Review: Pogoplug file sharing device for USB storage

Pogoplug takes the headache out of network-attached storage (September 17th, 2009)

Electronista Rating:

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Product Manufacturer: Pogoplug

Price: $99

The Good

  • Inexpensive
  • Easy to configure
  • Simple file sharing
  • Direct posting to Facebook, Twitter, etc.
  • Works cross-platform
  • Web-based interface

The Bad

  • Continued service requires company to stay afloat
  • Single USB port requires hub for additional drives

Amid the plethora of network storage devices available to date, most are challenging to configure without referencing the instruction manual or support forums to get everything to work correctly. Making the systems accessible from remote locations or for sharing content can prove even more difficult. Pogoplug prides itself on avoiding all of the trouble, as the first NAS adapter that truly eliminates the need for prior networking knowledge.

The device does not provide its own storage, but rather a single USB port for attaching external drives. Users that have been accumulating several external drives can use a USB hub to attach the drives simultaneously. The only other connector is for an Ethernet cable which links directly to a router. Format compatibility is top notch, with support for NTFS, FAT32, HFS+ (journaled or non-journaled), EXT-2 and EXT-3.



For an NAS device, the Pogoplug features a very small form factor that resembles a white brick with rounded corners. Users can plug it directly onto a wall socket, with rubber feet protecting the wall from abrasion. Alternatively, a power cord can be connected if the device fits better on a desk or placed out of sight.

The company shipped the Pogoplug with a bag of popcorn as a time benchmark to determine if the system could be configured before the popcorn was finished in the microwave. Connecting a trusty Western Digital Passport to the Pogoplug and completing activation took less than a minute. The process was actually finished before the popcorn was even noticed in the box, although the kernels probably would have just began to pop if the test was executed properly.



Activation is completed from the my.pogoplug.com site, which also provides a web-based interface for managing and sharing content. Even though an identification code is provided on the bottom of the Pogoplug, the device was automatically detected on a wireless network. Signing up required just an e-mail address and a password.

The web-based interface is extremely simple and easy to work with. A toolbar on the left side of the screen shows which storage devices are currently connected to the Pogoplug, along with shared folders and content available from other users. All of the folders and files are viewable in the primary area, with thumbnails for pictures and movies. Clicking on a thumbnail brings up a larger preview, or the file can be downloaded with one click.

Sharing functions are straightforward and quick to set up. If the user happens to be at someone's house without their personal computer or hard drive, they can go onto any computer with an Internet connection and access the Pogoplug content without downloading any software. Probably the most likely reason to remotely access the Pogoplug is to show pictures or videos to friends, which couldn't be any simpler. Go to my.pogoplug.com, type in the login info, click on a picture and press play. A slideshow transitions through each of the photos in the current folder.



To allow someone to download files from the NAS, the web interface provides an invitation area to enter an e-mail address. The person receives an e-mail with a personalized link which navigates to the Pogoplug content, where they can then view or download anything that was enabled for sharing -- without needing to register.



The company on Wednesday announced several new features involving social networking. Users can publish links directly to MySpace, Facebook, Twitter or a personalized RSS feed. The function is extremely easy to use, with single click updates after authenticating the Pogoplug for each portal. The service simply publishes a link to specific shared content, rather than uploading images or videos. Users can choose a personalized message to precede the link.

A Pogoplug iPhone app is also available, enabling users to download or view content from the mobile interface. Web-formatted video, such as H.264, can also be watched from the iPhone or iPod touch. Users can download content from the Pogoplug to the device, or upload iPhone images and video back onto the Pogoplug drives. The iPhone app works surprisingly well, even for watching videos.

For transferring large files, it is important to keep in mind that remote downloads will be limited by the upload restriction of the home broadband connection. If an ISP restricts uploads to 0.5Mb/s, this would also be the theoretical maximum speed that can be achieved when trying to download files from a remote connection. Not all ISPs have the same restrictions, but it could make it unfeasible to share a full-length 720p movie. This is not a particular issue with Pogoplug, as any home-based server would run into the same limitation.

One nice aspect of the Pogoplug system is its tendency to use Wi-Fi when accessing hard drives from the same home containing the storage. Even though the interface is web-based, local file transfers will occur across the Wi-Fi network instead of passing back and forth through the company's servers. This dramatically increases transfer speeds, especially with 802.11n routers and computers. For users with both NTFS or HFS+ external storage, it provides an easy way to use the hard drives cross-platform with Macs and Windows machines.



To use the Pogoplug storage like a local hard drive, the company also provides software to install on each computer. The drives can then be mounted as if they were connected directly to the computer via USB. Using the NAS in this fashion saves time over using the web-based interface, although the web option is still the way to go for configuring sharing options or using social networking features.

Ultimately, the Pogoplug likely represents the easiest way to create a network storage system and share content directly from a hard drive. The system works with a wide variety of routers and operating systems, without needing to delve into advanced network settings. The functions are basic, however, and the device is not designed to be used for more complicated configurations such as networked surveillance cameras.

With a price of $99 and no monthly fees, the Pogoplug is also an affordable entry into network storage. The packaging is stylish, seeming more natural to be placed in a boutique than a gadget shop. Buyers could even be confident to give the device as a gift, without having to worry about the recipient unwrapping their worst networking nightmare.



by Justin King


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