I love wirelessness, and believe every technology to which it could potentially apply needs to go that way if at all possible. Using a hard drive that doesn’t need cables for the past few weeks – WD’s My Passport Wireless – has been my latest joy, and honestly I don’t know how I managed before.
Basically, it’s a portable hard drive with a built-in WiFi access point. That means you can connect to it and copy files back and forth using nothing more than your phone, tablet or laptop’s WiFi connection, and the fact that it has its own rechargeable battery means you can take it anywhere.
It’s a great solution to the problem of running out of space on your phone or tablet, as well as a clever way to carry around any movies or music you want to enjoy on your mobile thing without taking up their valuable internal storage.
WD has also included a very handy internet pass-through feature that lets you hook the drive up to the internet over WiFi, and pass that signal along to any of the eight connected devices it supports, giving them access to the internet as well as to the contents of the drive.
But WD doesn’t stop there: they’ve also built an SD card reader into the drive that makes it incredibly quick and easy to back up photos stored on SD cards when you’re away from your PC.
It’s not 100% cable-free, of course, as a USB 3.0 cable is still needed in order to recharge the battery and connect it to computers directly via USB 3.0, and as such the My Passport Wireless works exactly like any other portable drive. But it’s at its best when you go wire-free.
While WD has done a great job on the drive for the most part, there are a few minor gripes that you need to be aware of before taking the plunge, which we’ll get into further into the review.
WD has nailed the look and feel of a modern portable hard drive with the My Passport Wireless and its sleek, rounded design. It’s solidly-built as well even though the exterior casing is plastic.
There are two LED lights on the top face of the drive that tell you how the battery is doing and whether WiFi is connected. The battery light changes colour according to how much power remains: blue is full, green is 75%, amber is 50%, and red is 15% or less.
Connecting other devices over WiFi is as easy as pressing and holding the multi-function button on the front of the drive, or you can access the drive’s interface (the “Dashboard”) via a browser window once it’s connected to a computer via WiFi, and set things up that way. By default its WiFi connection has no password, so connecting via PC the first time is straightforward; of course, it’s highly recommend that you secure the drive’s WiFi signal with a password as soon as you can.
You can’t, however, use the My Passport Wireless as a wireless drive when it’s hooked up to a PC via USB – it’s strictly one or the other. Moving over to wireless is as easy as disconnecting it and letting it boot up its WiFi connection.
I had no problems streaming an HD movie from the My Passport Wireless to my Xperia Tablet Z, but you will notice things are not as smooth when more devices are connected at the same time as that cuts down on the available bandwidth for each. The drive supports HD content playback for a maximum of four devices at a time, but for the best performance on each all four should be kept close by.
Also, don’t expect to leave it on one side of the house and stream HD movies from it over WiFi without seeing the odd judder or pause, but that’s down to the limitations of WiFi technology rather than a fault of the drive itself.
Copying files back and forth via USB 3.0 showed off WD’s engineering prowess; using a single 15GB file, I saw read speeds of 109mbps and write speeds that were just behind that, at 108.5mbps. That’s more than fast enough for comfortable everyday use.
The battery life wasn’t terrible, although I’m sure some folks would probably like more than just the five and a bit hours per charge that I got. WD doesn’t appear to be doing a lot when it comes to power management, as I noticed the drive kept spinning even when it wasn’t in use; were it to spin down every now and then or employ some other power-conserving technique, it would probably last a bit longer.
Accessing the My Passport Wireless with a phone or tablet requires the use of WD’s My Cloud app. It’s the easiest way to use the drive with a phone or tablet, but if you have some networking ninja skills and you’re comfortable with Android or iOS’s more complicated functions, you can access it like any network share. WD has released apps for Android and iOS.
The app itself is nicely laid out and simple to use, with only the hint of a learning curve needed to become comfortable with it. Data on the drive is organised into three categories: Documents, Video and Music, and all you need to do is choose the category you want and load the file you’re looking for.
My Cloud doesn’t play back all media files, however, and if you have a lot of MKVs or Xvid files you’ll need to play those with dedicated third-party apps.That’s hardly a problem, as you can’t expect one app to support every imaginable format, it just bears noting.
Accessing it via Windows Explorer or Finder gives you access to both the drive’s contents as well as that of the SD card, which appears in those windows like any other network share. Changing settings and checking out the drive’s various statuses (space used, WiFi, battery level and so forth) can be done through its Dashboard, which is opened by entering http://mypassport in a browser window and pressing Enter.
While it’s possible to manually copy files stored on SD cards to the My Passport’s hard drive, I found it was much more convenient to simply set the drive to automatically dump whatever is on the card, onto the drive whenever one is inserted. The process is quick and painless, depending on the amount of data to be copied, and it works very well.
The addition of a WiFi radio and an SD card reader adds a premium onto the WD My Passport Wireless when compared to regular portable hard drives, but this is to be expected.
The only issue with that is it’s not a small premium: the recommended retail prices of the range, as supplied by WD’s PR, are R1 899 for the 500GB version, R2 299 for the 1TB drive and R3 399 for the 2TB. That’s a lot of cash, when wired WD drives of the same capacities can be picked up for R599, R849 and R1 459 respectively.
Still, it’s really handy to have wireless functionality, a built-in SD card reader and the ultra portability allowed by the five-plus hour battery, so the extra cost can be justified. Also, the rand is in the toilet at the moment and that doesn’t help matters.
WD’s My Passport Wireless is a great portable hard drive, made even better with the addition of WiFi connectivity and the built-in SD card reader. It’s available in capacities of 500GB, 1TB and 2TB, with recommended retail prices of R1 899, R2 299 and R3 399 respectively; the review above is of the 2TB drive. It’s not perfect with its sort-of-okay battery life and the app could do with a bit more polishing, but if you want a fast, portable and wireless hard drive for general use, you really can’t go wrong picking up a My Passport Wireless.