One of my biggest pet peeves with the iPad, iPod Touch, and iPhone hardware is the lack of storage space.  If I purchase and load movies, TV shows, iTunes University videos, podcasts, video logs, music, etc. – I run out of space very quickly.  So much so that I continually have to delete content and set up sync options that only load the last few unwatched items.  There are some decent cloud options where I can load and view content over a Wi-Fi connection but I want something where I feel I have more control and where I can always have a Wi-Fi connection.  I don’t have 3G on my iPad and if I still want to watch video or access a significant portion of my music library, my options are limited.

Also, when taking long trips, it’s nice to have entertainment options for our children.  They each have an iPod touch or used iPhones (with no SIM card) they use when either at home or on long car rides.  After loading a few games, their 8 gigs of memory goes quickly so there’s very little room to load movies or shows or anything like that.

Enter the Seagate GoFlex Satellite™ – When I first read about this device, I could not have been more thrilled to try it.  Here we have a product that helps bridge the storage gap and provide a great option for on-the-go storage and sharing of many different types of media whether it be for business or personal/entertainment use.

The unit I reviewed (STBF500101, Model: 1AYBA1) provides 500GB of wi-fi sharable storage and retails for 199.99.

Multiple charging options

It came with multiple power options which I thought was great.  There was a wall charger, a car charger and the USB charger.  There’s also a USB 3.0 synchronization cable which will charge the Satellite while connected.  Sometimes you’ll see companies want extra money for a car charger but Seagate includes as part of the package.

It’s compact for a hard drive but not something you’d want to shove in your pocket.  The case is simple and clean which I like.  It’s mostly black with a metal band around it that reminds me of the iPhone.  There are a couple lights (for power and wireless indication) and a single power button.  On one end there is a detachable cover which you have to remove to connect the sync cable.  If you’re not syncing you but want to charge the product, the cover can stay on since there is an available DC plug in the side.

Power button and lights

Charging it and loading up content was very simple.  To my computer, the drive is just another usb drive that I plug in.  I could copy any type of files but obviously I wanted to copy the ones that I could access on my iPad.   I found another pleasant surprise when I read that the folder/file structure does not matter.  You can put the files anywhere and the software on the drive will find them and serve them up when you’re connected (more on that later).

I did NOT use the optional software, Media Sync, from Seagate.  This software can be used to filter the files you copy to the Satellite and only include files that are compatible with an iPad when filling up the drive.  I chose not to use it but I recognize that it could be very helpful to many home users.

After copying over some files, I unplugged the drive from the computer and turned on the Wi-Fi.  Note: You can’t have it plugged in to your computer and have the wi-fi  running at the same time.  The Satellite takes a few seconds to start broadcasting but when it showed up in my iPad Wi-Fi list, it was very easy to connect.

I saw that there were a few videos preloaded and, another pleasant surprise, I found some very helpful videos and information included on the drive.  These describe the basics of usage and recommended some products to be used to convert videos to formats that can be read by the iPad.  Again, this is a nice touch by Seagate.

On my initial connection, I was just using the web browser connection and not the free GoFlex Media app and by default, on the firmware I was using, accessing any website through iOS safari took me to the Satellites internal home page.  As advertised, not all videos played but I was able to launch other players from within the browser window.

I looked for and easily found updated firmware that really enhances the functionality of the Satellite.  The latest firmware allows pass through browsing.  This means that I can connect my iPad to the Satellite and then connect the Satellite to my wireless network.  The iPad can then play media off the GoFlex and also access your ‘normal’ wi-fi.  The original firmware would cause you to have to manually switch between your wireless connections so this is a HUGE improvement.  Further you can allow up to 7 connections in the new firmware though the guides recommend only streaming in HD with 3 attached devices.

I tested streaming with 3 devices and did not notice any problems with performance (iPad2, iPhone 4S and iPod touch).  Everything loaded up and ran well.

Pass through wi-fi performance

I was curious about the wireless performance because I assumed there had to be some degradation.   I ran a relatively non-scientific test using the speedtest.net application on my iPad2.  My connection is 15/15 and I see these speeds on my internal network.

When connected to my own Wi-Fi, I saw 9.74Mbs download speed and 11.35Mbps upload.  When connected to my Wi-Fi through the Satellite, as expected I noticed slower speeds (5.64Mbps down, 8.45Mbps up).  Again, this is not necessarily a scientific test and you may have different results, but it’s safe to say that adding another device in that has to process your requests and pass all the data back and forth will slow things down.

By default, there is no password to access the Satellite, but I recommend setting one especially if you use the passthrough functionality available on the newer firmware.  If you connect it to your wi-fi and leave this one unprotected, anyone who can access  the Satellite would be able to surf your network.

Wishlist

Everything worked as advertised on the Satellite – so I can’t really criticize anything about it. However, there are a few things that I wish were available.  First, I wish I could set a password on folders or content on the device.  If I allow the kids to access, I would not want them watching Game of Thrones or any other non-kid oriented programming.  Second, I wish I could connect even if the device was connected via usb to a computer.   There is probably a valid reason why I can’t do this but… it would be a nice added feature.  Third, I wish I could tell via some visual indicator if I watched something previously.  Fourth, it would be nice to be able to create playlists on the device using the software on the device.

Awesome features

I don’t want to end on a negative, so I will close with what I really appreciate about this device.  NONE of the above wishlist items are showstoppers – If you are looking for storage options for your media to take with you on the go or just access at home, I recommend this device.

Here are the things I really like –

  • 500 GB of storage space
  • Pass through Wi-Fi
  • Multiple devices can connect and access different content all at the same time
  • Fast loading of content
  • Highly accessible.  You don’t need an iPad.  I’m thinking just about anything with a browser will work.  (I tested using my first generation iPod touch too, browser option worked fine)
  • Great help files
  • Many charging options
  • USB 3.0 readiness

It’s something that ‘just works’ and that’s what I look for in a solid technology solution.