We’re thoroughly children of the cloud these days, and portable hard drives have come to feel as quaint as cassettes.
But the cloud is a rented storage unit, not your own attic, and there’s something comforting about having your own data on a physical external drive. There are also some practicalities that come with owning a portable hard drive–especially if it’s wireless, like the new model from Western Digital.About as big and as thick as a stack of three CD jewel cases, the My Passport Wireless Pro comes in 2TB ($200) or 3TB ($230) models. When physically jacked into a computer, the Wireless Pro acts like any other external hard drive. But you can also connect to it over Wi-Fi and access your files wirelessly.
Once you power it on, the drive shows up to other devices as a Wi-Fi hotspot. Two hotspots, actually: It’s a dual-band router, so it appears in both 2.4GHz and 5.0GHz varieties. Connect to it with your laptop, launch a browser, and visit the easily memorized IP address (192.168.60.1). That’ll bring up a dashboard of the drive’s battery life, remaining capacity, and settings. You can still access the web and all of your services while connected to the Wireless Pro; you’re just routing all of your traffic through the drive.
But the best use case for those Wi-Fi features is when you’re using it as a server for your Android or iOS device. You connect to the drive’s hotspot, launch the My Cloud app, and can access the files from your phone. Your dreams of operating your own mini-Netflix or mini-Spotify have finally come true: With the app, you can stream your movies and songs directly from the drive without being connected to the web.
The drive also has traits of a standalone computer. For example, it’ll recognize a hard drive plugged into its USB 3.0 port or an SD card plugged into its built-in slot. You can also set it up as an external wireless storage drive for a Wi-Fi-enabled camera.
That makes the one-pound drive handy for field photographers who don’t want to lug a computer around. They can just feed files into the drive and view them on any connected phone or tablet screen. (Another sweetener for photographers: The My Cloud app can also auto-share files to Adobe’s Creative Cloud)
If your files primarily consist of movies and songs, the drive’s most unique trait is that it works as a standalone Plex or DLNA server. When you’re setting it up, you check a box to install Plex as a source for your smart TV, Roku, Chromecast, or Fire TV. If you have years of old music, movies, and photos stuck on an old unconnected drive, loading them onto this thing brings them back into the rotation.
There’s also a built-in battery that lets you run it away from outlets for up to 12 hours. The battery can even be used to charge your phone in a pinch.
The drive has some shortcomings. It’s a spinning hard drive, not an SSD, so you’ll have to handle it with care. Also, loading your stuff over Wi-Fi is super-pokey; I transferred about 20 gigs of files in around half an hour. When I plugged another external drive into the My Passport Wireless Pro, I was able to transfer 200GB of data in about 10 minutes. Unless you’re really patient, use a wired connection for bulky file transfers.
Unlike “personal cloud” devices, it’s also not a device built for accessing your files anywhere. It’s still a hard drive; it just allows wireless access from local devices. You need to keep the drive within Wi-Fi range, which means more weight in your go-bag. So while it isn’t a cloud killer, it’s a way to keep terabytes of files in your own hands–and access them without a wire.