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Tested: SanDisk Connect Wireless Flash Drive

By Wesley Fenlon

The $50 Connect's slow transfer speeds limit its usefulness as a competitor to cloud storage solutions.

When I switched from Android to iOS in 2012, I cheaped out and bought a 16GB iPhone 5. In hindsight, the 32GB model would've been a better choice--I shoot enough photos and videos with my phone, and have enough podcasts downloaded, that space can get tight if I'm not paying attention. I'm interested in storage solutions that will make it easier to move files to and from my iPhone, which is exactly the aim of a new USB drive SanDisk sent over for testing called the Connect Wireless Flash Drive.

You've likely seen similar devices before--SanDisk's Wireless Flash Drive is essentially a slimmed down version of a Wi-Fi-equipped hard drive able to share files with smartphones and tablets. Similarly, there are Wi-Fi hubs that accept multiple inputs--USB thumb drives, SD cards--and share files from those storage mediums to multiple mobile devices.

SanDisk's solution pairs a smartphone app for iOS and Android with a compact Wi-Fi equipped flash drive. It definitely serves as a convenient way to artificially expand the amount of storage space you have on your smartphone, but when it comes to efficiently transferring files, it has to compete with cloud services like Dropbox, Google Music, iCloud, and so on. But after testing the device, I don't think it's more convenient than any of those options.

The Wireless Flash Drive differentiates itself from other media hubs by being the size of a large USB thumb drive--not much bigger than my favorite USB 3.0 flash drive--and it includes a Wi-Fi chip, four-hour battery, USB 2.0 port and 16GB/32GB built-in microSD for storage. Unfortunately, there are some limitations baked into that compact size. The Wireless Flash Drive ships with a SanDisk Ultra microSD card for its actual storage, which means transferring files to the device is much slower than it would be with a USB 3.0-based flash storage device.

The Wireless Flash Drive unfortunately slows performance down even more.

I tested the drive using Xbench on my 2011 MacBook Air and saw sequential read speeds of about 16 MB/s and write speeds of about 7 MB/s, far slower than USB 2.0's max data rate of ~35 MB/s. When I pulled the microSD SanDisk Ultra out of the Wireless Flash Drive and tested it in the AIr's SD card slot, however, it performed much better, with 35 MB/s reads and 11 MB/s writes.

So while it's an option to stick a faster microSD card in the Wireless Flash drive, you'll see little performance gain there. The drive also doesn't support SDXC, which means 32GB cards are the biggest it supports. SanDisk has another wireless device that's a little bigger that supports 64GB cards.

Still, for transferring batches of JPEGs or documents to the drive, USB 2.0 gets the job done. Folders of pictures copied over at a tolerable, but slow, 5-6 MB/s. It took just shy of 10 minutes to move a 3GB 720p video to the thumb drive.

Connecting the Wireless Flash Drive to a smartphone is quick and easy. Holding a big button on the drive for a few seconds turns Wi-Fi on. On the iPhone, I had to switch my wireless access point to the SanDisk, but on Android pairing is even easier with the Wireless Flash app. Since the drive uses Wi-Fi to pair, you won't be able to use the Internet while connected to it--unless you go into the app's settings and choose to have the Wireless Flash Drive connect to your router, instead. That's a nice option to have.

A 1080p video I shot with my iPhone could only buffer in 2 seconds bursts and was completely unwatchable.

Unfortunately, streaming performance is also pretty limited. A 1080p video I shot with my iPhone, then transferred to my PC, then to the Wireless Flash Drive, could only buffer in 2 seconds bursts and was completely unwatchable. That was with the drive's "compress video during playback" option turned off (it's on by default). With that option turned on, and the Wireless Flash Drive connected to my router, the video still took minutes to buffer.

However, with compression enabled and a direct connection between my iPhone and the Wireless Flash Drive (meaning I lost Internet access on my phone), a few seconds of buffering at the beginning actually let the device play through the entire one minute clip. 720p and lower resolution videos also play back better via the drive, and it can stream to up to six devices at once. Higher throughput would've made that feature a lot more useful.

On iOS, the software experience in the SanDisk app is also limited. It's easy to upload files to the drive via Wi-Fi--that's a plus--and it's easy to download supported images and videos to the iPhone's camera roll. But if iOS doesn't support a file type, it's not going to play within the app, and any other files you download, like documents, can only be accessed through the app. If you prefer to organize your files any other way, you're out of luck. That's obviously a limitation of iOS, but it still limits the usefulness of the Wireless Flash Drive.

For efficiently backing up my music, photos, and so on, I think Dropbox and iCloud are better options. Dropbox's mobile app has had a couple years of work put into it at this point and is a much better interface for uploading, downloading, and browsing files that are stored in the cloud. iCloud's backups are automatic.

Of course, cloud options rely on Wi-Fi or 3G/LTE access. If you want extra storage for your phone that you can easily keep in a pocket, the Wireless Flash Drive is $50 for 16GB or $60 for 32GB. It's not too expensive, but rarely going to be the best solution for file transfers. Even at a slow 5 MB/s, however, the drive is much faster than a 3G connection. For uploading a major chunk of data instead of a few photos now and then, it could justify that $50.

Android users have even faster options and a more flexible file system to take advantage of. If your Android phone has a microSD slot, just buy a fast 32GB or 64GB card for storage. SanDisk's Ultra and Extreme cards are the best on the market. And if you want to expand your storage with a big USB hard drive, just buy a USB On the Go adapter. They cost about five bucks.