A Wi-Fi-enabled USB drive seems like an odd idea, yet the Automatica serves an excellent purpose in the car. Inrete, maker of the Automatica, sets up the device to automatically update content such as music or podcasts.
There are some limitations, however; for example, the Automatica only works if you have a USB port in your car. It may be useful in some other settings, as well, but in a car seems the most likely.
The Automatica would make the most sense for drivers who park their cars within reach of a home Wi-Fi network. Every time the Automatica makes its Wi-Fi connection, it automatically updates its content, downloading the latest podcast to which the driver has subscribed, for example. When the driver gets back in the car, the updated content will be ready for the morning commute.
The device measures about 3.5 inches long and 1.25 inches wide, and has ports for USB and HDMI in its sides. It plugs into a car through its Mini-USB-to-USB adapter cable.
There is also a red LED that shines through a pinhole in the case and shows when the Automatica is charging. The device lacks any switches or other controls, and is, quite literally, a black box.
Log in, select content
To use the Automatica, I first had to set up an account on Inrete's Automatica site and associate the device with my account. The process for adding podcasts was very simple, letting me enter the podcast URL or choose among the podcasts Inrete suggested. However, I did find that some podcasts do not use MP3 format, in which case they will probably not play in a car.
For other audio content, such as music, Inrete provides an easy connection to online storage services Dropbox, Box, Google Drive, and Microsoft SkyDrive. I created a music folder in Dropbox, then pointed the Automatica Web site at it.
Setting up the Wi-Fi connection with the Automatica proved a little trickier. The device includes its own installer, software that works with PC or Mac. When I launched it on my computer at work, it popped up a Wi-Fi configuration screen that found all the available networks.
I selected CNET's public network, but the Automatica could not make a connection due to the network's Terms of Service agreement. As is typical with many public networks, CNET's requires potential users to accept the Terms of Service, which would normally appear as a Web page on a computer or smartphone. The Automatica wasn't set up to transmit this acceptance, so it couldn't make the connection.