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

Samsung Optical Smart Hub SE-208BW

Dong Ngo

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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7 min read

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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.

Samsung SB-208BW Optical SmartHub

Samsung Optical Smart Hub SE-208BW

The Good

The compact and stylish <b>Samsung Optical Smart Hub SE-208BW</b> 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.

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.

The same goes for audio CDs and digital content loaded on an external hard drive connected to the Smart Hub's USB port. The hub can stream photos, music, and videos of basically all popular formats to mobile devices as well as DLNA-compliant Wi-Fi-enabled network streamers. You can also view documents as long as there are supported readers installed on the mobile device. The Smart Hub supports the 802.11n wireless standard. Its built-in access point is a single-band that works only on the 2.4GHz frequency, which means it supports basically all Wi-Fi mobile devices on the market.

The coolest thing, however, is the fact that you can back up a mobile device's data to the connected external hard drive, or a blank CD, wirelessly.

When connected via the WAN network port on its back to an Internet source, such as an existing home network or a broadband modem, the Smart Hub also enables all devices connected to its Wi-Fi network to access the Internet.

When used as an iSCSI target, the Smart Hub won't work as a media server for connected mobile devices.

Unfortunately, since the hub creates its own local Wi-Fi network, it's not possible for devices connected to its wireless network to communicate with those connected to your existing home network. In other words, if your home network has non-Wi-Fi devices, such as printers, Ethernet-only computers, or even a non-Wi-Fi network media streamer, such as the WD TV Live Hub, the Smart Hub will make them useless to the Wi-Fi devices connected to its wireless network. This could be avoided if the Smart Hub had a LAN port to host all networking devices, or worked just as an access point that shares the same local network as your existing one. Hopefully, this will be fixed in later versions of the device.

As mentioned above, though the Smart Hub works with Wi-Fi-enabled Windows computers (it doesn't support Mac at all), it's rather limited. For one, a connected computer can't access content stored on the external hard drive connected to the Smart Hub. And when used as an iSCSI target, it won't work as a media server for connected mobile devices, either.

Since the Smart Hub doesn't support regular computers that don't have Wi-Fi, I couldn't test its speed the way I do with network and storage devices. However, I did find that its range is quite good, up to around 230 feet. At that distance, the connection is only good for Internet sharing. For streaming, especially HD content, you'll need to be within 100 feet, preferably less.

The Smart Hub can support a maximum of four Wi-Fi clients. This is a good thing, because in my trials when three clients were connected and streaming, I experienced noticeably long load times before a movie played.

The streaming quality varied depending on the source content but was very good overall. In fact, DVD movies looked much better than when played on a big screen. Depending on the DVD, sometimes I noticed delays and rebuffering, especially when the same movie was being streamed to multiple devices at the same time and each device was playing a different part of it. This is quite normal, however, since an optical drive is generally quite slow at reading data and some DVDs are easier to read than others.

The Smart Hub worked very well when I used it to make backups on the connected external hard drive. In this case, I could back up multiple devices at a time with no problem. When a blank DVD is selected, however, only one mobile device can back up at a time. This is not a big deal and it's something I expected since DVD backup is anything but versatile, even when you do that on a computer.

Overall, I found the Smart Hub's performance more than good enough for casual streaming.

The Samsung SE-208BW Optical Smart Hub could be a great device or one that you dread, depending on your current home network, your networking know-how, and, obviously, what you expect from it. The device almost makes an excellent mobile companion, but it lacks a battery. At home, it's limited due to the lack of support for non-Wi-Fi devices and can work with only four Wi-Fi devices at a time. However, if you want to easily stream DVDs to multiple mobile devices, it works very well and is definitely worth its friendly price tag.

Samsung SB-208BW Optical SmartHub

Samsung Optical Smart Hub SE-208BW

Score Breakdown

Design 6Features 8Performance 7