The Seagate Central is a single-volume storage device and hence doesn't provide data protection against hard-drive failure, but that's about its only major shortcoming.
The new NAS server is easy to use, offers lots of storage space, and, most importantly, is affordable, currently costing just $230 for 4TB (or $160 and $180 for 2TB and 3TB, respectively). It also comes with mobile apps for media sharing, including one that works with Samsung Smart TVs. In my testing, the device's performance was very good for a device of its type.
If you're looking for a quick way to stream media to multiple devices or to back up data, the Seagate Central will deliver. It's not a device designed to host your important data, however. For that, you should check out those on this list.
Straight forward design, easy setup
The Seagate Central comes in a one-part single-form design that's just about twice the size of a 3.5-inch internal hard drive. The device measures 5.7 x 8.5 x 1.7 inches and weighs just 2.2 lbs. On the back it has one Gigabit Ethernet port and one USB port. The USB port is the only way to extend the storage space of the Central, since it comes with just one hard drive on the inside that can't be replaced by users.
This is not really a big deal, however, since with a top capacity of 4TB, the Central comes with plenty of storage space for its purpose, which is to be the shared storage space and digital media hub for the entire home. Nonetheless, this means the device should be used only to host backups or replaceable media contents for entertainment purpose. You should not use it to keep a single copy of important information, due to the risk of losing everything if its internal drive fails. (Read more about RAID and data protection.)
The Central supports Time Machine natively for Mac; for Windows, you can use the downloadable Seagate Dashboard software to do the same job. You can use this software to quickly manage the NAS server via three functions: Protect (backup), Share, and Save. The Share function allows for quickly uploading digital content to social sites; the Save function does the opposite: backing up digital content that's currently on social sites. These functions actually work very well and smartly. For example, once set up to back up a Facebook profile, the drive also automatically backs up photos that the account owner was tagged in, in addition to those he or she uploaded.
For data sharing and backup purposes, there's basically nothing to setting up the device. All you have to do is plug in the power, connect its network port to the router (or switch) via the included network cable, and you're done. The Central comes with a default public share folder (called Public) that can be access immediately by any Macs or Windows computer on the same network.
On a Mac, the server appears automatically on Finder, while on a Windows machine, it will be shown as an icon in the network part of Explorer. From there, you can map a network drive to the Public share folder and access the server's storage as though it were an external hard drive.
Inside the Public share folder, there are three subfolders called Video, Music, and Photo. You can copy the respective contents to these folder and the server automatically streams them to any network media player. These subfolders are there just for organizational purpose; you can create more subfolders or store data arbitrarily in any folder you want and the digital contents will still be accounted for. This is because the server automatically scan all subfolders in the main Public share folder for digital contents and makes it available for streaming. In fact, there are no options to to change this other than turning the streaming function off completely.
Speaking of options, the server offers more than just media streaming via the default share folder. But to change its settings as well as other features, you'll need to access its Web interface.
Simple and effective Web interface
To access the Central's Web interface for the first time from a computer within the same local network, just point a browser to http://seagate.com/central/setup, then follow the instructions to detect the NAS server and create an user account which is to be used to log in the server's Web interface. After that, you can always return to this interface via the server's IP address.
The interface is organized in five tabs, including Home, Users, Social, Services, and Settings. The Home tab list all most recently changes made to the NAS server. You can click any of them to quickly adjust or reverse the setting. Other tabs are generally self-explanatory. For example, the User tab allows for adding more user accounts to the NAS server, the Services tab is for turning on or off the server's remote access and media-related services. The Settings tab is where you can mange the server's settings, such as its name, its IP address, updating its firmware, and so on.
Generally, the Central's interface is simple and easy to use, but it does lack some level of depth. For example, as mentioned above, you can only turn the media streaming features on or off, but you can't pick what folders should be scanned for digital content and so on. The server will scan all public folders for this purpose.
Media streaming, remote access, and mobile apps
The Central supports all major mobile devices, including iOS devices, Android devices, Blu-ray players, and the Amazon Kindle HD. It also supports Apple AirPlay. All in all, nearly any network-connected device can connect to it and stream content from it, and all popular mobile platforms are supported. As mentioned above, it also comes with an app for Samsung Smart TV that allows for streaming content to the TV without using a third-party device.
The Seagate Central supports remote access for each user account. To enable remote access for an account, just add an e-mail to that account. The user will then receive an activation e-mail. After responding, remote access will be available to him or her.
The account owner can now remotely access the content stored on the Central via either a browser (for computers) or the Seagate Media mobile app (for smartphones or tablets).
To access via a browser, just point the browser to https://access.seagate.com and log in with the provided e-mail and the password of the user account. Now you can browse the Public share folder's content as well as the account's private content. In my trial, browsing was very sluggish and as such was a pain to use. For example, I couldn't download or upload a folder at time; instead, I was limited to just an individual file at a time. It takes a long time for playback of a song to start, let alone a video. Generally, I found remote access via the Web interface is close to useless due to the slowness.
On the other, it worked much better using the Seagate Media mobile app. In this case, the app worked very much like when it's used with the Seagate Wireless Plus: digital contents are organized by categories for streaming, and you also have the option to browse by folder. You can also back up the mobile device's user-generated contents back to the NAS server.
The Seagate Central did well for a single volume NAS server in my testing. Via a Gigabit connection, it offered some 40MBps for writing and about 74MBps for reading, being one of the fastest among the single-volume NAS crowd. Note that most advanced NAS servers -- multiple-volume storage spaces -- offer much faster speed, but they are also significantly more expensive.
At this speed, the Seagate Central can easily accommodate all data sharing and media streaming for an average home. The server also worked very quietly and remained cool during heavy loads.
With the Central, Seagate manages to offer a lot in a small, simple network storage package that, for the most part, delivers. However, the server would be a much better storage device if it could host two hard drives and supported RAID 1 for data protection. For now, it's a very good addition for a connected home when used strictly for backup and entertainment purposes.