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Pogoplug Pro review:

Pogoplug Pro

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The PS3 and Xbox 360 functionality is great in theory: music, photos, and videos all stream to a nearby console, which reads the Pogoplug drive like a nearby wireless drive. What's not to like about that?

However, in our home usage it worked with major reservations. First, setup wasn't intuitive. For some odd reason, Pogoplug-connected hard drives aren't automatically ready to stream--you have to check off a box in "media settings" on the Web site to activate. We then had to access independent message boards and discussions to figure out how to activate the 360's drive recognition, which didn't kick in automatically on our system (we had to download a 360 plug-in first and then restart). When it finally did work, the drive showed up under the Video Library blade of the dashboard. Clicking on the Pogoplug, however, opened up a list-style system of browsing files that was inefficient. For videos, a list of more than 1,000 files stretched out with only confusing file names to identify them, and with no capability to search or preview before playing. Photos worked the same way. Testing which videos could stream and which couldn't was a trial-and-error affair. MP4 files worked fine, but DRMed iTunes shows, unsurprisingly, didn't play. For music, a slightly friendlier browser for albums, songs, and artists, along with visualizer, appeared--the same interface you'd see if you connected an iPod, Zune, or external drive. The same "playlist problem" of browsing thousands of songs remained.

The PS3 recognized the Pogoplug with less effort: it showed up clearly as an icon under the Videos, Photos, and Music lists in the Media Bar. Clicking the icon brings up a list of Music, Videos, and Photos folders that Pogoplug sets up for converted video files (it will convert incompatible formats, according to Pogoplug, but our experience with that was mixed). Or, alternatively, you can browse the drive by file folder and pull up lists of files, resulting in the same trial-and-error playback.

For both the Xbox 360 and PS3, even when videos could play, they stuttered and were prone to pausing midstream. The experience is hardly newbie-friendly, and isn't a good system for storing and playing shows and home movies, either. Photos and music do play well, but slideshows and file browsing are a pain. Also, on both consoles the list of media files didn't appear immediately; a file directory queued up after a painful delay, which on our connected Seagate hard drive took so long that we wondered if it would work at all.

For any of the media-streaming capabilities of the Pogoplug Pro, you're best served by having the device directly connected via Ethernet; via 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, streaming slows down significantly with the added wireless step.

Active Copy is another great idea, in theory: with four USB ports to connect to, the Pogoplug can act as a redundant system for backing up important files. Unfortunately, the Pogoplug won't actively copy any files that aren't in a drive directly plugged into it. In a nutshell, this means no Time Machine-style backups of your computer. However, selecting a folder on one connected drive will enable backups to be made whenever files are added or changed to the original, which would be useful for an external photo collection. Files did copy over from one selected drive folder to another, but not immediately. It's debatable how much we'd really use or trust this system for copying valuable data.

On a positive note, we have to credit Pogoplug's compatibility with the iPad's Safari Web browser. Pogoplug has a media setting allowing you to select the autoencoding of movie and video files to HTML5 playback, and loading up on the iPad brought up a clean but slightly difficult-to-browse version of the standard Web site interface (the folder window needs to be scrolled through with two fingers instead of one, which isn't explained). Video files, however, did play back when tapped: some played immediately in surprisingly strong resolution (MP4s, generally), whereas others played a brief 10-second preview and claimed the rest needed to be converted and queued. It was never clear how to find and play files once they'd been converted, and we imagine few users will have the patience to figure it out. Still, the Pogoplug seems like a very viable solution for iPad users looking to store and browse content without needing to have a powered-up PC to stream from. Pogoplug also has an iPad app that works well for media browsing, although the app doesn't allow easy access to Pogoplug settings like the Web site does.

Cloud printing is another new feature unveiled this year, still advertised as being in beta. You can connect a printer directly to the Pogoplug Pro via USB and print any Word file or PDF on any drive the Pogoplug's attached to. You can also send a file remotely to the Pogoplug, then print. Or, you can simply e-mail an attached file to a dedicated e-mail address set up in the Pogoplug Web settings. Printing works, in theory, even when the Pogoplug's in Wi-Fi mode, making it a wireless bridge for printers. It also supports printing from an iPad or smartphone, but only for files accessed in either of the two categories above. It worked in our tests, but spottily: an Epson Workstation 520 finally printed from our iPad, both an e-mailed Pages file converted to a .doc and a Word doc stored on a USB thumbdrive attached to the Pogoplug. A connected printer could also function as a networked printer for remote use. There were problems, though: we weren't able to get cloud printing to work on an HP Envy printer, or on an older Brother laser printer at home. The supported printer list currently covers Epson and HP printers only, but with the hit-and-miss success we had, you might be better off with an ePrint HP printer or good old-fashioned laptop-to-printer printing instead.

There are a lot of reasons to be excited about the Pogoplug, but to be honest, there are also many reasons to be wary. For all that it can do, the only truly useful feature we've found has been its ability to instantly share a hard drive over a home network or the Internet, and many NAS devices do the same thing, although with a bit more complicated setup. Video streaming, cloud printing, multidevice use, and music storage are all clever, but imperfectly executed. Better solutions exist in other products, although those products tend to cost more money.

In the end, we still recommend Pogoplug as an affordable method of connecting and sharing content from hard drives over the Internet, but other options are increasing in number, and dropping in price. The walled-garden style of the Pogoplug's connectivity precludes it from easily compatibility with services such as Apple's Time Machine, and its media-streaming features leave a lot to be desired. Its capability to essentially create an ad-hoc home server from spare USB hard drives remains unique, but it's not a device a general home consumer would feel comfortable with. It's a device that tech-oriented folk will do best with, but those people are precisely the ones who probably use NAS instead. Wi-Fi definitely makes the new Pogoplug a lot more hassle-free, but its bugs and quirks--not to mention its weird design--still leave something to be desired.

Editors' note: We consider the Cloud Engines Pogoplug an accessory and therefore didn't put it through the same testing process as standard NAS servers.

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