USB flash drives are incredibly convenient. Moving files from one PC to another has never been so easy. But what if you want to get your media onto a tablet or smartphone? The Sandisk Wireless Media Drive is a hockey puck-sized, battery powered Wi-Fi hotspot that touts 32 or 64GB of onboard storage, letting you access your media on a mobile device without fiddly cables.
What Is It?
The Sandisk Connect Wireless Media Drive (we'll just call it the Connect from here on in) is a a 65 x 65 x 13.5mm puck, light at 27g, with slightly rounded corners. It has a nice faux-woven plastic pattern on its top, an embossed Sandisk logo in the centre, and a flat non-slip rubber square on its base.
Running around the outside edge of the Connect is an anodised aluminium strip — this is where the magic happens. There's a single multipurpose power button on the front, a full-size SD card slot on the side, and three pin-sized holes on the front for status LEDs. Around the back, there's a microUSB port that works for both charging the Connect's internal battery and transferring files to the flash memory.
To fill the Connect with files, it's easiest to plug it into your PC with the supplied microUSB cable; in this sense it also functions as an SD card reader (for transferring files from your camera to your PC, for example). It thankfully loads up in Windows as a standard mass-storage removable hard drive, with no complicated software or procedure needed.
You can buy the Sandisk Connect at just about any electronics retailer or computer store across the country, and both the 32GB and 64GB capacity versions are available now. The 32GB variant will set you back $119, and the double-storage 64GB is $169.
What's It Good At?
Tap the power button on the front of the Sandisk Connect and it silently comes to life; the only way you know it's on is that one or two of the front LEDs blink into activity. The Connect broadcasts its own short range 802.11n Wi-Fi network, so it appears as an available network whenever you're searching on your tablet, smartphone or laptop.
There's an accompanying Sandisk Connect app for Android and iOS, which is the simplest way to access the files on your wireless flash drive. It's easy enough to navigate and offers you a wide range of features, but it needs a little bit of refinement; I had the occasional crash and lag spike that meant I had to re-launch and re-connect to the Wireless Media Drive.
The Sandisk Connect is perfectly capable of transmitting files to any capable smartphone or tablet within roughly a 10-metre radius; outside that the wireless connection gets a little finicky and the maximum throughput isn't high enough for reliable high-res video. It's not an especially powerful wireless hotspot, but in practice it's usually enough for an average hotel room or small office space.
In fact, you can hook up five different smartphones or tablets or other devices to the Connect simultaneously, and stream that same 720p file to all of them. Sandisk claims up to five concurrent HD streams, so I tested it out — with a hodgepodge of devices comprised of the Samsung Galaxy S5, HTC One, Samsung Galaxy NotePRO, Samsung Galaxy S4 and original Sony Xperia Z. It worked perfectly, and I didn't notice any dropped frames or stuttering playback.
Video is the most taxing media format that the Sandisk Connect Wireless Media Drive can handle, so it'll certainly have no problems distributing photos or music or large data files. 1080p MKVs are out of the question, unfortunately, so you'll have to transcode your media collection for travel if you have everything stored in Full HD. Given that the Connect only has 32 or 64GB of flash memory available (sans inserted SD card), I don't see it as an appropriate container for super-large video files anyway.
What's It Not So Good At?
The battery life of the Connect Wireless Media Drive, when it's actively broadcasting Wi-Fi and sharing media files with one or more smartphones, is OK, but not up to spec with what Sandisk suggests. I counted a full 6 hours and 21 minutes from power-on to power-off with a single Galaxy S5 consuming three (or four?) 720p movie files — definitely not bad, but not the 8 hours that Sandisk claims, and only just enough for an afternoon and evening of media watching (on a road trip, or relaxing in a hotel room somewhere). For longer term use you'll need to keep the Connect plugged into a spare PC USB port or wall charger.
The app is a little unstable sometimes, especially if and when you have an imperfect Wi-Fi connection to the Sandisk Connect itself. If you're browsing through the file directories that you've created on the drive, and you temporarily drop out of Wi-Fi connection, the app has a tendency to hang and crash. This is something that will almost certainly be fixed in a minor update, so I wouldn't place too much importance on it — it just means you'll occasionally have to reload the app to continue working or browsing.
Should You Buy It?
In practice, the Sandisk Connect Wireless Media Drive is almost as convenient as a good ol'-fashioned USB flash drive, with the versatility of wireless access from your smartphone or tablet. Business users might find it a little superfluous, I think — the cloud makes for better and more convenient small file storage — but for saving and sharing media, especially decent-quality video, to a smartphone wirelessly it's a great little device. The expandable SD option is great for travelling photo backups, too.