24
Sep
sd-WirelessMediaDrive-family

Expandable storage seems to be dying off in Android. The excuses reasons are varied, but the writing seems to be on the wall. Of course, each time a new flagship rolls off the line sans microSD slot, fans cry out in frustration. SanDisk is taking on the challenge of making an accessory meant to bring expandable storage to any device. The result is called SanDisk Connect, a pair of portable drives with Wi-Fi that your phone or tablet can connect to for file storage or content streaming. To keep you connected to the internet, they can also connect to a wireless access point at the same time. The Wireless Media Drive and Wireless Flash Drive work quite well, but not without a potentially crushing limitation. I really liked using them, but they aren't going to work for a lot of the things you may want to do with them.

home-media-drivehome-flash-drive
left: Media Drive, right: Flash Drive

Specs

Wireless Media Drive

  • 32 or 64 GB internal storage
  • SDHC/SDXC card slot (full-size SD Slot), card not included
  • Aluminum housing
  • Connectivity:
    • USB (via USB cable)
    • Wi-Fi (up to 8 connections)
  • Battery Life: Up to 8 hours
  • Price: $80 / $100 [Amazon]

Wireless Flash Drive

  • SDHC card slot (microSD Slot)
  • 16 GB / 32 GB card included
  • Plastic housing
  • Connectivity:
    • USB (via built-in USB plug)
    • Wi-Fi (up to 8 connections)
  • Battery Life: Up to 4 hours
  • Price: $50 / $60 [Amazon]

Build Quality And Features

Let me get one thing out of the way. The Wireless Flash Drive and the Media Drive differ marginally in price, but the product quality and features set them very far apart. The Flash Drive may be measurably cheaper, but it is monumentally less appealing than its bigger brother. To begin with, the Media Drive feels fantastic. It doesn't have any weak spots, there's a balanced weight to it, and I almost feel like it could survive as the puck in a hockey match. On the other hand, I was instantly put off of the Flash Drive by a surprisingly loud creakiness to the plastic chassis and a card slot cover that could break of without much abuse. Design elements between the two are similar, but the Media Drive makes considerably better use of them, particularly with the chamfered aluminum band around the side. After just opening the packaging, it was abundantly clear that the Flash Drive lacks the same level of polish.

The Media Drive is equipped with both internal storage and a slot for a full-size SD card. Since the drive isn't limited to microSD, it can take advantage of faster and lower-priced cards, like those that you would probably use in a DSLR camera. It even supports SDXC cards, a newer technology that maxes out at 2 terabytes instead of the 32 gigabyte limit of SDHC. The internal storage is a great place to store files that are meant to be shared around while the memory cards may travel between devices like cameras or computers. Unfortunately, the Flash Drive lacks internal storage, SDXC support, and only has a microSD slot.

One of the big irritants of carrying around extra accessories like this is a need to plug them in alongside your primary devices. The Flash Drive, as the name implies, is just an oversized "thumb" drive which plugs directly into a USB port. On the one hand, it's a self-contained package and doesn't require any cables. On the other hand, it's wider than most similar drives and easily overcrowds neighboring USB ports on most computers. Requiring a USB port for charging may also pose a challenge if you are traveling without a computer. The Media Drive requires a microUSB cable for charging, so it doesn't have to intrude on other USB ports when plugged into a computer and it can use the same travel charger you already carry around for your phone.

In terms of performance, supposedly the Flash Drive can stream HD video to as many as three devices at once and the Media Drive is rated for up to five. I'm not sure what SanDisk defines as HD video, but I can say the two devices differ by significantly more than the advertised margin. I was able to stream 1080p video to six devices (everything I had on hand) with the Media Drive and barely a frame was dropped. The Flash Drive struggled to stay steady with just two clients, and intermittently froze up with three. Any streaming connection to the Flash Drive after the first also took a very long time to begin playing. For an individual, simultaneous video streams probably doesn't matter much, but it would spell catastrophe if you are planning a trip with the family and they all expect to watch movies on the way.

The Software

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One of the features missing from current mobile operating systems (assuming you aren't rooted) is the ability to map network drives to the file system, so SanDisk had to release native apps to do the heavy lifting. The apps suit their role perfectly fine, but aren't particularly polished visually or remarkable in any way. Setting up and connecting are simple tasks and step-by-step instructions are included. Some of the layouts are a bit clunky and not always intuitive, and there are some little features missing, but everything works like you would expect it to.

As I'm reviewing both drives side-by-side, I'm very bothered to even see two apps. Rather than build a single piece of software that works for the two functionally identical drives, SanDisk released independent apps with different interfaces and operation, but similar enough to have obviously been designed by the same people. Unfortunately, splitting the time between two apps will probably lead to a less refined experience, more potential for confusion, and more bugs. As an example of how silly this is, each app contained bugs when trying to connect to a router when the password contained spaces. One didn't allow spaces to be typed into the password field, but would connect if the password was pasted in from the clipboard, while the other app allowed spaces but failed to connect if they were present. These issues have since been fixed with updated versions, but my anger remains.

Most of the inconsistencies are trivial, but one thing stood out when streaming music and video. The Media Drive attempts to play content through a built-in media player which only works with formats and codecs supported by the Android OS. However, the Flash Drive takes another route and allows you to choose from your installed media players. This is the one time where the Flash Drive is superior, purely due to the software.

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Who Will Use This, And Why Many Won't

When I first got the opportunity to review the SanDisk Connect drives, I was really excited. I fall squarely into the camp of people who want expandable storage in my devices. These drives seem like a great solution, that is - until I realized what I had to give up while using them.

You see, Android, like every other mobile OS out there, shuts off the cellular data connection after attaching to Wi-Fi. This is a great measure for saving power and avoids maxing out your data usage. Unfortunately, connecting to hotspot without an active Internet connection means losing all data connectivity with the outside world. You are giving up web browsing, email, push notifications, and even instant messaging, which many people are using to replace SMS. This is the reason SanDisk turned the drives into miniature Wi-Fi extenders with the ability to connect to nearby access points.

The catch to traveling with these drives is that many of the places you will want to go are the same places you won't be able to get Wi-Fi. The most common scenario I hear from people demanding expandable storage is that they want to load up lots of music for the long commute to work. Unless you've got a separate device to act as a hotspot, you are sacrificing turn-by-turn navigation, instant messaging, and possibly more for some lousy MP3s. In fact, almost any time you want to connect a phone will mean cutting ties unless you are in a hotel room, coffee shop, or sitting at home - all places you already could have streamed the same content without using a drive.

There are times when the connection issues aren't going to hurt you, such as using a tablet without a cellular radio, or when you enter dead zones or areas with barely functioning data service. I took the Media Drive with me on a camping trip where I was about 45 minutes away from a cell signal and it worked brilliantly. Of course, dropping your cell connection for a few minutes may also be worth it if you need to quickly share some large files or several pictures.

As a bonus, the Wi-Fi sharing feature makes a perfect hack if you are staying somewhere that limits how many devices are allowed to connect to the access point, like a hotel (wink) (wink). Seriously, I've been looking for something like this for years.

Conclusion

Clearly, the question isn't just if you would want to use a wireless drive for expandable storage, but if you can either live with or work around the connectivity issue. For the throngs of people disappointed by the lack of expandable storage in our phones, this probably isn't a perfect solution, but it might be workable. I really don't want to discourage anybody from the SanDisk Connect drives, I really do like them, but it's important that potential buyers realize the challenges that might come with trying to use one of them regularly.

As for which one you should choose; I really can't think of a good reason to pick the Flash Drive over the Media Drive. Yes, it means throwing in an extra $30 or more, but the advantages in battery life, flexibility with memory cards, and better build quality make it a no-brainer.

Cody Toombs
Cody is a Software Engineer and Writer with a mildly overwhelming obsession with smartphones and the mobile world. If he’s been pulled away from the computer for any length of time, you might find him talking about cocktails and movies, sometimes resulting in the consumption of both.

  • flashfast2000

    I love this idea. It seems like a great solution for the problem of limited storage on the lower cost version of ''flagship'' phones.

  • mgamerz

    If only you could mount it as a network drive, and possibly use bluetooth tethering to it instead. I don't know if that shuts off the network connection.

    • andy_o

      BT is painfully slow for file transfer. It takes quite a few seconds to just send an 8MP jpeg for example, via Android Beam.

      • mgamerz

        For MP3 file streaming though it is fine. (Or should be). Not much more than that though.

        • andy_o

          I'm thinking WiFi Direct, it would be ideal, unless there's something I'm not considering like extremely high power usage when connected for an extended period of time. I just tried SuperBeam, and the mobile data connection works while doing a transfer.

          • mgamerz

            haha no, wifi direct is really terrible. It might work on some phones (Samsung mainly), but overall android's implementation of it is terrible. I've built a wifi-direct app (it was like 90% done) but abandoned it because it doesn't work on android. On 4.0, an invitation can reboot your phone, on 4.1 it will crash... something, not sure what (but the "More..." menu in stock android settings will hang), on 4.2 it is not backwards compatible with 4.1/4.0 because it adds remembered groups which will make it never do a handshake unless the other device becomes "the host", which has to always be done progmatically, which means either the user has to set it or data has to be preshared...

            Wifi direct is a great concept but on android the API it uses is terrible and unreliable.

          • andy_o

            You mean the way stock Android does WiFi direct transfers, but I've been using SuperBeam on the N4 and N10 (and 2012 N7 before) without much more trouble than BT transfers (Android Beam) give me, and those are likely due to NFC.

          • mgamerz

            With the NFC tap it will send data and set up the host/peers properly since it can exchange a 'priority' to become the host. On the same OS versions and similar hardware it works pretty well. However during my testing using any non-nexus device typically makes the connection hang, never throw proper callbacks, or fail to connect at all.

  • jonathan3579

    You know, the LG G2 has a wireless storage feature but you guys didn't cover that in your review. I'm severely disappointed by the half-assed review you allowed to go out.

    • Ivan Myring

      Does it? And I did also think it was a poor review (the worst I have read on this site)

      • jonathan3579

        Yes it does. I have yet to see any review (even the less scathing ones) cover it. Basically, it makes your sdcard accessible via a CIFS/SMB share. When you turn it on, you can access your storage wirelessly on your Windows/Mac/Linux.

        • RaptorOO7

          Valid point, but it still only offers 32GB so why would I care about having my limited internal storage be available via wifi connection when I actually want MORE storage on the device to begin with.

        • smeddy

          What am I missing, because there's a dozen apps that do this for me in the Market

    • mgamerz

      This has nothing to do with that. That makes your phone a network storage device, not attach storage to the device.

      • jonathan3579

        Umm, you can read/write/copy/delete etc... How do they not share a similarity exactly? Furthermore, it just goes to show how little the reviewer did in actually exploring the software instead of calling it a Samsung ripoff.

        • mgamerz

          Cause this review is about a storage extender for /your phone/, and your post (as by your comment above) shows it's an SMB share, which means it is available on the network. Which means I can get on my computer and change your internal files. Which doesn't extend your storage capacity.

          • jonathan3579

            That doesn't mean they are not similar. I'm done here. I've said my piece.

          • mgamerz

            How is that even similar? They don't achieve anything similar beyond perhaps 'my device can access new files', except your way requires a pc or other device that can network browse.

          • jonathan3579

            They both access storage wirelessly. That's my point here.

          • mgamerz

            I guess, but that still has nothing to do with the article, and it's not that impressive anyways, my atrix was able to do it from over 2 years ago. But whatever.

          • jonathan3579

            I'm just disappointed with the way some of the reviews have been handled around here. This is not a new site and if someone is incapable of exploring the truly good and truly bad then they shouldn't be doing the review. This review was handled in a way I would expect from a quality site with quality articles. I was merely trying to make a vague comparison to an omission left out of the shoddy G2 review.

    • Josh Rahn

      This isn't a review for the LG G2, Its for wireless storage from san disk.
      I don't think you can put down a review and be "severely disappointed" because of one specialized case that wasn't mentioned.
      He could have also argued that these are garbage since you should just buy a phone with a microSD card if extra storage is really what you want. You probably would have been butt hurt by that too. :(
      I for one liked you review Cody although I'm going to pass since I have 16GB + 64GB(microSD) of storage.

      • jonathan3579

        One specialized case? Get off their nuts, buddy. They missed more than just one feature. And I'm completely aware it's not a review of the G2 but I felt it was worth mentioning. End of story.

    • QikOver

      The G2 thing isn't the same at all! It doesn't look like it hosts wifi, so you need a router, no internet pass-through, your apps have to support opening files over a network, and, yeah, it's a $700 phone. People are even telling you how it's different and you're holding to your guns. Dude, you're a fan boy.

      • jonathan3579

        Bitch, i am not a fanboy. I give every device a chance so you would do best to hold your tongue.

  • SPtheALIEN

    I guess my only option is the microUSB OTG to USB adapter so I can use a thumb drive wired to my device. That way I still get to use my data connection.

  • andy_o

    The Media Drive attempts to play content through a built-in media player

    And I thought this was gonna be the deal-breaker until I started reading the next paragraph. Why couldn't they use Wi-Fi direct?

    • Guest

      edit: replied to it on another comment

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/author/cody-toombs/ Cody Toombs

      I was wondering about that, too. I tried asking but never got a response.

      I'm only guessing here, but I think they chose not to use Wi-Fi Direct because it isn't supported on a lot of older phones and it would lead to lots of people returning the drive if it wasn't working for them. While you and I would know if we could use this, 95% of the regular custom base would have no idea.

  • danishdhanshe

    Does this mean that I move my game data on this and then keep the apk on my phone and I will be able to play games without and storage problems?

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/author/cody-toombs/ Cody Toombs

      No, unfortunately, game data has to be on something the phone considers to be local. It might be possible if you had a rooted phone and the ability to map the network drive to your local file system, but I'm not sure if that comes without some other issues.

      • danishdhanshe

        It is rooted and what I actually miss is Internal memory on my nexus 4
        Moreover, Even my WiFi isn't that fast enough that I could keep uploading stuff on box
        So, I Will surely buy this weird thing once I find out that such stuff is possible :D

  • Railwayman

    My solution (even if I have 64 GB microSDXC cards in the Xperia Z and Z Ultra) is a StarTech USB-OTG adapter and a SanDisk Cruze 128 GB drive. It works perfect with all devices and I can transfer files as usual with FX File Explorer.

    If I ever buy a device without expandable storage, I will use USB-OTG and transfer files through a standard file manager to a flash drive rather than trying to use a WiFi based drive.

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/author/cody-toombs/ Cody Toombs

      I agree, that's the solution that definitely avoids connectivity issues. While it would probably be the route I would go for most purposes (and that's why I've got an OTG cable laying around), it doesn't have the couple of advantages a wireless drive like this can offer. The drives are good if you want to allow streaming/broadcasting to multiple people without having everybody connect individually to copy a file first.

      Also, sadly, OTG doesn't work on some devices. I'm not caught up on which OEMs have a bad track record with OTG, but HTC used to be bad about it, and even one of the recent Nexus devices (the 4, I think).

      • http://www.facebook.com/lucyparanormal Daniel Tiberius

        Yes it is the Nexus 4 that doesn't work with USB OTG, sadly.

    • duke69111

      Any idea where I can get a cheap one with the Y cable for power that will charge the phone at the same time.

  • Jaime

    I can see using it with a nexus tablet, but that's it, my note 8.0 already has expandable memory and I can't live without cellular data on my phone. I do like the drive a lot, I was imagining a family trip with movies loaded on the drive, oh well...

  • ins0mn1a

    This is a great review. Thoughtful, detailed, well written, balanced, no BS. So thank you.

  • JLM

    When you set up your phone as a wifi hotspot, you maintain internet connectivity and this drive should be able to connect. The main problem I see is that you wouldn't be able to set it up unless you have a plan that supports it or a rooted device.

    That's just my opnion, never used the drive.

    • ddh819

      i've tried accessing files between devices when my phone is a hotspot providing internet access and my tablet is connected to the hotspot, but the phone and the tablet are not on the same network, so they can't connect. my guess is I think that's what the problem would be with this - if you used your phone hotspot to provide internet access to the sandisk connect, the phone could not access files on the sandisk connect,

      • http://www.androidpolice.com/author/cody-toombs/ Cody Toombs

        That's right. There are some hotspot apps that support this, but not all of them do. Also, the SanDisk drives firewall their content against the upstream connection. In other words, whatever the drive thinks of as its Internet connection will not be able to access the content.

  • RaptorOO7

    You could also look at Kingston's Wi-Drive solution which comes in 32/64/128GB options and is cheaper than SanDisk's 64GB soluiton http://www.kingston.com/us/usb/wireless#wid now I will say Kingston doesn't have the ability to tie it into an access point for internet and supports 3 users at once but more storage and less expensive you have to make trade-offs.

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/author/cody-toombs/ Cody Toombs

      Kingston just sent the MobileLite Wireless drive to me and I'll be reviewing that shortly. It doesn't have the internal storage options of the Wi-Drive, but it doubles as an emergency charging battery.

  • ddh819

    does this work with upnp?

  • RitishOemraw

    But didn't the new iPhone or ios7 introduce something to allow wifi+cellular data at the same time? If Android would employ that with Kitkat / newer devices that would remove the sacrifice in using this. right?

    • Yousef

      That only works with siri, otherwise it's disabled.

      • RitishOemraw

        why would they make it only work with siri? (honest question)
        Edit: And if it would work always, would that solve the problem this thing ahs?

  • Stacey Liu

    Why can't it just use Wi-Fi Direct?

    • bobfrea

      does that allow wifi data to not be interrupted?
      does it allow cell data to continue?

      • Bronislav Shtrom

        no

  • Sorian

    Maybe it's just me, but does it really take that much effort to copy files back and forth as needed and shut off the WiFi storage?

  • vgergo

    My solution is never to buy a device without sdcard slot. If the 64/128GB expandability is not enough, I can still attach my external 1T drive via USB-OTG.

    • smeddy

      Same! One of the major reasons I stick with Sammy, despite loving HTC (God I sound like I'm dating them!)

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  • Matt Sendek

    On a rooted device would there be away to run mobile data and wife at the same time to get rid of this problem

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/author/cody-toombs/ Cody Toombs

      I'm not aware of any option for that. Technically, it should be possible, but there's one really big design challenge: there has to be a way to instruct different apps to use the correct interface, either cellular data or wifi. That sounds easy, but there are a ton of special edge cases that make it difficult to do right. WiFi Direct would be a good fix for this issue, because I think cellular data can remain on while individual apps can manage it, but I'm not positive. Also, these don't appear to support WiFi Direct... Maybe that will be added in the next generation.