By Evan Ackerman
We got our first peek at the Pogoplug at last year’s CES, and it promised to be an impressive little thing: plug a USB hard drive into one end, your network into the other, and all of a sudden you’ve got a locally mountable networked drive with web sharing. Potentially, this is super convenient, but if you’ve ever tried to set up all that stuff yourself, it seems like one of those things that’s going to be either a major headache, or impossible, to get working.
Cloud Engines sent me a Pogoplug (and some microwave popcorn) to play around with a while ago, and I’ve got my impressions for you, after the jump.
So why the microwave popcorn? Simple… Put the popcorn in the microwave, start setting up the Pogoplug, and see which you have first: network and web sharing of a USB hard drive, or a tasty snack. Winner? The Pogoplug, obviously. Besides its functionality, the setup process is the beauty of this thing. Here’s how it goes:
1. Start popcorn.
2. Plug your USB drive (or drives, it’ll handle four right out of the box) into the PogoPlug, plug your PogoPlug into a free port on your router, and then turn on the power.
3. Go to the Pogoplug website and open an account. Although your Pogoplug comes with a registration ID to help them locate it, the two setups I’ve done have auto-detected mine on my network without a hitch. No messing with firewalls or network settings, it just works.
4. You’re done, and your Pogoplug now shows up online.
6. Enjoy popcorn.
At this point, you have to remember not to panic if nothing shows up as attached. The Pogoplug has to (I’m guessing) index your drive before it can display it in the web interface, which (depending on the size of your drive) can take a few minutes.
If you want to access your drive from a local computer, you’ll need to download and install a little piece of software to manage that for you. Like all good little pieces of software, the Pogoplug program is simple and straightforward (although it does have to be running in the background all the time). Sign in, and the program will map your Pogoplug (and all drives attached to it) to the P: drive on your computer, which (as far as your computer is concerned) is just another local hard drive. This is super duper convenient, because it means that other bits of software can rely on data stored on drives attached to the Pogoplug just the same as they can rely on local drives. And unlike a conventional NAS (network attached storage) system, you can seamlessly do this from anywhere, as long as you have the software running plus an internet connection.
You can even give multiple computers using the same account access to a Pogoplug drive at the same time in this way. You can go so far as to open and edit the same file at the same time, although there is no notification that this is going on, and whatever is the most recent save will overwrite anything that anyone else has done. Still, if you’re trying to manage (say) a bunch of media on a network, it helps that one computer doesn’t get locked out if another computer is using the drive. A couple other nifty bits: if you’re on the same local network as your Pogoplug storage, it transfers data locally (as opposed to using your internet connection). Also, you can set up automatic folder syncing to keep stuff backed up through the Pogoplug.
Once you get past how easy it is to network USB drives to multiple computers via the internet, you can turn your attention to all of the sweet features included in the Pogoplug web interface.
Basically, the Pogoplug tries as hard as it can to make the web interface just like browsing the drive directly. It’s not really possible to do this without having access to all the programs that you normally use to open files, but you do have immediate access to most common types of media, and you can always download what you need directly from your drive.
Besides just giving you access to all of your stuff via the web, the Pogoplug also allows you to share anything on your drive with the rest of the internet if you want. It’s as simple as browsing to a folder through the web interface, and entering the email addresses of people who you’d like to share it with. They’ll get a web link in the email that allows them to access the files via a web interface just like you do, except you have the option to set view/download only permissions. There are a bunch of other options too, like email updates when you add stuff to shared folders, RSS feeds, completely public viewing, and integration with Facebook and Twitter and stuff. Incidentally, if you’ve got friends with Pogoplugs, anything they share with you becomes accessible via your local P: drive, how awesome is that?
Pogoplug has a free iPhone app that you can download that not only allows access to your drives through a file browser, but allows you to stream music and videos (!), view pictures, create shares, and even upload stuff directly from the phone to your drive. In theory, anyway. In practice, I’ve had mixed results with it, especially when it comes to media streaming, but also sometimes issues as simple as just not being able to properly connect to my drives. When it works (which is most of the time, to be fair), it’s just like having stuff directly on your phone: you get music playlists, cover art, and the ability to browse and search, plus access to pics and office documents and PDFs and stuff. The video is a bit trickier; it seems like there’s some kind of size limitation. I can’t stream movies or TV shows, but I can get clips to work just fine. In any case, they’ve been updating the app regularly, so I’m not too worried.
Part of the reason that I’m not too worried is that I had a minor issue with my first Pogoplug disconnecting after extended inactivity. The Pogoplug support site is quite comprehensive, and I was able to open a ticket online and somebody got back to me within hours. No matter how simple something is, stuff can always go wrong, so it’s comforting to know that there’s a good tech support system in place (plus a community forum) to fix any issues that might come up.
In general, I haven’t had that many hiccups with the Pogoplug. It really just works, and offers you a slew of options that you never had before with external hard drives, at least not without a major amount of work. The one quibble I have is that when I put my computer into standby, the local drive mapping software disconnects itself and then disappears, and I have to force quit it and restart it. But, it’s really not a big deal, because it doesn’t have any direct impact on the functionality, which is still there when I need it.
If you’re thinking about getting a conventional network attached storage system, don’t. Get a Pogoplug instead. A Pogoplug combines some of the most convenient aspects of local and cloud storage into one device that takes 30 seconds to set up and does pretty much everything you’d want it to do, and more. At $130, it’s certainly not cheap, but there’s no subscription fee for the web access service and you’re going to pay at least that much as a premium to add NAS capability to a conventional hard drive which still won’t give you as many options as the Pogoplug will. I really like this thing.
You can buy a Pogoplug directly, or find them at places like Amazon, TigerDirect, and Fry’s Electronics.
[ Pogoplug ]