Back in January, Apple introduced an iPad with 128GB of storage, double the previous maximum. Lots of folks responded to the announcement by wondering who could possibly need a tablet with that much room. I knew the answer to that question: me. I upgraded from my 64GB iPad and have already stuffed the 128GB model with vast quantities of apps, videos, songs, PDFs and other items, leaving me short on space all over again.
Then there’s my wife. When she got her iPhone 4S, I cheerfully told her that 16GB of storage would be plenty. Wrong! She’s preserved so many photos that the phone now refuses to let her take more snapshots, install additional apps or even update the operating system.
Even in the age of the cloud, mobile gadgets need local room to store stuff, and many of us don’t have enough of it. iPads and iPhones don’t have MicroSD slots for memory expansion; even among Android devices, such slots aren’t universally available.
Enter SanDisk Connect, a new line of products from solid-state storage purveyor SanDisk. The “Connect” indicates that they use built-in Wi-Fi to talk to iPhones, iPads and Android devices, letting you stream videos, juggle files such as photos and generally offload some of the media which would otherwise reside on your gadget — assuming that you had space for it.
Seagate had the same basic idea with its Wireless Plus drive. But it did what you’d expect a hard drive company to do: It built wireless capabilities into a $200 1TB hard disk, ending up with a gadget that offers gobs of space but is merely portable rather than ultra-portable.
SanDisk’s twist on the idea is smaller in size, capacity and price. The Wireless Flash Drive, in fact, looks and behaves like a slightly portly thumb drive: You can stick it in your computer’s USB port as you would any other thumb drive and copy files back and forth. But it’s also a tiny Wi-Fi hotspot. Connect your iOS or Android device to it wirelessly, and you can use SanDisk’s apps to stream video and shuttle video, audio, photos and others files between device and drive.
The Wireless Flash Drive comes in $50 16GB and $60 32GB versions. (The memory is in the form of a MicroSD card, so you could upgrade later by installing a bigger card.) It can stream video to up to three devices simultaneously. The drive charges as it’s plugged into your computer’s USB port; SanDisk says it’ll run for four hours on a charge.
SanDisk’s Wireless Media Drive is similar in capabilities but aimed at more serious consumers of video. The squat, squarish device is larger than the Flash Drive — but still eminently pocketable — and comes in $70 32GB and $80 64GB variants. Besides their built-in memory, they sport SD slots that allow for memory expansion; for instance, you could pay about $50 for a 64GB card and turn the 64GB Media Drive into a 128GB Media Drive. The bigger case allows for a beefier battery, which SanDisk says can stream for up to eight hours on a charge and can handle up to five simultaneous devices. Both versions can be charged either from a USB port or with the included AC adapter.
I tried both the Flash Drive and the Media Drive with my iPad. They did what they claim to do without hitches: Movies looked good and streamed with nary a hiccup, just as if they were stored on the iPad itself. You can move photos, videos, and music off the drive and on to your device and then back again, making it a reasonably convenient way to deal with the conundrum of having more stuff than you do space on your gadget.
With iOS devices, it’s important to understand that the limited amount of freedom Apple gives to third-party apps limits what SanDisk’s drives can do. For instance, you can’t watch videos stored on one of SanDisk’s drives using Apple’s Videos app, or listen to music in Apple’s Music app. Instead, you perform those tasks in SanDisk’s app, and while it gets the job done, it’s a pretty bare-bones experience. (It doesn’t remember where you are in a video, which makes watching a movie in several sessions a bit of a hassle.)
Another key point: SanDisk’s drives don’t work with video content you buy from Apple’s iTunes Store at all, or with third-party proprietary content such as Kindle books. Nor can you move iOS apps onto the drives. They’re really meant for people who have copious amounts of personal content — videos in formats such as MP4, MP3 music, and photos.
In the end, as with Seagate’s Wireless Plus, the SanDisk Connect drives can’t solve every mobile-gadget storage dilemma. If you’re as much of a content hoarder as I am, I’d still recommend buying a phone and/or tablet with more room than you think you’ll need. But if your free-space gauge is nearing zero and you aren’t ready to splurge on a new phone or tablet, one of these drives could help you continue your packrat ways without spending too much cash.