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LaCie Fuel review: Fast and capable, but not new

The Fuel by LaCie, which is owned by Seagate, is basically the same as Seagate's Wireless Plus despite the radically different look. This means it's another great choice for mobile storage and entertainment. Here's CNET's full review.

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Dong Ngo
Dong_Ngo.jpg

Dong Ngo

SF Labs Manager, Editor / Reviews

CNET editor Dong Ngo has been involved with technology since 2000, starting with testing gadgets and writing code for CNET Labs' benchmarks. He now manages CNET San Francisco Labs, reviews 3D printers, networking/storage devices, and also writes about other topics from online security to new gadgets and how technology impacts the life of people around the world.

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6 min read

If you're familiar with the Wireless Plus from Seagate, you'll feel right at home with LaCie's first mobile storage device, the Fuel.

LacieFuel_(2).jpg
7.5

LaCie Fuel

The Good

The <b>LaCie Fuel</b> works well either a fast USB 3.0 portable drive or as a capable mobile Wi-Fi storage device. As the latter, it comes with a well-designed mobile app and offers long battery life.

The Bad

The LaCie Fuel doesn't have anything its competition doesn't already have, including the Wireless Plus from Seagate, which owns LaCie.

The Bottom Line

Fast and easy to use, the LaCie Fuel makes another very good choice as a mobile storage solution for travelers despite having almost nothing better than its existing peer.

Despite the completely new squarish look, on the inside the Fuel is basically the same as the Wireless Plus, from features to function, and even battery life. For this reason, the new device marks the first product collaboration between the two companies since Seagate acquired LaCie back in 2012. Others might wonder why the Fuel is made at all, since it has nothing new compared to its Seagate counterpart.

But having more options is hardly a bad thing, and for those on the market for a mobile storage device to expand the limited capacity of their iPad -- or any mobile devices for that matter -- the LaCie Fuel is another great choice at the estimated cost of $199. For other equally great battery-operated, Wi-Fi-based mobile storage solutions, check out this list.

The Fuel comes in a new squarish shape with a touch of style in its design.
The Fuel comes in a new squarish shape with a touch of style in its design. Dong Ngo/CNET

Totally different look, same features set
The LaCie Fuel looks like no other mobile storage devices I've seen before. For the most part, it takes the square shape of a floor title that measures just 4.5 inches on each side and about 0.9-inch thick. At one corner, it tapers into a pointed head that has a hole, making it looks like a gigantic square pendant. LaCie says the design is supposed to resemble the look of a jerrycan which is a little far-fetched from the Fuel's look.

Compared to the Wireless Plus, the Fuel is slightly bulkier, though at 9.7 ounces it weighs about the same. While the Wireless Plus comes with a modular design that permits you to swap in adapters to make it compatible with different connection types, such as USB, FireWire, or even Thunderbolt, the Fuel comes with just one Micro-USB 3.0 port. This port can be used for charging with the included USB cable and power adapter, or to connect the device to a computer. When connected to a computer, apart from charging, the Fuel will now work as a portable bus-powered hard drive.

The LaCie Fuel (left) next the to Seagate Wireless Plus. The two device share the same features and mobile app.
The LaCie Fuel (left) next the to Seagate Wireless Plus. The two device share the same features and mobile app. Dong Ngo/CNET

When disconnected from a computer, you can use the power button on its side to turn it on or off as a Wi-Fi mobile storage device. The Fuel basically expands the generally limited storage space of your mobile device, such as a tablet or a smartphone. Mobile devices (up to five of them at a time) can also connect to the Fuel's Wi-Fi network, and can then use its included 1TB of internal storage space as their own, either to play back content from it or to back up data on to it.

In all, the Fuel is exactly the same as the Wireless Plus in terms of functionality.

Well-designed mobile app, limited playback media types
What makes the Fuel all the more similar to the Wireless Plus is the fact that it uses the same Seagate Mobile app, which is available for iOS, Android, and Amazon's Kindle Fire. Now at the version 2.5.0.10, the app is a lot more refined than what it was when I reviewed the Wireless Plus. That makes the Fuel really a pleasant to use (and you'll have about the same experience with the Wireless Plus once you have updated the app and its firmware.)

Drive type 2.5-inch external USB hard drive with internal Wi-Fi access point and battery
Connector options USB 3.0, USB 2.0
Size (HWL) 0.9 x 4.5 x 4.50 inches
Weight 9.7 ounces
Apps included Seagate Media mobile app for iOS, Kindle Fire, and Android-based devices
Capacities / File system
1TB / exFAT
OSes supported iOS (iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch), Android, Kindle Fire, Microsoft Windows XP or later, Mac OS X 10.5.8 or later
Max concurrent Wi-Fi clients supported 5 (3 for HD video streaming)
Mobile streaming format supported Video: MP4, MOV (iOS only), M4V (iOS only) | Audio: MP3, M4A (iOS only) | Image: JPG, PNG | Documents: DOC, XLS, PPT, PDF
Warranty Two-year limited

The app automatically categorizes content stored on the Fuel into five category including Videos, Photos, Music, Documents and Recent, which shows content that has been recently played. In addition, you can also quickly search for what you want. In my trial, the app worked very well and was smooth and responsive. It took a very short time for an HD movie to start playing.

That's if the movie is supported by the mobile device natively. As with the Wireless Plus, as well as other mobile storage devices, except for video content made specifically for the mobile platform, I couldn't stream anything else using the Seagate Media mobile app, including popular formats for HD videos, such as Matroska and Xvid. To stream unsupported media types, you need to use third-party apps, and might have to first download the file to the mobile device before you can play it back, which would defeat the purpose of the Fuel, which is as storage expansion.

You can instruct the device to operate in the Eco mode, which selectively turns off certain services to increase its battery life.
You can instruct the device to operate in the Eco mode, which selectively turns off certain services to increase its battery life. Screenshot by Dong Ngo/CNET

Smart power, backup and Internet sharing supported
The Fuel is slated to offer as much as 10 hours of battery life, but only if you use its smart power feature. Using the app, you can make the device work in the Eco mode, basically turning off features that are useful mostly when used at home, including the ability to work as a mini NAS server -- sharing file via the SAMBA protocol to connected computers -- and the support for DLNA streaming.

On the go, the Fuel is most likely used via the Seagate Mobile app, which works well. Apart from hosting content for playing back, you can also back up user-generated content, such as videos and photos shot by your iPad or iPhone, to it. And when you're at a hotel, the Fuel can also connect to other Wi-Fi networks to bring Internet access to devices connected to its own Wi-Fi network. In my trial, it can connect to essentially any Wi-Fi network, including those that require a password or log-in. This feature makes it a great companion that will help save money when you're staying at a hotel where Wi-Fi access is charged per connected client.

Fast performance
At heart, the Fuel is a USB 3.0 portable drive, and when used as one, it was versatile. The device is preformatted in exFAT file system and that means it works with both Mac and Windows machine right out of the box with no restriction on file size.

In my testing it was also very fast, offering some 105MBps for writing and 107MBps for reading, when used with USB 3.0. This weren't the highest numbers I've seen but on par with other USB portable drives.

CNET Labs external hard drive USB 3.0 performances Scores
(In MPB per second; longer bars indicate better performance)

Seagate Slim
111.49
110.4

Seagate Wireless Plus
109.75
109.5

WD My Passport Slim
107.89
107.7

LaCie Fuel
106.89
104.7

Corsair Voyager Air
107.45
104.6

When used with USB 2.0, it was also very fast at 28MBps for writing and 33MBps for reading, topping the chart.

CNET Labs USB 2.0 external hard drive performance scores
(In MB per second; longer bars indicate better performance)

This means you can quickly load a lot of content on to the Fuel before your long road trip. As a mobile storage device, the device indeed offered very long battery life, roughly 10 hours in my trial. This varies, however, depending on how much you use it and with how many devices. I tried it with just an iPad and an iPhone at the same time.

Conclusion
The LaCie Fuel doesn't do anything to really outdo the Wireless Plus but, still, it makes a great alternative. For example, if you like the layout of the Seagate Media app -- which you should since it's about the best among apps for mobile storage devices -- but prefer something of a more radical design, the Fuel will fit the bill perfectly.

However, if you're already happy with your Wireless Plus or the Corsair Voyager Air, there's no need to make any changes at all.

LacieFuel_(2).jpg
7.5

LaCie Fuel

Score Breakdown

Setup 8Features 7Performance 8Support 7
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