The scoop: Seagate Central network-attached hard drive, by Seagate. The 2TB model costs about $160; 3TB costs about $220; 4TB costs about $250 (Amazon pricing).
What is it? The latest network-attached storage (NAS) appliance from Seagate is designed to easily connect to your home network to provide a centralized storage location for your data -- documents, photos, music, videos, etc. In addition, the drive can be accessed within your home network by a multitude of devices -- whether it's connected PCs, Macs, smartphones, tablets or even remotely across the Internet.
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The small box connects to a home router via Ethernet, with an easy setup via PC or Mac that lets you drag-and-drop your content into folders on the drive. For smartphones and tablets, you download the free Seagate Media App, which can then easily find your media (videos, music or photos) and play or display them on your device. Remote access is handled through your computer's browser via a third-party app (Tappin).
Why it's cool: I've tried many NAS devices over the years, including those from Seagate. But this is the first one that I truly love to use and access. Seagate understands that it's not just about storage capacity or even centralized content (although that's a worthy goal for everyone to have). Rather, it's the idea that you should be able to access and enjoy the videos, music and photos you've created or collected over the years. There's nothing more frustrating than having a client device that can't easily play a movie or music stored on a NAS device. For many, that means copying files from one hard drive to another, or loading that content locally onto the client device. Seagate's Media app is fantastic -- every file I loaded onto the Central device could play on my devices, including the iPad, iPhone, Amazon Kindle Fire and Xbox 360.
Like other recent drives from Seagate, the Central can automatically back up photos and videos from your Facebook account, giving you easy, don't-even-think-about-it backup. With more people taking photos and videos with their smartphones, they're often skipping the middle step of transferring them to a computer, eliminating a potential backup avenue. This automatic backup feature guarantees that when you upload a photo or video to Facebook, that it will be saved to the Central drive as well.
The Seagate Media app also lets you upload data from your mobile device to the Central drive -- if you have a bunch of photos that you didn't upload to Facebook, you can transfer them to the Central drive via the app. I only tested this while connected to my home network -- I'm not sure if this works remotely.
The hardest part of using the Central will be to transfer all of your content stored on all your other drives and devices to the unit (I'd recommend connecting a PC/Mac directly to the router if you have a lot of data to transfer).
Some caveats: The remote access feature doesn't let you stream videos stored on the Central -- you can download them to your local PC, but not play them. Seagate says it may offer streaming video functionality at a later date, but it's not available at the moment. One other quibble: I had connected the Central to a wireless router, and couldn't find the drive from my powerline-attached Xbox 360, which was connected to my regular home router (in my house, I disable the wireless on the FiOS-provided router to use a newer wireless router). The Xbox 360 couldn't access media from the Central unless I connected it via the Wi-Fi network. But that could be an Xbox issue, as well.
Bottom line: Seagate hits a home run with Central. There are no more excuses for not having a NAS box on your home network to provide centralized storage for your media content, as well as an easy-to-use backup system for your data and social network content.
Grade: 5 stars (out of five)
Shaw can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @shawkeith.
Read more about data center in Network World's Data Center section.