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First Looks: Kingston Wi-Drive
By Kenny Yeo - 22 May 2012

First Looks: Kingston Wi-Drive

Sound in Theory, Restrictions Apply in Practice

While most Android devices can expand their memory by way of microSD memory cards, iOS device users on the other hand have no such option - neither the iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch have microSD slots for expanded memory options. With the tremendous growth of iOS devices, Kingston has decided to introduce the Wi-Drive, a portable, wireless external storage device designed specifically for the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch.

The Kingston Wi-Drive is slim, sleek and ultra-portable. A pity about its other shortcomings which we'll detail shortly.

How it Works

The Kingston Wi-Drive uses flash memory and comes in 16GB, 32GB or 64GB size options. In essence, it works like any flash drive, but it also broadcasts its own Wi-Fi signal so Wi-Fi enabled devices can connect to it. While it was designed specially for use with iOS devices, it can also be used with Android devices as well. Content is copied onto the Wi-Drive like any other flash drive - there’s no need to install any additional software.

We tested the Wi-Drive with an iPhone 4S and to set the drive up, you’ll need the free Wi-Drive app which can be downloaded off the Apple App Store (the Android equivalent is available on Google Play and it even supports the Kindle Fire). Next, go to the iOS device’s network settings and select Wi-Drive and you can begin accessing your content through the Wi-Drive app. However, if there’s a Wi-Fi network wherever you’re at, the Wi-Drive can also act as a Wi-Fi bridge. Doing so also lets devices connected to the Wi-Drive to have access to that particular Wi-Fi network too.

The Wi-Drive app is pretty basic and makes an attempt at sorting out your various file. However, it's best you organize themselves by creating your own folders in the drive itself.

A recent firmware upgrade to the Wi-Drive now also lets users access it using web browsers. This upgrade means that the Wi-Drive is not exclusive only to iOS devices - Android tablets, Windows phones can now all access and make use of the Wi-Drive (as well as any other product that can access the web). The web interface, though basic, works well enough and lets you browse, download and play your media content if your browser supports the format.

The web interface is like a basic file browser. It's not pretty, but it works.

Not Great with Some Video Files

In theory, the Wi-Drive sounds great since it lets you increase the storage capacity of your iOS device without sacrificing much on portability. The Wi-Drive is after all wafer thin and weighs a mere 84g. However, there are some shortfalls. The most glaring of which is video playback compatibility.

Apple devices are notorious for being extremely fussy with video format playback and the Wi-Drive app can only play video formats that are natively supported by Apple. This means, out of the box, it will only play videos with .m4v, .mp4, .mov and .mpg extensions.

If you have a video file in a format not supported by Apple, the Wi-Drive app provides the option of opening said video with another app like VLC. Unfortunately in our testing, we found that this feature doesn’t work properly. Upon choosing the option to open a video file using the VLC app, we found ourselves waiting close to 10 minutes for a 700MB 720p .mkv file to stream, after which we were thrown back to the home screen and nothing happened.

The work around, we found, is that you’d first have to copy the file to the 'local" folder of the Wi-Drive, which really means copying it onto the phone itself, and then open from there. But this completely defeats the purpose of the Wi-Drive doesn’t it? And even so, for some inexplicable reason, after copying, it still took ages for the video file to start playing.

The most fuss-free way about viewing videos off the Wi-Drive is to simply encode or transcode your video content in one of the formats support by Apple. This way the file can be be streamed and played without a hitch. However, transcoding video is time consuming, and furthermore, Kingston doesn’t provide any sort of video converting software or workaround to handle media playback easier.

Final Thoughts

Our main gripe with the Kingston Wi-Drive is that video playback fussy and troublesome. Practically, the only way to use it is to first transcode the video into a format supported by Apple. In other areas, we were also not fans of the Wi-Drive app, as it is decidedly basic and its interface is not consistent with Apple’s design and rather unintuitive to use.

On the flip side, MP3 files play without a hitch. However, you’ll have to use the Wi-Drive app’s decidedly basic playback options. Then there’s also the question of navigation because unlike the iPod app, the Wi-Drive app is really basic and doesn't sort all files according to its ID3 tags. As such, we recommend it's best if you organize your own music into folders for easy navigation.

In terms of battery life, we found the Wi-Drive to be good for around four hours of operation which is decent. If paired with an iPhone, it is more likely that the phone will run out of juice before the Wi-Drive does. That said, the Wi-Drive can be charged only with a USB cable and it takes a ridiculous six hours to charge. Worse, you can’t use it while it’s charging!

Viewed as a sum, the concept behind the Kingston Wi-Drive is sound, but it is let down by a host of restrictions. To add, at US$49 for the 16GB version and US$89 for the 32GB version, the Wi-Drive is somewhat pricey. At this point, it makes more sense to simply be more prudent with your selection of content on your iOS device or perhaps consider other options which have better execution.

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