As we manage an expanding amount of digital media, multiplied by an increasing number of devices, the question for many of us has become how to have all of our media accessible on all of our devices all the time. Media streaming is a crowded and fast-moving field, but at the moment the crown is held by Zecter’s ZumoCast.
Like many of its competitors, ZumoCast is comprised of two parts: an application that runs on your home Mac or PC and a universal app that you install on any or all of your iOS devices. Unlike many of those rivals, though, ZumoCast is free—and you get more than you pay for. The app allows you to access not only videos and music but also pictures and even documents from folders that you designate.
Setup is simple: when you install the iOS app from the App Store, you’ll be prompted to download the desktop version for your platform; ZumoCast requires an Intel Mac running Mac OX 10.5 or later or a PC running Windows. Allow a little time for ZumoCast to scan your media folders and you’ll be off and streaming in no time.
ZumoCast takes care of all the heavy lifting for you, meaning that there’s no need, for example, to convert videos into iOS-compatible formats; for music, it can access your iTunes library, making available not only all of your artists, albums, and songs, but also any playlists you’ve created. And because ZumoCast takes advantage of iOS 4’s multitasking abilities, it can keep playing music in the background when you’re checking your e-mail or Twitter.
I ran into very few media files that ZumoCast wouldn’t play back, mainly those protected by Digital Rights Management such as videos and older music purchased from the iTunes Store. It’s also worth noting that larger videos—those in high-definition, for example—take longer before they’re ready to play. On a local network, I rarely noticed any skips or jumps in video performance. The app adjusts the streaming quality of video depending on your connection, but it appears to prioritize quality over small size; on a two-bar 3G connection, I was presented with a slow-loading but still good-looking video. Music played back smoothly on a 3G connection, though ZumoCast lowers the audio quality by default (an option you can disable in the application’s Settings).
But one of the things that sets ZumoCast apart from other streaming apps is that it also offers Dropbox-style access to files on your home computer. Just point the software running on your Mac towards any folder and those files will show up in the iOS apps. You can also access your files via a Web browser using Zecter’s ZumoDrive service, which provides 1GB of free storage (you can get more storage space by trying out different features of the service or by referring friends).
While it supports the standard file types—text, DOC, PDF, etc.—ZumoCast also lets you view pretty much any arbitrary file. Granted, you’ll get plenty of garbage characters and lose any existing formatting, but if all you need is a quick reminder of what was in that file you created using an obsolete word processor, ZumoCast can help you out. You cannot, however, edit any of the files or search their contents—for that, you’ll need to open them in a more full-featured app.
If you’re traveling and expecting to be without an Internet connection for a while, there’s no need to worry: ZumoCast lets you download files to your iOS device with the tap of its Download button—you can then view those files right in ZumoCast or open them in a compatible application. For video files that aren’t iOS-compatible, ZumoCast will convert them on your home computer before download, so that you’ll be able to actually watch them (that adds a little time to the entire process, though). Keep in mind, though, that if you're on a 3G connection, ZumoCast limits you to files under 10MB. Finally, if you’re carting around sensitive files, you can set a four-character passcode that’s required for access, though it’s an all-or-nothing affair—you can’t just restrict certain folders.
My gripes with ZumoCast are fairly minor. For one thing, in some cases its full-screen mode doesn’t actually span the whole screen: when you’re viewing pictures or documents, the app’s upper and lower toolbars stick around, which can be a bit distracting. There’s also no way to search your music, videos, or documents, so I hope you remember where you put everything. I also ran into a few random crashes here and there, but they were neither frequent nor reproducible in most cases.
In the end, ZumoCast adroitly solves the problem of getting access to your extensive digital media collection on your small-capacity portable devices. Add in the ability to view and download files, and you have yourself an extremely functional portal into your home computer—all for an unbeatable price.
[Dan Moren is a senior associate editor at Macworld.]