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Wi-Drive review: Provides external storage for your iPad, iPhone

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At a Glance
  • Kingston Technology Wi-Drive 32GB

  • Kingston Technology Wi-Drive 16GB

With the new iPad’s Retina display, developers will be able to create apps that have more of a visual impact. However, apps that support higher-detailed graphics may end up occupying more storage space. If you bought a new 16GB iPad (like me), and are going to prep your iPad for a long trip, you may find yourself running short on storage.

iCloud is there to help and you can rely on other online storage services, but perhaps you don’t want to have to depend on an Internet connection. You could consider an external storage device for your iPad, such as Kingston’s Wi-Drive.

The Wi-Drive is a small flash drive, available in 16GB ($77) or 32GB ($139) capacities. Roughly the same size as an iPhone 4, the Wi-Drive can be easily stashed in your pocket or bag. You’ll need to bring a USB cable (included) to connect it to a Mac and transfer files from the computer, and to charge the Wi-Drive’s battery.

When watching videos in the Wi-Drive app, the video streams from the drive to your iOS device. (Screenshot from the iPad version of the Wi-Drive app.)

To load files on the Wi-Drive, you connect it to your Mac via USB. When you connect the drive, two storage devices appear on your Mac’s desktop: the drive, and, confusingly, what appears to be a CD-ROM. This is expected behavior, according to the printed user’s guide that is bundled with the Wi-Drive (the digital manual doesn’t cover the CD-ROM). Also, several files were already on the Wi-Drive itself (including an autorun.inf file and a config folder) and were not mentioned by either the user’s guide or the digital manual. These files are for Windows, and deleting these files didn’t affect how the Wi-Drive worked with my Mac or iPad. I also ignored the files on the CD-ROM volume.

The drive itself is formatted using FAT32, so both Macs and Windows can read and write to it. If you reformat the drive, you must reformat it using FAT32, or you won’t be able to see your files.

You can drag copy files over to the Wi-Drive; the digital manual suggests sorting the files into folders, such as My Music or My Pictures. While the drive can store any file type, the Wi-Drive iOS app (which I’ll cover in a bit) supports AAC, MP3, and WAV audio files; M4V, MP4, and MOV video files; BMP, JPEG/JPG, and PNG image files; and PDF, Word (.doc and .docx), PowerPoint (.ppt and .pptx), Excel (.xls and .xlsx), text, and rich text format documents.

When you’re done copying files to the Wi-Drive, you must disconnect it from your Mac before your iOS devices can access it. You also need to install the free Wi-Drive app on your iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad.

As its name implies, the Wi-Drive is equipped with 802.11g/n wireless technology, which is used by your iOS device to connect to the drive. Kingston says the drive has a 30-foot range; I had no problems connecting and streaming videos from within 30 feet. I also had no problems from as far as 50 feet, as well as when the Wi-Drive and my iPad were in different rooms.

The Wi-Drive can be used to extend the range of your router. (Screenshot from the iPhone version of the Wi-Drive app.)

To connect to the Wi-Drive, you go into your iOS device’s Wi-Fi settings and find the Wi-Drive as an available network. By default, when you connect to the Wi-Drive, you won’t have Internet access. However, the Wi-Drive can be set up so that it essentially acts as a Wi-Fi extender of your router—in the Wi-Drive iOS app settings, you set the Wi-Drive to connect to an available network. Once this is set, you can access the Internet as well as the drive. This worked without a hitch on the private networks I used with the Wi-Drive. This feature didn't work when I tried to connect to a public AT&T Wi-Fi network at a couple of different Starbucks locations.

All file access is done through the Wi-Drive iOS app. The user interface of the Wi-Drive app is not complicated at all. For example, tap on a movie, and it starts playing in the Wi-Drive app, and you can set the video to fill the screen. When you watch videos or listen to audio, the media streams smoothly to your iOS device. Files loaded quickly so I was able to watch a video also immediately, and I never experienced any stuttering or lag.

If you have a set of photos on the drive, the Wi-Drive app displays a set of thumbnails, and you can tap each thumbnail to see a larger image. The Wi-Drive app has a helpful slideshow feature with five different transitions you can use.

There’s one major limitation to the Wi-Drive: Files on the drive can only be accessed through the Wi-Drive app. You can transfer files from the Wi-Drive so that the file resides on your iOS device, but there’s no way to, say, move a video from the Wi-Drive into Video in iOS so it can be used in iMovie for iOS, or transfer a photo from the Wi-Drive to Photos in iOS so it can be edited in iPhoto or used in Keynote. (You also can’t move a file from your iOS device to the Wi-Drive.)

You can send files from the Wi-Drive as email attachments as long as the file is under 10MB. (Screenshot from the iPad version of the Wi-Drive app.)

There is a workaround to this limitation. You can email files smaller than 10MB from within the Wi-Drive app, so you can email a file to yourself, and when you check your mail, you can save the attachment in the appropriate location on your iOS device. It’s not the optimal way, but it works in a pinch—for example, you're on a business trip and an image you need for a Keynote presentation is on the Wi-Drive.

According to Kingston, the rechargeable battery should last about four hours. After watching The Wrestler (109 minutes) and doing an additional 45 minutes’ worth of photo browsing, file transfers, and poking around in the Wi-Drive app to get familiar with its settings and features, the Wi-Drive’s battery status light flashed orange, indicating that between 25 and 50 percent of battery life was left. The status light flashed red when less that 25 percent of battery life remains, and green when the battery is over 51 percent.

Macworld’s buying advice

Kingston’s Wi-Drive is a nice companion for your iOS device, especially if you are on a long trip and you’re unsure about Internet access while on the road. The file transfer limitation may be frustrating for people who are using the iPad for content creation, but it works well for content consumption.

[Roman Loyola is a Macworld senior editor.]

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