[May 2012 UPDATE: Check out the Airstash – our current favourite!]
There are a number of hard drive for iPad solutions in the market, notably the Hypershop Hyperdrive, the Seagate GoFlex Satellite and the Kingston Wi-Drive. In this article, we take a look at two iPad harddrives: the Hyperdrive and the Wi-Drive and find ourselves preferring the Wi-Drive.
Before the Christmas holidays, I treated myself to my stocking stuffers early and packed a Hypershop Hyperdrive and a Kingston Wi-Drive to take with me on the road. Both products position themselves as the best external hard drives for the iPad but I discovered this not to be the case. To make a long story short, the Hyperdrive was HyperCRAP and the Kingston Wi-Drive was very capable. Here’s why.
A Little Place for All my Crap
I have a 64GB 3G iPad 2 but it fills up pretty quickly. When I add up music, photos, app data, magazines, newspapers and periodicals, there isn’t much left over for movies and television. When I go on a vacation or a business trip, I like to catch up on movies and TV episodes and the iPad is my preferred method of viewing.
I also carry an Apple TV with me. It’s the size of a hockey puck and fits easily in my carry-on. I like to connect it to my hotel flat screen TV via HDMI. Thanks to Airplay, I can push anything that’s on my iPad (or iPhone) directly to it and have it play on the big screen TV. That is, unless the hotel in-room entertainment system doesn’t prevent you from changing the source input on the TV. More on this in another article.
It’s nice to know that Apple’s iCloud allows you to download whatever you want when you want… so long as you have an Internet connection. This isn’t always the case – especially on most long-haul flights, busses, trains, or anywhere without inexpensive WiFi access. And, even if you are somewhere with WiFi – that’s no guarantee. I recently stayed at someone’s house in Silicon Valley and they only had 3Mbps Broadband! Can you believe it? The epicentre of the IT world yet stuck in a 90’s modem-speed time warp. When I rented an HD movie from Apple TV, it said it would be ready to play in 90 minutes instead of 5 seconds!
Most TV episodes are about 270MB but movies can be anywhere from 700MB to 4GB, depending upon their quality/compression settings. I usually cannot store more than 8 movies on my iPad at any given time, because of all my other data. But I want to have all of my content with me at all times; I never know what I’ll be in the mood for watching. If you have kids, you’ll probably want a big catalog of classics and favourites that you can play whenever required. For this reason an iPad harddrive makes a lot of sense.
Hyperdrive vs. Wi-Drive
Both devices offer self-powered storage, which is essential given that the iPad cannot supply power over USB to most devices save flash memory. This means you must keep these hard drives fully recharged before you hit the road. The Hypershop battery lasted me the entire trip without needing a recharge, because you only need it to use it to transfer files to your iPad. Otherwise, it sits idle and dormant. However, it comes with a special USB charging cable, which I promptly lost and, subsequently, am unable to recharge it anymore.
The Kingston Wi-Drive is a solid-state flash drive, which is power-friendly but the unit is in constant use, because it streams content to your iPad over WiFi. This means that you cannot use it for more than 4 hours at a time before having to recharge it. Sadly, it cannot recharge while it’s in operation, so you have to finish using it first.
The Hyperdrive uses the Apple Connection Kit to connect directly to the iPad via USB. I bought the Hyperdrive enclosure and added my own 1TB hard drive, which was relatively painless. You then have to transfer your files to the iPad before you can use them.
The Kingston Wi-Drive connects to the iPad over WiFi, so it doesn’t use any cables. First, you change your iPad WiFi settings to connect directly to the WiFi SSID of the Wi-Drive. Then, you use a special iPad App from Kingston to browse and play files on your Wi-Drive. You can even set up the Wi-Drive to connect to the local WiFi network (if there is one), so that it can act as a router for your iPad. This will enable it to offer Internet pass-through to your iPad, so that you aren’t cut off from the Web while connected to the Wi-Drive’s WiFi.
The Kingston Wi-Drive doesn’t transfer files to the iPad. Instead, it streams them on-demand to the iPad through it’s special audio/visual player App. The App is pretty simple and up to three devices can access the Wi-Drive at once, so it acts as a small but limited media hub. Their promotional materials often depict a family in a car all watching their favourite shows on their personal devices from the Wi-Drive. This makes sense, because the 4 hour battery life of the Wi-Drive limits how much time you can spend watching content.
Before I set off on my trip, I figured this wouldn’t be much of a competition. My Hyperdrive had 1TB, compared to the Wi-Drive’s puny 32GB. Since the Hyperdrive connected directly to the iPad, I imagined it would be more stable and reliable than a WiFi connection – especially when it came to ‘importing’ content versus ‘streaming’. How wrong I was.
The Kingston Wi-Drive trumped the Hyperdrive in so many ways that I hesitate to recommend the Hyperdrive to anyone.
The Hyperdrive was buggy and unreliable. When I first loaded it with content, it kept crashing my iPad once it was connected to it. I spoke to Hyperdrive’s tech support who gave me some pointers but, in the end, I simply filled it with photos first, before adding any video. It was happier with photos but still caused the iPad to reboot periodically.
The second major problem with the Hyperdrive is that it relies upon the iPad’s built-in Photo App to access the content on the Hyperdrive. This means that all of your content will appear as stamp-sized icons without any filenames. This isn’t a problem for photos but for video it’s a nightmare. It defaults to using a random frame towards the beginning of the video file as the icon image – which for ripped movies tends to be credits. All I ended up with were black icons showing me the runtime of the video but without any filenames, I couldn’t figure out which movie it was. Plus, I couldn’t preview the movie, either, to help me figure it out. I needed to import the movie to the iPad in order to check it out.
You can create folders and put movies into folders, so you can navigate the content that way but it’s very clumsy. It’s also counterintuitive. To navigate within a folder you must ‘import selected items’. Then do the same again to the sub-folder… and so on. Finally, you import the items that you want. And if the movie file is big, this import process can take awhile; long enough to make a cup of tea.
By contrast, the Kingston Wi-Drive uses a special Wi-Drive App in order to browse the files on the drive. The filenames are visible, so it’s easy to know what is what. Because audio/video files are ‘streamed’ to the iPad, you don’t have to wait for them to ‘import’.
The Wi-Drive is very portable, sleek and an elegant. It only takes around 10-15 seconds to cold boot and it’s ready. I’m happy to say that all the content that I put onto it played without any problems – so long as it was already pre-formatted for iPad support. This included iTunes movies that I had purchased.
Unfortunately, this DID NOT work with iTunes movie rentals. I presume this has something to do with the copyright protection mechanism that Apple has imposed. The Wi-Drive does not seem to be able to handle these rentals. I wish this wasn’t the case, as I would have loved to have rented lots of movies and TV that I could offload to the Wi-Drive without cluttering my iPad. This problem doesn’t crop up with the Hyperdrive, because it actually transfers the movie file to the iPad, which can handle the behind-the-scenes licensing negotiations. However, I rarely got the Hyperdrive to work consistently enough to test this on a regular basis.
Initially, I figured it wouldn’t be much of a competition. I had installed a 1TB hard drive into the Hyperdrive casing and thought very little of the Wi-Drive’s puny 32GB storage ceiling. But, at the end of the day, the Kingston came out trumps because of its user interface, software support and other intangibles that are far more important than storage size alone.
Why is the Kingston Wi-Drive superior? Primarily it comes down to the Wi-Drive iPad App that allows you to easily browse, open or play the audio, visual, or document files that you choose to store on the hard drive. The Wi-Drive itself is well-made, small and light-weight. It’s a nice bonus that you can share content amongst three people at once.
The Hyperdrive, by contrast, does not have an app and, so, the files must be imported via the iPad’s default Photo App. Unfortunately, this is buggy, slow and confusing. When the iPad isn’t crashing, you’ll be unable to figure out what content is what – with the exception of photos. It uses a proprietary USB recharging cable which, when lost, puts you in a bind. You might want to consider it if your primary use will be to store photos but it’s terrible for videos.
However, the Kingston Wi-Drive isn’t without its faults, either. For one, it has only 32GB of storage. Frankly, this only holds a handful of movies (in my case, I had about 11). This means you must load up the drive with only what you think you will need for the foreseeable short-term future. It’s not a long-term video-on-demand solution for all your family’s movies. Also, we’d appreciate it if the Wi-Drive App could handle Apple’s copy protection process in order to allow us to watch movies that we’d rented from iTunes.
[EDITOR NOTE: We actually came across the AirStash recently and think it’s the best WiFi Drive solution on the market]
Here’s a great comparison of the Wi-Drive to the Seagate GoFlex (which is similar in principle to the Hyperdrive) via AnandTech
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