« SPIGEN SGP GLAS Screen Protectors | Main | Finding and Accessing (Free) Content on the iPad »

Maxell AirStash Wireless Flash Drive

Smartphones and tablets are great devices for bringing along your digital life, especially now that it's easier to share your media and files among your devices, so they are available anywhere. But these portable gadgets are not so helpful if you want to share stuff with other people, or directly among devices.

We have technologies like USB connections and SD memory cards that have become ubiquitous global standards for PC interconnections and portable storage. But our portable devices (and particularly Apple idevices) do not participate as easily in these connections.

One intriguing solution is to then leverage yet another standard -- Wi-Fi -- to connect our devices wirelessly, bridging PCs and portable and storage.

We see this idea used by adding Wi-Fi to external hard drives like the Kingston Wi-Drive (see earlier post) and the Seagate Satellite mobile wireless storage (see earlier post), so you can connect to the drive as a wireless hotspot and browse and play its contents.

Or, as a more general approach, a wireless router like the D-Link Shareport Go Portable Router (see earlier post) can add a USB connection in order to plug in any portable drive for remote access.

Then there's another clever design, the Maxell AirStash wireless flash drive, which combines these three storage and connectivity standards in one device -- It's a USB flash drive, which uses expandable SD card storage, and connects to portable devices using Wi-Fi.

There result is a fascinatingly flexible approach for expanding the storage of your portable devices and sharing media and files among multiple systems.

To start with, the AirStash is a standard USB 2.0 thumb drive with a removable cap, so you can plug it in to your computer to read and write files as usual.

And the SD card storage is "infinite". There's no fixed built in internal storage, so you can insert additional SD cards for whatever storage you need. You can swap cards to access more files, and load cards from other devices like cameras and camcorders to directly access newly-recorded media.

Finally, the AirStash can act like a Wi-Fi hotspot, so you can connect to it directly and access files wirelessly. Just turn it on, go to your computer or portable device's Wi-Fi settings as usual, and select your AirStash device from the list.

For example, you can store large photo or music collections and long videos on SD cards to view conveniently on your smartphone or tablet. In this way, you can build and share large collections (especially with video) that would clog up your on-device storage and would be painful to to sync directly or through the cloud.

Even better, the Wi-Fi connection can be shared by up to eight devices at a time, so you can use the AirStash to share and exchange files simultaneously with a group of friends. Unfortunately, you can't use the Wi-Fi while the AirStash is plugged into a computer for file access, although you can connect wirelessly when it is plugged into a USB charger.

The AirStash is a bit bigger than a mini USB drive, in order to accommodate the SD card reader and the Wi-Fi connection. But it's still highly pocketable and very light, at 3.6 x 1.2 x 0.5 inches and 1.4 ounces.

The Maxell AirStash wireless flash drive is available for around $119 with an 8 GB SD card, or $139 with a 16 GB card. It's a great approach for general sharing of files, whether for your own collections or with others.

See my holiday gadgets coverage -- Portable Accessories - Fall 2012 -- for more on portable devices and accessories.

Find the Maxell AirStash Wireless Drive on Amazon.com

Using the AirStash ...

The most immediate way to access the contents of the AirStash storage is through a web browser. Enter the AirStash address, and you can browse the folders and files on the SD card. Click to display a document file or to play a media file (if the format is supported by your browser). Or right-click / long-press (as appropriate on your device) to select the file to be downloaded to your device.

There's also an AirStash+ app for Apple iOS and Google Android that provides a nicer interface for browsing, previewing (with thumbnails), and playing files. It adds more comprehensive support for both uploading and downloading files -- particularly for photos and videos. With documents, you can select the app to use to download and view or edit the document.

Unfortunately, the AirStash apps do not support general transferring of files back and forth between your device and the SD card storage -- the details depend on the type of file. It would be particularly nice to have a general way to transfer groups of files back and forth between it and your device.

However, the AirStash also supports the WebDAV protocol used to transfer files, so that client applications (including the iWork apps -- Pages, Keynote, and Numbers) can open and save documents directly from or to the SD card.

And there's more -- If you use the AirStash a lot, it can be a pain to have to change you Wi-Fi connection back and forth to connect to it, since that means that you are no longer connected to the Internet through your wireless router.

Conveniently, the AirStash supports a feature called SideLink that gives you the best of both connections. You can use the AirStash Wi-Fi settings to enter the information for connecting to your router. Then change your device's setting back to the default connection to your router -- and now you can still access the AirStash since it is also connected to the same wireless router. The AirStash app (and others) still work fine, and you can still use the browser interface, albeit using a different URL.

Other gory details:

  • The AirStash also charges its internal battery through USB in about two hours. It's then rated to run up to 7 hours of continuous streaming.
  • For more storage, SD and SDHC cards support up to 32 GB (using FAT format), and the newer SDXC cards support 64 GB to 2 TB (in FAT32 format).
  • The Wi-Fi connection supports 802.11 b/g/n. It defaults to public, but you can use the usual WEP/WPA2 security settings.
  • Yes, there is a way to reset the device, and to update the firmware through the SD card.

Manifest Tech Site