Seagate's Wireless Plus drive -- a follow-on to Seagate's last mobile wireless drive, the Seagate GoFlex Satellite -- is a great idea. Like the GoFlex Satellite, the Seagate Wireless Plus combines a small wireless router with a hard drive, but the Wireless Plus ups the capacity from 500GB to 1TB.
At 0.8 x 3.5 x 5.0 in. and just over 0.5 lb., the Wireless Plus is slightly thicker and heavier than the company's wired mobile drive, the Seagate Backup Plus, but is a bit smaller and lighter than the GoFlex. The Wireless Plus comes in a dark and slick-looking silver matte finish.
Like the Backup Plus, the Wireless Plus has a Universal Storage Module -- a removable SATA interface adapter. It comes standard with a USB 3.0 adapter snapped in, but that can be removed with a quick tug and replaced with a FireWire 800 or Thunderbolt adapter -- if you're willing to part with some additional greenbacks.
The Thunderbolt adapter will run you $99. The FireWire adapter won't be available until the fall, but you can still use the older GoFlex adapter ($24.99) with this drive; it just won't match new drive's look.
Seagate's Wireless Plus and accompanying SATA adapter and USB 3.0 cable detached from the drive.
Using the Wireless Plus with a computer
You can pack a lot into a 1TB drive: loads of movies, videos, photos or music. In addition, when you're traveling, you can wirelessly upload photos and videos to it.
Like any other external drive, the Wireless Plus shows up as a drive icon on your desktop as well as a drive in your file manager. To upload files to the Wireless Plus from a computer via the provided USB 3.0 cable, you simply drag and drop the files from your Windows PC or Mac. The drive neatly loads the content into the appropriate media folders: videos, photos, music, documents and as well as a catch-all "recent" folder. (And of course the process works the other way, too -- you can download files from the Wireless Plus to a Mac or PC.)
Using the USB 3.0 cable, I tested the drive with Blackmagic Disk Speed Test benchmarking software for Macs. I loaded a 2GB low-definition movie onto the drive in just 20 seconds. Next, I transferred a 1.34GB high-definition music file -- the album Fragile by Yes, which was recorded in the AIFF lossless format. It took just 14 seconds to transfer.
The Wireless Plus drive had a very respectable 115.8MB/sec. write and 126.6MB/sec. read speed -- among the best I've seen for a portable external hard disk drive.
While I'd prefer this drive came with a Thunderbolt cable so that I could take advantage of its 10Gbps speeds, the USB 3.0 that it does come with is wonderfully fast when you've been used to USB 2.0, which is about 10 times slower.
Using the Wi-Fi
The Wireless Plus is limited when it comes to Wi-Fi bandwidth, with only 150Mbps maximum throughput.
If you want to connect the drive wirelessly to a desktop or a laptop computer, you have to access the drive via a Web browser. According to Seagate, the drive should also show as a separate drive on a Mac OS X machine or a Windows system. Unfortunately, I ran into problems connecting to the drive via the website. I was finally able to make the connection after contacting a Seagate technician who gave me the server IP address.
However, even when I was able to transfer files from my Mac, it was slow. Uploading an entire album from my computer to the Wireless Plus looked like it might take as long as half an hour -- it turned out that the drive doesn't like multiple uploads via a wireless connection.
Individual songs were more practical -- a 59MB AIFF audio file from the Yes "Fragile" album took 18 seconds to upload to the drive, while a 297MB AIFF audio file took one minute and 13 seconds.
Bottom line: I don't recommend leaving home without the USB cable if you plan to transfer data to the drive.
The Seagate Wireless Plus management software comes with the drive and runs on both PowerPC and Intel Mac computers using OS X (version 10.5.8 or later); it also runs on computers using Windows XP or later. The software takes up 12.1MB of hard drive space and provides a user interface to help you manage your files.
Using the Wireless Plus with a mobile device
Seagate provides a free Seagate Media app, which is available for Apple and Android devices, along with the Kindle Fire. It helps you manage your music, photos and videos by, for example, adding movie bookmarks, personalizing photo slideshows and allowing you to play music in the background while using other apps.
I found the Wi-Fi connection between the drive and my iPhone 5 sometimes finicky. At first, I couldn't get the iPhone to recognize the drive's wireless network. After contacting Seagate, the representative recommended I reset the drive by sticking a small paperclip in a hole on the bottom. That did the trick.
The other issue I had was that, when I stepped beyond the Wi-Fi network's distance limitation of 150 feet and lost the connection, it didn't automatically reconnect when I stepped back into its range. I had to restart my iPhone to get it to recognize the Seagate Wi-Fi network again and reconnect.
But when I was connected and in range, the Wireless Plus performed well. It took about two seconds to upload a 3.5MB photo from my iPhone 5 to the drive. A 52MB MOV video uploaded from my phone to the drive in 30 seconds -- not bad. (A Seagate technician explained that the only data you can upload onto a mobile device are photos or videos.)
I also tested the Wireless Plus with an AppleiPad and found no wireless connectivity issues. However, if you use an apostrophe in the name of your iPad, the Wireless Plus won't connect. The solution? Rename your iPad. Seagate is working this bug out, a representative said.
In addition, while you can access content from the drive using a mobile device, you can't actually upload files to your device. And you can't listen or view content from the drive using the iPad's Music or Video app.
The Seagate Media app is also compatible with Apple AirPlay, offering iOS users the ability to play songs from Wireless Plus on AirPlay-enabled speakers or mirror the movie from an iPad to a television via Apple TV. You can also use the drive as a type of backup by synchronizing your media files via Seagate's Media Sync software, a free application for OS X and Windows.
Further, you can use Wireless Plus like an Internet hub to share a single paid hotspot connection with up to eight devices. When you open the Seagate app, select the Wi-Fi symbol in the upper right hand corner and you'll see a pull-down menu of Wi-Fi connections in the area. After you select your desired Wi-Fi connection, you'll be prompted for the password if needed.
Each device you connect to the hotspot will need to go through the same process. The Wireless Plus then acts as a pass-through to connect to the hotspot as well as provide a hub for the devices.
One thing that might make this drive better is if it was an SSD, which would make it more shock-proof and speed up data transfer -- but would also jack up the price significantly.
The SSD issue aside, the Seagate Wireless Plus drive would be a great addition to anyone's mobile content stores. It's relatively easy to use and offers a significant amount of additional storage and flexibility by which to access it.
At twice the price of a wired portable drive, the Seagate Wireless Plus is a bit of a luxury, but what your money buys is the ability to keep the storage in your backpack, in your car or on your desk, allowing you to listen to music, watch a video or collaborate on a document anywhere.
Lucas Mearian covers storage, disaster recovery and business continuity, financial services infrastructure and health care IT for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at @lucasmearian or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read more about storage hardware in Computerworld's Storage Hardware Topic Center.