Pogoplug (2nd generation) review: Pogoplug (2nd generation)

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The Good Affordable, easy-to-start method of getting multiple USB hard drives online and acting as Internet-accessible servers; compatible with most smartphones, Web browsers, game consoles, and operating systems.

The Bad Awkward and unintuitive media-browsing experience; unreliable and choppy playback and file format compatibility make audio and especially video streaming unreliable; case design is just plain ugly.

The Bottom Line With more USB ports and a few new features, the new Pogoplug remains a unique and relatively easy way to share files online. However, its media-streaming features leave something to be desired.

7.0 Overall
  • Design 6
  • Features 9
  • Performance 6

When we last reviewed the Pogoplug, we found its design to be refreshingly simple and compact, and its purpose streamlined. Although somewhat utilitarian, at least it didn't waste any space.

Unfortunately, the second-generation Pogoplug seems to have forgotten the lessons of its former product. In a lot of ways, the new Pogoplug (which we'll call "Pogoplug 2") is a design coming-out party: it has more iconic curves, a definite design, and, well, a lot of pink. (Don't bother looking for it in other colors--pink is your only choice.) Combined with its ribbed glossy white plastic mini-tower look, it can't help but come across like an iMac peripheral made in 1998. The $129 price tag is also $30 more than the original, more compact Pogoplug, but it does have four USB ports compared with its single-port predecessor.

The original Pogoplug got its name because it was a big wall wart: you could plug it directly into a wall AC outlet (though an extension cord was provided as well). Alas, the new Pogoplug needs to stand on a table or other surface and uses a long power cord by default. The squat and somewhat bulky box now has three USB 2.0 ports in the rear and one poking out the front above a Pogoplug logo that lights up when the box is powered on. The box looks large enough to possibly house its own storage, but that isn't the case: you still have to plug in your own USB-connected hard drives or thumbdrives. With four attached at once you'll have an impressive almost NAS-like online multidrive, but the setup will also look bulky and full of snaky USB wires. The Pogoplug 2 has a curved, springy stand that doubles as a cable organizer, but there's no rack or method to hold plugged-in hard drives. Hard drives can be unplugged and swapped easily, but we noticed that plugged-in USB thumbdrives got disturbingly warm after only a night of staying in the Pogoplug.

In terms of usability, the experience is exactly like that of the first Pogoplug. The Pogoplug is compatible with NTFS, FAT32, Mac OS Extended Journaled and non-Journaled (HFS+), and EXT-2/EXT-3 formats, covering most bases for nearly any hard drives. Connecting a drive is as simple as plugging it into the Pogoplug after plugging the Pogoplug to a router via Ethernet and a power socket. The whole system recognizes itself and is ready to go, as advertised, after logging in to Pogoplug's Web site and registering.

There are three chief methods of interfacing the drives connected to Pogoplug: directly through a Web browser via the my.pogoplug.com Web site; via a downloadable software client for Mac, PC, and Linux that shows the Pogoplug-connected drives directly on the desktop; and via mobile phone apps. Originally, the Pogoplug app was only available for the iPhone and iPod Touch, but it's since expanded to Android, BlackBerry, and Palm (WebOS) phones.

Pogoplug's Web browser experience works nicely, even on the iPad (shown here).

On the browser side, folders can be viewed, and music, photos, and video can be seen and streamed. All files can also be downloaded, and folders can be selected to be publicly shared via direct link, or through social media such as Facebook or Twitter. Music streaming works after a short delay, but the controls are as small and awkward as before, and playlists can't be easily created--it's on a song-by-song basis. Video has a huge delay over the Internet; however, if you're on the same home network as the Pogoplug, the streaming result is markedly better, but--for video, anyway--still not reliably smooth.

The downloadable client offers the greatest flexibility, allowing drag-and-drop uploading and downloading of files. Deleting files was an awkward process, and sometimes we hit a few lags, but it's still a far cheaper and easier solution than most.

On the mobile smartphone apps, interaction is limited to viewing and streaming of documents, photos, music and video--again, with mixed success for video. But the problem is that it's something of a walled garden, compared with the computer-based Pogoplug interface: you can't really do everything you'd like with the remote files. Yes, you can view and even download them to the phone, but once you do, you're not always free to share them outside of the Pogoplug ecosystem. For instance, we pulled down a PDF that we needed on our iPhone, but we couldn't e-mail it to anyone; instead, we'd be forced to setup a Pogoplug share with the intended recipients. That works, it's just more involved than we'd prefer for a one-off document.

Two big additions to the Pogoplug firmware since our last review are the capability to connect to the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, and a NAS-like backup service called Active Copy. The PS3 and Xbox 360 functionality is indeed promising: 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?

Browsing for videos when connected to the Xbox 360 or PS3 becomes a matter of scrolling through long lists of sometimes ambiguously titled files, with no preview images.

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