Drive hardware excellent, software interface severely lacking (July 20th, 2014)
Product Manufacturer: Patriot
Price: $199 retail
- Well engineered
- Speedy Wi-Fi and USB 3.0
- Terrible software
- Did we mention how bad the software really is?
Regardless of how large a tablet you buy, you always want more space. There's always one more movie or another album you'd cram on, if only there was a little more room! A line of products has surfaced, which purport to expand the capacity of a tablet by offloading media and other documents to a wireless hard drive. Patriot has a device in the class, the Aero Wireless Mobile Drive. The concept is a really good idea, but how is the execution?
The Aero Wireless Mobile Drive is a hard drive wrapped in a Wi-Fi base station, essentially. The model we were provided for testing is the larger 1TB version. Data can be moved to the Aero by way of Wi-Fi, the Patriot Connect application for Android, iOS, or Kindle Fire, or a USB 3.0 port -- which can only be used when Wi-Fi isn't being used. Patriot claims that HD movies up to 720p can be streamed up to five devices simultaneously -- we didn't quite achieve this in our testing, but we did get three devices to simultaneously stream 720p movies at a variable bit rate of around 3,500mb per second.
Data transfers are good. Movies moved across to the drive through the USB cable at about 122MB per second, with wireless transfers being slower due to limitations of network congestion. As a bonus, when tablets are connected to the Aero, Internet access is available through a "pass-through." If the Aero is connected to a wireless base station, then it can provide Internet access (through double-NAT) to connected tablets. We found this to be helpful in public environments, like libraries, and found no real problems with the connectivity.
If it sounds like we're very pleased with the hardware, it's because we are. The drive is solid -- powered by a battery that lasted us more than the six rated hours for travel or on-the-go use with no available socket -- and speedy. The drive comes formatted in exFAT, meaning that its ready to go for OSX and Windows, straight out of the box. This is where the good news ends, however.
Our first trials of the Aero with the Patriot Connect app were on an original iPad Mini running iOS 7.1. The app downloaded fine and connected to the Aero as expected, but that's when the problems began. The app is rudimentary, and prone to crashing. Media is presented in a text list, broken up by folders -- why isn't the app looking at metadata for the movies and giving a thumbnail? Worse yet, photos are also displayed by name, with no thumbnail, making selective photo browsing a real problem when you're looking for that one specific adorable picture that the gang must see.
Furthermore, the app would crash randomly on the iPad Mini, even when idle. Twice, this locked up the iPad, necessitating a complete reboot of the tablet. Interestingly, the crashing didn't manifest itself on a first-generation iPad running iOS 5. The only conclusion we can draw is the app, last updated on February 27 of 2013, needs some iOS 7 fixes. With iOS 8 knocking on our door, I hope that this won't be more of a problem in just a few short months.
The Kindle Fire version is a bit more stable, but still lacks proper thumbnails and metadata for media. As expected, the vanilla Android version has the same concerns as the Kindle Fire version.
We've already spoken about the lack of both metadata and thumbnails being a problem with the software. Other features we feel the Patriot Connect app lacks are any sort of mirroring support, like to a Chromecast or AirPlay. We'd also like to see optional access control implemented, with some users being able to perform all management functions, and others being only able to play back the stored media -- this would prevent a child from coming in and deleting movies wholesale off the device to antagonize a sibling on a long car trip. While we're asking for more features, wider codec support would be better, with the app only supporting file types that the tablet itself supports.
We like the hardware that Patriot provides. The drive is silent, solid, and works as advertised as a hard drive. However, we hate the software -- the Patriot Connect app is basically terrible for all three supported platforms! This drive has the potential to be fantastic overall, but the sub-par app is really holding it back. To be completely fair to the app, it does work. It does play supported media. Browsing and selection on the app is just awful, and that's a real problem. For now, we just can't recommend the Patriot Aero with Patriot Connect -- I hope the software gets a facelift as it makes the combo less painful to use. If it does, we'll revisit this review.