The scoop: Transporter Sync, by Connected Data, about $100 (plus cost of external storage drive)
What is it? This small device attaches to a home router and external storage drive, creating a personal cloud storage system that can synchronize data across multiple devices from any location. While Connected Data’s other Transporter device comes with its own hard drive - the Sync requires that you connect one of your own - whether that’s an older drive no longer being used, or if you want to buy a new one that has a larger capacity. Once you connect the Sync to your router and hard drive, you can add files to the Transporter folder on your computer (it works with Windows and Mac systems), which then synchronizes with the Transporter device. Any other client using the Transporter software (both computers and mobile devices have client apps/software) can then access those files via the Transporter across your home network or across the Internet. Files can then be downloaded to the new device (again, computer, phone or tablet).
If you’re in a sharing mood, you can send friends, family members and co-workers a link to files stored on the Transporter - they don’t need an account with Connected Data, but they will need to download a small Downloader app to access the file (in this way, files that are shared are not stored with Connected Data in the cloud, the downloader app is accessing your Transporter device).
Why it’s cool: If this sounds like Dropbox, congratulations - that’s the idea. But unlike Dropbox, there are no subscription fees, and your storage capacity is only limited by the external hard drive you attach to the Transporter Sync unit. If you are looking for a synchronization, remote access, remote backup and/or a cloud-based file sharing system, picking up a Sync could be right up your alley. The Sync has enough features to satisfy one of those needs (synchronization, remote access, remote backup or file-sharing), and it gets even better if you have all four of those needs (I tend to use services like Dropbox for file-sharing - backup is usually handled via Time Machine and an external drive, but your needs may differ).
The Transporter mobile app (I tested the iOS version on an iPhone 5) is a neat way to access files like videos, music and photos stored on the Transporter, but the system doesn’t stream them to the device - you have to download them to the drive in order to view, listen or watch. A better feature on the mobile app is the Camera Upload feature, which takes photos and videos you’ve recorded with your phone and uploads them to a special folder on the Transporter. An automatic setting can be enabled that starts uploading the cameras when the phone’s GPS detects that you’re within range of the Transporter (you can also manually trigger the upload if you want). For photos and videos that tend to sit on our phones without backup or upload, this is a cool way to guarantee that your photos will live somewhere other than the phone.
Some caveats: The hardest part is getting out of the mindset of using a centralized storage device, especially if you’re accustomed to network-attached storage (NAS) drives. With the Transporter, files that sit in the Transporter folder live on your own computer, but they’re also synchronized/copied to the Transporter device itself (which comes in handy if you shut down one computer). However, on a second system, removing the file from the Transporter folder then also de-synchronizes it from the system, which means that the original file also disappears (at least they did in my tests). The software lets you move files into a centralized-like “Transporter Library” that acts more like a NAS, but this then removes the file from the original computer. If you’re looking to save space on your computer’s drive by moving files off one system to the Transporter Sync, then the Transporter Library is the issue. Using the software and figuring out how to use, share and backup files is a bit more complicated than simpler drag-and-drop, copy/move-type devices. Again, it’s more like Dropbox in terms of the synchronization process - when you move a file out of your Dropbox folder, for example, it disappears online as well).
Things can get even more confusing if you add as second (or third, or fourth) Transporter Sync device to the network. For this review, I set up one device on my work network, and one at home, and the two Sync devices could synchronize with each other, as well as any clients containing the Transporter software on it. But I couldn’t tell you whether the movie file I uploaded now sits on one, two, three or four different devices (it could be on two computers and two storage drives, I think). But at least it’s somewhere, right?
I also had a small issue where the automatic upload from my phone to the Transporter didn’t activate when I was well within my network, but after I checked my settings on the app (to see whether the automatic feature was selected), the app kicked itself into gear and started uploading.
Grade: 4 stars (out of five)