We wish the Web-based dashboard included file management and that the app had speedier photo browsing, but all in all we were impressed with the My Passport’s feature set and performance.
PROS: Solid feature set, excellent HD media streaming, easy to set-up and use.
CONS: Functions split between browser dashboard and Finder/Explorer, photo browsing inconsistent on app.
PRICE: $219.99 (2TB); $179.99 (1TB); $119.99 (500GB)