When you run out of room on your Apple iPad, your HTC One, or other mobile device without an SD card slot, where do you turn? Do you painstakingly delete one batch of vacation photos to make room to show off the next? SanDisk believes it has an alternative. Today, it's introducing the SanDisk Connect, a wireless flash drive that can hold additional files and beam them to your device at will, no internet connection required.
Mind you, that's not exactly a new idea. Companies like Seagate, Kingston, and AirStash have been trying to hawk wireless drives for years. What sets SanDisk apart is size: the SanDisk Connect crams a Wi-Fi radio, a microSD slot, a four-hour battery, and all its circuitry into a device that's really no bigger than a fancy USB thumbdrive. And, at $49.99 for the 16GB model (or $59.99 for 32GB) it's comparatively cheap, too. If you'd rather, SanDisk will also sell a puck-sized variant for $79.99 with twice the battery life, twice the storage (32GB), and a full-size SD card slot to help you share your DSLR photos. You can even transfer files from stick to device, or vice versa, if you decide they belong in one place or the other. It's pretty cool.
Not quite as easy or seamless as we'd hoped
What's the catch? While the SanDisk Connect mostly works as advertised, it's not quite as easy or seamless as we'd hoped. You'll have to use SanDisk's own iOS, Android, or web apps (sorry, Windows tablets) to actually access your files, and you'll need to forfeit your internet when you connect to the wireless flash drive. (You can keep internet by setting the SanDisk drive to connect to a local Wi-Fi hotspot instead, a handy feature, but only after an initial pairing.) While the Android app lets you pair with the tap of a button, you'll have to manually set your iPad or iPhone to connect to the wireless access point that the SanDisk drive creates. You'll also have to manually set a password if you want to secure your files, because none is active by default.
Even once setup is complete, the experience can be slow at times. While it's definitely convenient to be able to just plug the stick into a computer to charge and load files at the same time, it takes a while to load. Perhaps due to the fact that the dongle stores data on a bog-standard microSD card, hidden under a flap, we saw speed topping out at just 6MB / sec when transferring large files from PC to dongle. It took a while to load a wedding album of DSLR photos onto the SanDisk Connect, and a while to show them off. While we were able to get three different video files streaming to three different devices at the same time, the SanDisk software has to spend a few seconds downloading each picture before displaying them on a connected tablet or phone. You could potentially speed things up slightly with a faster microSDHC card, though it's worth noting you can't extend the capacity beyond 32GB even if you do.
SanDisk software leaves something to be desired
There's some definite idiosyncrasies in the iOS and Android apps, too. On Android, the app can begin loading the next picture while you're viewing the previous one, but you can't zoom in on your pictures. On iOS, the app doesn't seem to be able to hand off unsupported file types to other apps the way the Android one will, which means that unless your video files are already formatted for iOS they won't play at all. The SanDisk software also definitely isn't a place you'd want to listen to your music, lacking such basic features as the ability to set up a playlist of songs, and some of the touchscreen controls are extremely finicky on both iOS and Android, stopping and starting tunes when we hadn't intended to.
Makes sense in certain scenarios
For all the software faults, though, the basic idea behind the SanDisk Connect seems to work pretty well. Though we did see a few dropped connections, things generally seemed stable even when connecting several tablets to the same wireless USB dongle. The idea of being able to simply drop some files on a flash drive and quickly share them could be really useful in certain scenarios. For instance, if you took a group picture with your iPhone, you could upload it to the drive and have every other person in the picture download it to their own phones, or potentially share documents with other people in a business environment. We wish the drive was a bit faster, that the plasticky little dongle felt less cheap, and that our devices could natively see the wireless storage rather than having to use SanDisk's app, but for $49.99 there's still a lot to like here. SanDisk says the new devices should be available to pre-order today at Amazon, Newegg, and Micro Center, and to purchase in a few weeks, if you're interested.