Thanks to Amazon’s new Influencer Program, I can now put all my gadget and photography recommendations in one place. This is the most complete guide that I’ve ever had simply because Amazon carries so many products. Does this mean that I don’t shop or recommend places like B&H Photo anymore? Absolutely not. I love B&H and quite honestly I will continue to buy my big ticket photography gear and electronics from there. However, there are so many things that I recommend that B&H just doesn’t carry. That’s why I’m stoked to have the opportunity to have my own spot on Amazon. There isn’t anything here that I haven’t used personally. The only possible exception would be a newer version of a gadget or piece of tech that I use that is no longer available.
They are nicely organized by category. You can see my recommendations here.
The one thing I never hear anyone complain about is having too much available storage space. No matter how big your hard drive is, you’ll likely fill it up at some point. My everyday work computer is a MacBook Pro 15″ Retina Display with a 1TB SSD and I’m always having to manage the space on it. If I had a 2TB drive at some point I’d need to manage the space on it. This usually means moving older projects, photo shoots, demo files, etc. off of it onto my network file server or trashing stuff I just don’t need anymore. Then I can usually breathe for a while before having to repeat the process. Sure I have a few external USB 3 and Thunderbolt drives I can plug in in a pinch, but there are times where that’s not feasible due to the ports being used for other devices or being in a mobile situation where having a hard drive dangling (not really dangling) off the side doesn’t work either. Apple builds the drives into the logic boards of MacBooks these days. Therefore replacing the internal drive with a larger capacity is not possible.
I come across a lot of really cool gadgets all year long. Some are cool just from a technology perspective and others are cool because they’re really really useful. However, when I look back at 2014 there is one gadget that really stands out as cool technology AND really useful. External hard drives are a dime a dozen and pretty much a commodity these days. The cost of storage has really dropped. The capacities have gone up. So what would make an external portable hard drive so special that it’s my pick for Gadget of the Year 2014?
This one has so many uses that I sometimes lose track. The WD 1TB MyPassport Wireless hard drive is a portable hard drive that has built-in WiFi connectivity. This means that not only can you connect to it via USB 3.0, but you can also connect to it from any computer or mobile device even if there is no WiFi hotspot nearby.
Use it wirelessly from your computer(s)
Once the drive has been configured all you have to do is turn the drive on and it can either create its own adhoc wireless network or join an existing one. In either case you can see the drive as a “network volume” directly from your desktop/laptop OS without any special software. You can copy files to it or from it. Up to 8 devices can connect to the WD MyPassport Wireless at one time.
Use it from your iPad, iPhone or Android mobile devices
Download the WD My Cloud app for your mobile platform (iOS or Android). Join the network that the drive creates or see it on your existing network. Now you have 1TB of extra storage to use on your mobile devices. Want to take a bunch of movies with you on a trip and stream them to your iPad? No problem. Just load up the drive before you leave your home/office and view any compatible videos on the drive. Yes it also works for music and pictures too. No need to copy this media to your mobile device because you can just stream it. Wondering what you’ll do for power on say a plane? No problem the drive has a built-in rechargeable battery so stream away… The iOS App even has AirPlay built-in so that you can stream from the drive and play to an Apple TV or speaker system.
The Killer Feature: A Built-In SD Card Reader with Auto Import
While the above features alone make this a pretty cool device, there is one feature that takes it over the top. I get this question all the time: “I’m going on vacation and I don’t want to take my laptop. Is there a device that allows me to backup my photos while I’m out of town?” Until now the options were few and expensive. By putting an SD card reader on this drive it just got a whole lot easier to backup those precious memories on the go. You can either manually import the pictures via the web interface or the App or you can configure the drive to do an “auto import” each time you stick a memory card in. It will copy the entire card (yes even the RAW files and movies) to the hard drive. The drive doesn’t have a display. However, there’s nothing stopping you from viewing your shots on your nice big iPad display or your phablet – WIRELESSLY!
The Bottom Line
This gadget has uses for everyone that I know. If you’re just a regular user needing more storage on the go, you’ve got it. If you’re a photographer this becomes an indispensable tool in your mobile workflow. Western Digital thought of everything on this one. It does everything I would expect it to do as if I had designed it myself.
You can get the WD 1TB MyPassport Wireless drive here.
Better yet, you can get the WD 2TB MyPassport Wireless drive here. <-it’s a better deal!
Last month while out of town on business I had an urgent need for more storage. One of my colleagues wanted to give me some new demo material and in total it was going to take up almost 1 terabyte of space. I had no where near that much available space on my laptop drive or either of the other two external drives I had with me. There was an Apple Store nearby so I headed over to buy a drive. I had no particular drive in mind although another colleague showed me his new LaCie 1TB Thunderbolt/USB3 drive. At least I had that one in the back of my mind as a starting point. I also had no idea which drives Apple would actually have in stock. I was going to be at the mercy of whatever was on the shelves as I needed the drive that day. I got to the store and found that they did in fact have the LaCie Rugged 1TB drive, but upon a quick glance at the specs I was stopped in my tracks to see that it had only a 5,400 rpm drive inside. What a waste! After all you’re paying extra for a Thunderbolt port and the drive would be pretty much crippled by the relatively slow spinning drive. I kept looking. For a moment I was tempted by a 2TB external drive (can’t even remember the manufacturer), but again saw that it was a 5,400 rpm drive. However, the 2TB capacity did sound nice since I knew that I was going to be getting almost 1TB of files to start with.
Then I saw the G-Drive 1TB Thunderbolt/USB3 Drive and since I knew the G-Drives were usually good performers I wasn’t surprised to see that it had a 7,200rpm mechanism inside. Now my debate was a fast drive but at only 1TB or a slow drive at 2TBs. Decisions, decisions. I ended up going with two of the 1TB G-Drives. The price worked out to be only $100 more than the 2TB drive and I was getting the same total capacity, but with much better performance.
About the performance
I knew the drives would be fast, but I was actually a little blown away by how fast they actually were. They came with both USB 3 and Thunderbolt cables and since I have a Thunderbolt port on my MacBook Pro, I plugged it in via Thunderbolt. I was floored by how fast the data copied. I even handed one to my colleague Jason and said “here, choose a fairly large file on your computer and copy it to this drive.” As luck would have it he had a 4GB file that was handy and it copied in under a minute.
Having both a Thunderbolt Port and USB 3 port means that I have the option of connecting it to pretty much any modern computer and I’ll get good performance. Even if I have to connect it to an older computer I’ll get USB 2 speeds. I didn’t really expect to like this drive as much as I do. I was just running out to get a drive to fill an immediate need. However, it’s now my favorite portable drive.
You can get the G-Drive 1TB Thunderbolt / USB 3 Portable Drive here.
SAVE MONEY! If you don’t have a Thunderbolt port or simply don’t need the Thunderbolt connectivity then you can actually get the same drive in a USB 3 ONLY configuration for about half the price here. I’ve used the drive above connected via USB 3 and it was still plenty fast.
Last August I wrote a post and created a video showing the speed difference between USB 3 and Firewire 800 and while that was fine, what I realized was that the real bottleneck was the drive itself. I typically buy 1TB portable drives for on the road backup and emergency use. Until now all 1TB 2.5″ drives were only rated at 5400 rpm. In other words, slow! This means that the interfaces like Firewire 800, USB 3 and Thunderbolt really didn’t matter much if they all outpaced the speed of the drive itself. I bought a Buffalo Tech 1TB Thunderbolt/USB 3 portable drive. I couldn’t wait to see how “fast” this new drive would be? I was disappointed as it was no faster than my Firewire 800 or USB 3 drives. The problem wasn’t Thunderbolt or something that Buffalo Tech did wrong, the problem was that 1TB drives didn’t spin any faster than 5400 RPMs.
HGST shipped a 1TB 7200RPM Travelstar 2.5″ Drive!
I noticed that I was seeing NEW Drives from OWC and G-Tech that stated that the drives were 1TB 7200 RPMs. This meant that there had to be a NEW 7200 RPM 1TB internal drive that I wasn’t aware of. I did some research and found that HGST (a Western Digital company) had in fact shipped a 1TB 7200RPM 2.5″ drive.
Upgrading my existing drives
Rather than run out and buy a couple new drives, I decided that there was nothing wrong with my enclosures. I figured I could just buy the new bare drive and swap out the slower drive in the enclosures that I already owned. Great idea, but it really depends on the enclosure. Some enclosures are really easy to open and others aren’t. Almost in ALL cases you’re going to void your warranty on the original drive/enclosure.
It was clear that the Buffalo Ministation Thunderbolt/USB 3 enclosure was NEVER intended to be opened by the consumer. This is probably one of the hardest cases I’ve ever had to open. You pretty much have to “pry” it open to get to the drive and it won’t look pretty when you’re done. Not only is the case secured by internal tabs, but the internal drive tray is “glued” in place. That makes it even harder to open because the glue is fighting against you to. I was determined to swap this drive out and I wasn’t concerned about the cosmetic appearance of the case once I was done. If you want it to still look pretty, don’t try to open this case. You will leave pry marks no matter what.
On the other hand my Oyen Digital Firewire 800/USB 3 case opened up very easily by simply removing the screws on the bottom and sides of the drive. I swapped out the drive and it went back together just as easily.
The Speed Tests
As I suspected, the new 7200 RPM drive was MUCH FASTER than the 5400 RPM ones. There was still virtually no difference in speed between the Thunderbolt and USB 3 interfaces. This could be due to several factors, but in all cases both drive enclosures tested faster than they did with the slower drives.