By Harry McCracken | Tuesday, April 14, 2009 at 12:45 pm
External USB hard drives and thumb drives are so cheap and useful that they pop up everywhere–except, for the most part, on the Internet. Enter Pogoplug, a new $99 gadget that lets you attach drives to your home network, then get access to them from any computer with a Web browser, and (soon) from iPhones and iPods Touch.
The Pogoplug itself looks like a slightly bulky AC adapter with Ethernet and USB ports. Here it is (it thoughtfully lets you remove the plug and attach a power cord if you like, so it doesn’t block access to your power strip or wall outlet–much like Apple’s laptop power adapters):
Pogoplug is an Ethernet device, not a wireless one, so you plug it in near your network’s router, connect it to the router, and attach a hard drive or thumb drive. (It supports NTFS, FAT32, non-journaled HFS+, and EXT-2/EXT-3 disk formats, and if you use a USB hub you can connect multiple drives at once.) The one hassle I encountered while setting it up was having to enter a 26-character identification code from a sticker on the PogoPlug during the Web-based activation routine.
But that was the only hassle–and once I was up and running, I realized that it’s the service side of things that makes Pogoplug interesting, as much or more than the gizmo itself. The Pogoplug folks have done a very nice job on the Web-based interface that lets you browse your drive, view photos, watch videos, and listen to music:
You can upload, download and delete files, and filter your view down to a specific date range or type of media. You can also share folders (or entire drives) with other people by providing Pogoplug with their e-mail addresses. It’s not exactly high-security access: Anyone who has the link that Pogoplug e-mails to the person you share with can get in, since there’s no password. But it couldn’t be much simpler for you or your friends.
Pogoplug also provides software for Windows Vista, Windows XP, and OS X that lets your operating system mount a Pogoplug and treat it like a local hard drive, which is handy if you plan to shuttle a lot of files between your computer and your Pogoplugged drive. A 64-bit Windows version of this software isn’t available yet, but the company says it’ll come along shortly.
Also coming soon–assuming that Apple approves it quickly–is the Pogoplug iPhone app. The company let me try an advance copy, and it brings most of the features of the browser-based service to the phone, including the ability to navigate drives and folders (your own, and ones that have been shared with you), view photos, watch videos, and listen to music. Uploads and downloads are limited by the tight controls that Apple puts on third-party access to the iPhone file system: You can upload upload and download photos, but the ones you download to the iPhone only show up in the Pogoplug application. And you can only stream audio and video, not upload or download it between your hard drive and your phone.
Pogoplug isn’t the only way to put local storage on the Web and get access to it from iPhones and other mobile devices. Actually, there are a gazillion ways to do it, from Sharpcast’s entirely cloud-based SugarSync service to network drives such as Western Digital’s My Book World Edition to HP’s full-featured but costly MediaSmart Server. (It also faces an upcoming direct rival in CTERA’s similar-sounding CloudPlug–which, unlike Pogoplug, will come with backup capabilities built in.)
What Pogoplug offers is the ability to put USB drives you already own online with a minimum of fuss–and judging from my experiences, it does it well. The browser-based service impressed me most; it would be nifty if the company made it work with NAS drives and local hard drives, too.