Editors' Note: As of November 2009, this product has been replaced by the second-generation Pogoplug.
Wouldn't it be nice to quickly access your data from anywhere without a complicated network setup? That's exactly what the Cloud Engines Pogoplug offers. Priced at $100, this tiny gadget turns any USB external storage devices--anything from a Seagate FreeAgent Go to a Western Digital Passport or even a standard USB thumb drive--into a network file server.
The device itself is almost shockingly small; it's a tiny white box--measuring just 2 inches by 4.25 inches by 2.75 inches--that resembles an oversize wall wart. It comes with only two ports: a USB 2.0 slot and a Gigabit Ethernet jack. The Pogoplug can be plugged straight into an AC wall outlet but it also comes with an extension cord in case you want to keep the power outlet clear.
The USB connection will accommodate any USB external storage. By default it supports only one device but you can change that by using a USB hub. And the Pogoplug isn't picky; it supports basically all existing popular file systems including NTFS, FAT32, Mac OS Extended (Journaled and non-Journaled), and EXT-2/EXT-3.
Once you've plugged in the USB drive, the included Ethernet cable (running to your home network's router), and the power, you should get a couple of green lights on the unit indicating that it's properly communicating with your home network. Then you need to go through the setup process. For most network devices, that's where the aggravation begins, but the Pogoplug setup process is about as simple and stress-free as it gets. Just fire up your PC's Web browser, go to my.pogoplug.com, and follow the onscreen setup wizard. If the system doesn't automatically recognize your Pogoplug on the home network, you just need to type in the unique 26-digit serial code printed on the unit. Finish up by creating a Pogoplug account (mercifully, you need only supply an e-mail address and password), and you're done.
There are two ways to access files on the PogoPlug: via my.pogolug.com or by using Pogoplug's drive-mapping plug-ins. Both work on a home network or over the Internet. We started with the drive mapping plug-ins, which are available as free downloads on Pogoplug's Web site for 32- and 64-bit Windows (XP, Vista, or 7), Mac OS X, and Linux (including a 64-bit version as well). Downloading any of these will enable the Pogoplug-connected drive to appear as a regular local hard drive.
We tested the Cloud Engines Pogoplug by loading it up with an assortment of iTunes music and video files--some DRM protected--as well as a folder of photos and a few short homemade videos. We tried it on both Windows and Mac laptops and found it worked as though the Pogoplug drive was connected directly to the computer. We noted some occasional hiccups when working over the Internet, from our office to our home, several miles away, but when working within our home network, everything was smooth.
Web access also allows users to view or even download and upload files from nearly any popular browser. We tried Chrome, Internet Explorer 7 and 8, Firefox 3, and Safari, and all worked fine. The simple interface shows your files in a list of icons format, and downloading or sharing any of the files only involves clicking one of the few buttons that appear below each. While other NAS solutions offer Web-based access, it's the ease of setup here that will appeal to novices. We were also glad to find out that we could download individual files or the whole folders. Performance-wise, downloading five or so albums' worth of personal music to a work PC took the better part of an hour and a half, but individual file downloads were far more tolerable. As always, this depends a lot on the upstream and downstream Internet connection, so your performance may vary accordingly.
The Web application also includes media streaming for music and videos as well as photo viewing. While the music playing was seamless, video streaming ("previewing") was much less reliable: if the video came up at all, it took several minutes to buffer. Specifically, M4V files worked occasionally, even on solid internal network connections. Thankfully, you can just download these files to play locally. Our biggest gripe was the dearth of bulk upload via the Web interface--you have to pick files to upload one at a time, rather than choosing multiple files or uploading a whole folder at once--though using the drive mapping software obviates that problem.