Airstash – WiFi Flash Memory Stick Targets iPad

Airstash for iPad/iPhone

[UPDATE: This article was modified on April 12, 2012 to correct some errors after we received and tested our own AirStash]

[also, check out our post on the iUSBPort and how it compares to the Airstash]

Given that Apple refuses to allow users to easily attach flash memory to upgrade the storage capacity of its products, there have been many work-arounds. For example, the Kingston WiDrive, Seagate GoFlex Satellite and the Hypershop Hyperdrive. Up to now, our favourite was the Kingston WiDrive - read this to find out why. For DIYers there is also a way of connecting an SD Flash card to the iPad via the Apple Connection Kit. However, it's not particularly user-friendly.

Our favourite device is now the AirStash. The A02 is the second generation model. Wearable, the manufacturers of AirStash, has learnt some valuable lessons from their competition - particularly from Kingston. Whereas the Kingston is a large, flat WiFi flash drive with only a 4 hour battery life, Wearable (distributed by Maxell) has put theirs into a much smaller form-factor (a chunky stick) and given it a battery life of 7 hours (up to 9 hours reported by some users in the field - depending upon usage). The rechargeable battery inside the device takes 2 hours to fully charge from USB power.

upload camera photos via Airstash SD port

Like the Kingston, the Airstash is based on flash memory and uses an App on your iOS device to stream movies, or upload documents and photos. It also uses WiFi and its App to get around Apple's restrictions. Unlike the WiDrive, the Airstash uses removable SD cards as its storage medium. This gives you maximum flexibility, as you can easily swap out cards with different amounts of storage. In other words, the AirStash storage capacity is unlimited.

As an added bonus, you can plug your camera's SD card into the back of the Airstash and immediately upload your photos to your iOS device. At first glance, this might not seem like a big deal - especially when Apple provides the Camera Connection Kit with SD card reader for the iPad. However, the Apple Connection kit only supports SDHC cards (which currently go up to only a 32GB capacity). By contrast, the Airstash supports SDXC cards (see below), which currently come in 64GB & 128GB capacities. This means you can use your high performance SDXC card in your camera and still use it on your iPad via AirStash.

The AirStash is compatible with Android and, indeed, with any device that has a browser. Once connected to the AirStash WiFi network, pointing your browser to the following URL - http://airstash.net - will list the contents of the AirStash with clickable links.

A nice feature of the Airstash is that it has a USB connector which has dual-use: it can be used to recharge your Airstash's built-in rechargeable battery and you can drag-and-drop content from your computer to the Airstash, so it will become available to your iOS device. Unfortunately, when it is plugged into a computer it cannot be used as a WiFi server at the same time. You must choose between flash disk and WiFi iOS storage modes.

If you've never used a WiFi storage device with your iPad or iPhone, this is how it works:

  1. Turn on your WiFi storage device.
  2. Wait a minute, then open your 'Settings' App. Go to the WiFi section and connect to the device's SSID (this effectively connects you to the WiFi drive's network, disconnecting you from other networks)
  3. Open the special streaming App on your iOS device. Once it finds your WiFi drive, click to play/view content

At the moment, we can confirm that the AirStash can be used to store iTunes DRM content that you have purchased from Apple. When you click on a DRM item within the AirStash App, it opens the content in Safari - which handles the DRM authentication. We have not yet tested this with rented DRM content. We are assuming that this will work but we'd like to know if you can do so while not connected to the Internet. This is something that the Kingston WiDrive cannot do.

However, the Airstash cuts you off from the Internet when you connect to it - unlike the Kingston WiDrive which prevents this from happening by letting you program it to act as a pass-through router. In effect, the WiDrive connects to the Internet, so that when you connect to it you don't lose your Internet connection. Wearable claims to be working on a patch/upgrade to resolve this problem (see the comment below).

We ordered a 16GB Airstash for the office, which came with a 16GB SD card. The amount of storage that the AirStash can hold, depends upon the technology of the SD card itself. Here is what the manufacturer claims:

At the moment, however, it seems that the AirStash can only support FAT32 which has a max file size of 4GB. This is unfortunate, for instance, if you have very large video files which you want to play via a multi-format Video App like AVPlayerHD. In particular, if you have a library of DVD .ISO files (which typically run around 8GB in size), you will not be able to store them on the AirStash card. Videos will need to be transcoded down to a smaller size.
The new A02 model is smaller than the A01. Here's a promotional video for it:


For more information, check out the Airstash Website.

Where to Buy:
Amazon USA
Amazon UK

Minirig Portable USB Speaker – Yes, we like it LOUD

Minirig Portable Monoaural Speaker
If you like your sound LOUD but don't care about stereo imaging, then why not drop a nice big can from Minirig down on your desk?

It's rough and tough - made from an anodised aluminium reminiscent of the MacBook Air. It pumps out 15 watts of sound from a little can that is 72mm x 102mm in size. And it's battery can last up to 50 hours on a single charge!

Okay, there's a caveat to that last bit: 9 hours at maximum volume, 60 at minimum - 50 hours under 'normal' conditions. Still, that's a long, long time compared to most. It takes about 6-8 hours to fully charge.

It charges via a proprietary USB cable (which means proprietary at one end, standard USB on the other)... so don't lose that cable or you're stuffed! Personally, I hate it when the cables aren't completely standard, because I don't like carrying deadweight.

It uses a built-in digital amplifier to provide sonic processing, power and clipping to avoid distortion.

You can daisy-chain several Minirigs together to fill larger rooms. Unless you are sitting directly in front of your speaker setup, you aren't going to really appreciate stereo imaging from a portable speaker. In reality, a monaural speaker that's designed for power and fidelity is going to be much more practical for most people - particularly at parties, events and gatherings.

For more technical information on the Minirig, click here.

Where to Buy:
Amazon UK
Direct from Minirig

Minirig is a British product and does not appear to have US distribution. You might look at these alternative(s) instead:

Airplay Speaker – Loewe AirSpeaker

Loewe AirSpeaker

If you are an iPhone/iPad user, you are probably already familiar with AirPlay and its ability to stream audio/video content from any of your Apple devices to other AirPlay devices. For instance, send video from your phone, laptop or iPad to your AirPlay compatible television, or any television with an AppleTV device attached to it.

Several manufacturers have already put out AirPlay compatible amplifiers but here's a new one from Loewe - an amplifier/speaker combo called the AirSpeaker. Essentially, it's similar to having a powered, wireless speaker - except that it uses the AirPlay protocol to communicate with your Apple devices.

The unit contains a pair of tweeters, a pair of subwoofers and two mid-range speakers for a total rating of 80W. The unit is not really meant to be used in a directional manner - as in a traditional stereo setup - but meant to fill an entire room.

The footprint of the unit is similar to a stack of iPads. Price is expected to be £700.

US customers will find it difficult to find. Europeans can use the Loewe dealer locator to find a dealer nearest to them.

Cut the Cable – Jabra Sport Bluetooth Stereo Headset

Jabra Sport bluetooth headst

Yes, it's running earphones day! Check out our previous post on running earphones with the Sennheiser CX680i.

If you are looking for a pair of running earphones, this could be your best bet. The Jabra Sport bluetooth stereo headset is a pair of earphones for running and other sweaty sports that comes with 'Military Grade' rain, dust and shock protection (whatever that is).

Still, it's great to see a bluetooth headset that aims to offer high-quality stereo, virtual surround sound audio, while also providing a mic with wind protection to take phone calls. It also includes a built-in FM Radio. This thing packs a punch.

It's also meant to stay in your ears while exercising - how vigorously, we don't know yet.

If you primarily use your earphones for running, then you'll be happy to hear that it comes with a free download of the Endomondo Sports Tracker, "A fitness tracking application for smartphones that functions as a motivational tool for running, giving quick updates on speed, distance, and lap time." The sports tracker works with your smartphone and keeps data on your past runs via GPS tracking, so you can do lots of analytics and data-slicing on your jog to the grocery store and back.

The bluetooth earpiece works with iPhone, Blackberry and Android devices.

Click here for a virtual tour of the product on Jabra's website.

Where to Buy:
Jabra Sport at Amazon USA
Jabra Sport at Amazon UK

Running Earphones – Sennheiser CX 680i

Sennheiser CX680i Sports Earphones

If you're looking for the best running earphones, you have a lot more choice now than there used to be. However, defining 'best' is going to be a personal experience, since no two ears are exactly alike and manufacturers are trying to hedge their bets by making earphones that adapt to a variety of different sports activities.

At the very least, the best sport earphones should be sweatproof, or waterproof. They should have good noise cancelling or, at least, sound isolation capabilities and they should stay in your ears no matter what you get up to.

If you want a pair of wireless headphones, check out the Jabra Sport bluetooth running head set. Otherwise, read on.

The Sennheiser CX 680i has received very good reviews on all counts. They are sweat proof, sound isolating, stay in most people's ears well and comes with a mic + remote, so you can answer your phone on the go.

If you are an audiophile, then check out this review of the Sennheiser CX 680i on HeadphoneInfo. They not only give you some useful pointers but they also compare its sonic qualities against other competitors.

Sennheiser In-Ear -Copyright HeadphoneInfo

I particularly like the photo where they show you exactly what these headphones look like in a plastic ear. I wonder where they get the plastic ears from? Are their mannequins out there missing them?

Where to Buy:
Buy at Amazon USA
Buy at Amazon UK

PogoPlug Mobile – Another Personal Cloud Server Service

Pogoplug

2012 is going to be "Year of The Cloud", no doubt about it. First, there was great hoohaw made by Apple's announcement of iCloud earlier in the year. This was then followed by a number of products and services that offered 'private' cloud storage services - one of which we just blogged about last week: Netgear N600 Router - Personal Cloud Server with its "ReadySHARE Cloud Service".

Of course, Google has been offering Cloud services for several years with their Google Docs and application services.

Now, here's another one to add to the mix: Pogoplug Mobile.

Pogoplug has been making devices that allow you to share your media storage to your network - and beyond. Pogoplug Mobile focuses on the doing the same for your content to mobile devices but goes a step further in round-tripping data from mobile back home again.

Pogoplug's sales pitch is that it let's your iOS or Android device get access to your photos, music, movies and files from anywhere in the world via 'The Cloud' while simultaneously backing up your portable device back to 'The Cloud'.

'The Cloud' in this case is your own personal storage - plugged into a black box device that sits on your network called Pogoplug. In other words, you supply the actual storage (a USB external hard drive and/or SD Card) and the Pogoplug makes it accessible from anywhere.

It's a barebones approach to a private Cloud service. Your files aren't actually in the Cloud - they are on your own storage media. All the Pogoplug is doing is providing you with a simple way of making them accessible from anywhere.

This is more like giving you a personal DropBox or SugarSync solution than Cloud Storage.

Pogoplug is unusual in that it isn't charging a fee for providing this service. Rather, they are charging you $80 to purchase the device and then - that's it - no extra fees to gain access to their free cloud server service.

Click here to read their FAQ.

The product is anticipating an October 1st launch but Pogoplug are taking pre-orders now.

At the end of the day, Pogoplug isn't really offering anything particularly new except an iPhone and Android App that allows you to see all your files in one place and stream them to your device. There are plenty of good pogoplug alternatives, such as routers (like the Netgear WDNDR3800) that offer the same functionality, or even a Network Attached Storage (NAS) device like READYNas. Or, SugarSync. At least the NAS would have redundant storage in a RAID configuration. What happens to all your data when that portable hard drive that you plugged into the Pogoplug dies? That's when you will wish you really had 'Cloud' storage with a backup in the Cloud to boot.

In fact, I find that the term 'Cloud' is getting abused a lot lately. Google's services are truly Cloud services, because they worry about backup, redundancy, versioning, latency and all that highly technical stuff - while we just worry about it being available precisely when we need it. This is a far cry from a service like Pogoplug that simply makes the contents of your hard drive available to you on the road. That isn't a Cloud Service, it's a Remote Service.

Apple's iCloud falls somewhere in between the two extremes. It still relies upon the end-user to manage their own storage but caches data in the Cloud until it can be safely replicated to your other devices. The more devices you have, the more redundant your data will be. But, it will be your onus to look after your devices and your data. At least Apple isn't offering to keep all of it for you at their end forever at the present time - although expect to see that offered as a service for an additional fee in future.

In fact, if you are an iOS user, then iCloud is probably going to end up being your best pogoplug alternative, because it pushes your valuable data to all your iOS devices - storing it temporarily in the Cloud until it can do so.

For non-iOS users, then a Cloud Server enabled router or NAS is a good pogoplug alternative - for users who are technically savvy and don't mind interacting with firewall settings, although the Netgear ReadySHARE Cloud Service looks pretty simple to set up.

But where Pogoplug could find a nice niche is for the non-technical user and for people who need something in a pinch. For example, if I was suddenly called away on a business trip, it might be handy to have a device that I can plug a hard drive into and very easily access it from the road on my iPhone/Android, while simultaneously backing up my phone device while on the road. Being dead-simple could be a sales point - but this isn't really a safe and secure, long-term solution.

Of course much of the utility of this device will depend upon its App - what files can it stream, what formats does it support, how easy is it to use to get what I want? This remains to be seen.

You might also be interested in...

Bigstream iOS Wireless Media Streaming Device as alternative to Airplay

Bigstream iOS media streamer

The Bigstream is an interesting idea that isn't quite ready for prime-time but we're talking about it in case there's someone out there who can really benefit.

In a nutshell, it's a device that enables you to wirelessly stream the contents of your iOS device (iPhone, iPod, iPad) to a television screen. It works with native iOS apps like Photos, YouTube and Videos - plus, others such as NetFlix, Keynote and Chopper 2.

You connect a battery-powered dongle (that lasts for two hours on a charge) to your iOS device and the chunky receiver unit to your television, select one of three narrowcast channels to use for your streaming video and then - voila - watch whatever you want (supported apps only) on your TV.

In principle, this sounds like a great way to share movies, presentations, photos, games and just about anything you want on a large screen television.

Now, for the bad. First, why not simply use Airplay? You're already on iOS - just make the receiver Airplay compatible. Or, better still, buy an Apple TV for the same price and get more functionality. Worse yet, the receiver only has a composite video output with stereo RCA audio jacks. Most TV's nowadays ship with HDMI as standard. You're going to have to hunt for an old fashioned set to make this product sing.

Perhaps this is better suited to using with hotel televisions that are, often, from the stone ages and lack inputs to override their in-room video services. Using component video just might be able to get around their restrictions. I don't know.

For what it's worth, this could be the product that you're looking for. I'm not so sure myself.

Where to Buy:
Direct from Bigstream
Amazon USA

Audyssey Powered Speakers with optical audio input

Audyssey Lower East Side Media Speakers

At the end of July, we posted about AudioEngine's wireless stereo system extender and how it well it would be complimented by a pair of powered speakers. Well, here they are - Audyssey's Lower East Side Media Speaker.

Not only can you plug the AudioEngine's receiver directly into one of the speakers with the stereo mini-jack but the speakers also accept optical audio (hence the photo of the directly tethered Apple TV device).

What would really be cool is if the speakers had built in Airplay connectivity, so you wouldn't need any cables at all! Oh, well... I guess that comes with version 2.0.

I can't speak about the sound quality, because I haven't listened to one - but I like the small, portable form factor.

I wish it had a remote, though. Their South of the Market iPhone/iPod dock comes with an app to control the volume and EQ - now, that would have been a nice addition, here, too. Again, version 2.0.

Despite their shortcomings, these are attractive little speakers. It would be great to get someone's feedback as to what they actually sound like!

Where to Buy:
Direct from Audyssey
Amazon USA

Thunderbolt HDMI converters

Those shiny new MacBook Air's have a Thunderbolt port just waiting to be exploited but there's slim pickins' at the moment... all dressed up but nowhere to go.

If you want to learn more about Thunderbolt and what it all means for you, check out our article: Thunderbolt port and Thunderbolt accessories.

However, in the meantime, you should be able (theoretically) to plug any miniDisplay to HDMI converter or cable into a Thunderbolt port and it should work. Obviously, in this scenario, your TV becomes the only device on the cable and you aren't daisy chaining devices together. If you do need to daisy chain devices, the TV should be the last device in the series.

Some manufacturers - like Menotek and iWires - are advertising that their cables are 'Thunderbolt' compatible. This doesn't necessarily mean that they are any different from other devices that support 1080p video AND audio but you can purchase from them if it gives you added comfort. There are reports, however, of reliability issues with the Menotek hardware.

Make sure that the device you buy supports video AND audio. Not all do. And not all of them are all that reliable.

miniDisplay to HDMI converters and cables that support Audio

READ OUR POST on miniDisplay port to hdmi converters and cables that do support BOTH audio/visual data. You will need a more recent (post 2010) MacBook Air, though, otherwise it won't work.

Here are some solutions that purport to be "Thunderbolt" compatible...

Purchase Menotek in USA:

Purchase iWires mini displayport to hdmi converter in the UK:

Purchase Neet Cables in UK: