One trend that puzzles me is the growing scarcity of memory card slots on higher-end phones. First up was the iPhone, which has never come with a memory card followed by the Palm Pre (RIP). Next up, the Galaxy Nexus did away with a memory card slot followed, by the HTC One, LG Optimus G and now even the Moto X lacks this once common feature. Intuitively, youíd think a fancier phone would come with this feature but no.
There are a number of reasons why this has happened.
One big reason is cloud services, why store content on your phone when you can store it in the clouds and access it from all your devices? Another is DRM. When you buy a movie, chances are you can only view it from main memory. That way, you canít easily remove it from your device. Thereís also form factor considerations, all else being equal, a phone with a memory card slot is less sleek.
Lastly, built in flash memory tends to be of much higher quality than the chips they use in a MicroSD. Smartphones need high quality storage because they can shoot high definition video, have high speed burst modes and most importantly, need to launch large programs quickly. Built-in memory is usually much faster and much more durable the removable memory. Faster, more durable memory costs more which adds to a phoneís bottom line.
Unless your higher-end phone is from Samsung, Sony or Huawei, chances are, youíre stuck with whatever your phone came with. The problem with this is that in order to keep prices low, many phones come with the bare minimum when it comes to flash memory.
Apps aside, for me the causes of low storage messages tends to be photos, music and movies.
Hereís where Sandiskís wireless flash drive comes in. Itís a MicroSD card reader that connects to your phone via WiFi. It has a built-in battery and has an app which you use to connect it to your iOS or Android device. It approximate the same size as a large flash drive. Let's check it out:
Itís made from metal and plastic so, while itís not very big, you probably donít want to keep it in the same pocket as your phone because it will probably scratch it up.
Thereís a power button which you press and hold to turn it on or off and 2 status LEDís. They blink when youíre transferring data to and from it, when charging and when it turns on or off.
You can pull down on the top to reveal a full sized USB connector. You can use this to transfer files from your computer to the drive as well as charge it.
Speaking of USB connector, it also means you can use AC adapters with USB connectors (like the one that came with your smartphone) to charge it or if youíre out, the USB port on a powerbank.
Battery life is claimed to be 4hrs. I found that to be accurate. It will automatically shut off after a while if youíre not using it.
Itís available in 16, 32 and 64GB sizes. Hereís a tip, the only difference between them are the bundled MicroSD cards. If youíre not going to be storing anything important you can save a few bucks by buying the 16GB version and then picking up some cheap non-Sandisk cards.
To me, the main reason to get this is to store lots of video on it and Iíll be looking at it mostly from this perspective.
The first thing I did was connect it to my computer to load some high definition 720p .mkv files onto the wireless flash drive. These files have bitrates for 4Mbps so on average, 20 mins of video takes up around 600MB of space.
I noticed that large files I copied from my computer to the flash drive via USB would only transfer at speeds of 7-10MB per second which is relatively slow - especially if youíre transferring a lot of files. Did I mention that the included memory cards are SanDisk Ultra UHS 1 ones which I figured would be a little faster?
Next, I tried watching these videos on my iPhone and Android. Letís talk about the iPhone first.
First, I fired up the Sandisk Wireless Flash app. It searched for the flash drive and then I connected to it. I browsed to the mkv file but when I tried to open it, I was told that there is no application to view it. The iPhone doesnít have the greatest video codec support - in fact itís terrible in this regard so I donít hold this against the flash drive.
If you want to stream video from the flash drive to an iPhone, youíll need to save it as an iOS friendly format. Iím talking m4v and mov files. I suggest you use Handbrake to do this. After this, you can watch videos though there is a delay before they start.
Android is much better in the video codec department. While vanilla Androidís codec support is almost as embarrassing as the iPhones, you can choose from a plethora of 3rd party video players.
So, you can just tap on the video and watch it immediately right? Wrong! I didnít realize it at first, but the flash drive doesnít have the greatest wireless performance. While I noticed it was capable of speeds of up to 16Mbps (Mega BITS, not Mega BYTES), itís not very consistent.
I think Sandisk realizes it and they also know that most mkv files are high definition videos with relatively high bit rates. So, the app wonít let you play files with a mkv extension. As it turns out, there is an easy way around this; just change the mkv extension to avi.
I tried watching a couple of 720p mkv renamed as avi files on my Android phone but they can take a while to load up - around 10 seconds. I also noticed that sometimes video can become choppy and occasionally stops. This really bothered me until I realized this only happened when Iím at home. When Iím out video playback is actually quite smooth.
One complaint people have about similar is that you canít get on the internet while youíre connected. The Sandisk Wireless flash drive is different. If you use the app, youíre able to get onto your preferred WiFi connection while youíre connected to it. Iíll be honest, I have no idea how itís able to do this but I tested it and it actually works.
Back to video playback, it seems using the feature where you can connect to the flash drive and your regular WiFi connection has quite an impact on wireless performance to the point that it struggles with high def mkv files. That said, regular definition avi files work just fine.
On Android, you can use something like BS Player to watch video in a pop out window so you can surf the web/email/whatever at the same time.
Itís a really great feature for sure but there is one problem, when Iím out and about, chances are thereís no WiFi for me to connect to. When that happens, my phone isnít able to use the built in LTE radio to access the internet while Iím connected to the flash drive.
I donít know about you but when Iím by my preferred WiFi network, chances are I donít really need the wireless flash drive to stream video since thereís usually something better - I need it most when Iím out so thatís kind of disappointing but again, thatís not really Sandiskís fault.
Now, if youíre just streaming video, you donít actually need the app to use the Sandisk flash drive at all. When youíre connected to it via WiFi you can actually just browse the contents of it using a browser by entering its IP address (172.25.62.1).
If youíre on Android, you can just stream videos from it like this plus you can access it from a PC (or Blackberry or Windows Phone). Mind you, if you have a Blackberry or Windows Phone you probably wonít be able to do much with it since they lack the codec support to make use of this feature.
Watch out though, by default the flash drive doesnít have a password on it. What that means is anyone who connects to it via WiFi can browse and download your files. When you do set a password on it, it just adds a WiFi password which is a nice simple solution.
You can also use it to backup your pictures and videos. The thing is, if you take tons of pictures and video chances are youíll have many gigabytes worth of data to transfer. Since the flash drive seems to top out at around around 2 Megabytes/s and is typically slower than this it can take a very long time to backup your files. Letís say you have 1 GB worth of files to transfer - chances are it will take at least 10 minutes which is a really long time.
The same thing goes if you store a lot files on the drive and want to transfer them to your phone.
One last trick up the driveís sleeve is that it can connect up to 4 devices at once. Given the lackluster WiFi performance connecting more than 1 device probably isnít a good idea but if youíre in a pinch itís nice to have this capability.
Is it worth it?
I just checked Amazon.com and a wireless flash drive with a 32GB card goes for around $70 USD.
If all you want to do is use it to stream video from your MicroSD cards, it actually has an interesting competitor. Iím talking about a Novatel MiFi or Sierra Wireless AirCard portable router or anything similar with a Micro SD slot. Now youíre probably thinking; ďWait, a MiFi costs about 2 or 3 times as much as the wireless flash drive and that doesnít even include a MicroSD card plus itís biggerĒ. Thatís true but the thing is, right now on Kijiji, used MiFiís and AirCards go for around $50-$150. So while they may cost more, theyíre still in the same ballpark.
A hotspot will let you stream video stored on a MicroSD and it will let you do so from a DLNA server which frankly, is easier to stream video from than using Sandiskís app. If you use an iPhone, you can just use VLC while there are many, many DLNA programs available for Android.
As for the size, the wireless flash drive is probably smaller but the way I see it, if youíre willing to carry it around, then sticking the hotspot in your pocket instead isnít much of a stretch.
Donít forget that data on the hotspot will be a little cheaper than on your phone so you might save a few bucks in the end. Heck, even if you donít need a portable hotspot and donít need to back your phone up to a memory card a hotspot gives you some flexibility in case you need to share an internet connection in the future.
Then again, if you want to backup the contents on your phone a wireless hotspot wonít do you any good.
With that in mind the wireless flash drive also has another interesting competitor. If youíre using an Android phone with OTG capabilities you can pick up a USB flash drive which also has a microUSB connector on it. This is a much simplier solution, you plug it in, launch the app and use it. This way you donít have to deal with WiFi or battery life so itís a much simplier solution.
If you need something for backup and video playback and sometimes want to connect multiple devices you should take a look at the Sandisk Wireless Flash drive. Itís a good idea if youíre travelling and want to pack light. Just bring a wireless flash drive and a bunch of MicroSD cards.
Iíll give it 2.5 Howies out of 5
can connect to preferred WiFi network while connected to it simultaneously
connect multiple devices
slow WiFi speeds