Samsung Optical Smart Hub SE-208BW review: Samsung Optical Smart Hub SE-208BW

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MSRP: $129.99

The Good The compact and stylish Samsung Optical Smart Hub SE-208BW makes it possible to stream digital content (including DVDs) to multiple Wi-Fi-connected mobile devices at a time, and wirelessly backs up mobile devices' data. It also works as a network DVD burner for Wi-Fi devices and an iSCSI target or bus-powered USB external DVD burner for a computer.

The Bad As a networking device, the SE-208BW only works with Wi-Fi devices (up to four at a time) and it doesn't support sharing resources with an existing network that it's plugged into. The device offers limited support for computers and doesn't work with Blu-ray discs.

The Bottom Line The Samsung Optical Smart Hub SE-208BW makes a great digital hub for mobile devices, especially on the go. At home, it's rather limited and potentially confusing and hard to use.

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7.0 Overall
  • Design 6
  • Features 8
  • Performance 7

Review Sections

Take out the battery and add an optical drive to the Seagate GoFlex Satellite, and we have ourselves the Samsung Optical Smart Hub SE-208BW.

Essentially, the SE-208BW is an external optical reader/recorder with a built-in USB-enabled Wi-Fi router. This combination makes it possible to stream digital content, from a DVD or a connected external hard drive (not included), to multiple iOS- and Android-based mobile devices at the same time. Moreover, the Smart Hub can also wirelessly back up connected mobile devices' data.

In my trials, Smart Hub worked very well with mobile devices. Unfortunately it doesn't come with a battery, meaning it's not exactly as mobile as the Satellite, though it's still great when you stay in a hotel. When used at home with an existing home network, the Smart Hub doesn't support PCs very well and won't share data between devices connected to it and those connected to the home network. It also only works with Wi-Fi-enabled network devices.

For its price of just $130, however, it's still a fun and useful device for those who own multiple mobile devices and like sharing video DVDd between them. If you have an existing home network and are not really comfortable with networking, the Smart Hub, for now, might not be a good choice for you.

Design and setup
The Samsung Optical Smart Hub SE-208BW is about the size of an external DVD recorder. That said, the device is as compact as possible given that it has to host regular DVD disks. The Smart Hub's DVD drive uses a pull-out tray, similar to a laptop DVD drive, with an eject button on the front.

On the back the device has one B female Mini-USB port and one A female USB port. The first USB port is used to connect it to a computer to work as a regular bus-powered external optical drive, via an included Y-shaped Mini-USB cable. In this case, it offers no networking capability. The Y-shaped cable lets you use two USB ports of a computer in case using only one doesn't provide enough juice to power it. In my testing, however, I only needed to use one port for all computers I tried it with. This means you can use any standard Mini-USB cable to connect the SE-208BW for use as an external burner.

The second USB port is for hosting an external hard drive when the Smart Hub is used as a networking device. Now, apart from content stored on a DVD, it can also broadcast digital content stored on a connected external hard drive to any Wi-Fi mobile devices running iOS or Android. It also works with other Wi-Fi-enabled DLNA-compliant media streamers, such as the WD TV Live.

Also on the back, the Smart Hub has one WAN Ethernet port to connect it to an Internet source, such as a broadband modem or the router of an existing network.

The Smart Hub comes with a setup booklet and a CD that contains the desktop SmartLink setup software. You'll need a Wi-Fi-enabled Windows computer to setup the Smart Hub since it works only with Wi-Fi devices. The setup process involves running the software from the CD which supposedly guides you through. In my trials, the SmartLink software, however, was anything but smart.

If everything goes as intended, the first time you run SmartLink, it will ask you to enter the default Wi-Fi network information printed on the back of the Smart Hub to get the computer connected. After that, it offers you the option to change the default network's name to your liking. And then, it will configure and start the iSCSi service of the computer, which allows the Smart Hub to work like an internal optical drive as if directly connected to the computer. You do need to run the iSCSI Initiator by yourself and connect the computer to the Smart Hub, however, which is not an easy step for home users.

Now, if you had to do all those steps just once, that wouldn't be a big deal. However, you have to type in the Wi-Fi network information every time you run the software, even when the computer has already been set up and connected. Since the default network name and its encrypting key are rather long and hard to remember, this might drive you mad if you have to run it a few times, which, unfortunately, you may have to. In my trials none of the steps worked out smoothly the first time. For example, when I wanted to change the network's name to something that's easier to remember, the software returned an error saying that the operation failed, but then it said that the setup was completed. It took me several tries to get the Smart Hub up and running with a computer.

The good news is, you can skip that setup process entirely. Instead, just connect an iOS- or Android-based mobile device to the Smart Hub's default Wi-Fi network (with the information printed on its bottom), run a free downloadable app called Mobile Smart Hub, and you're set; the rest is self-explanatory.

The Mobile Smart Hub app is well-organized and easy to use. There's really nothing you have to learn to use it.

Once a mobile device is connected to the Smart Hub, you can play back a video DVD inserted in the Smart Hub, using the Mobile Smart Hub app. In my trials, I could actually play back the same movies to multiple devices at a time, with each device viewing different parts of the same movies.

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