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Seagate Wireless Plus review: iPad-friendly wireless storage almost perfected

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Unveiled at CES 2013, Seagate's Wireless Plus won CNET's Best of CES for Networking and Storage category for a reason: it's a big step up from its predecessor, the Seagate GoFlex Satellite.

Seagate Wireless Plus
8.0

Seagate Wireless Plus

Pricing Not Available

The Good

The <b>Seagate Wireless Plus</b> wirelessly adds 1TB of storage space to up to eight mobile devices. It can relay Wi-Fi Internet access and works well as a fast portable drive or as a robust mobile media server.

The Bad

The Wireless Plus could use a faster Wi-Fi standard and should include a car charger. Its Seagate Media app doesn't natively support all popular digital video formats.

The Bottom Line

If you have a digital library that's larger than the capacity of your tablet and want to bring it all with you on the go, the Wireless Plus is arguably the best choice on the market.

The drive now combines 1TB of storage space, 10-hour-and-then-some battery life, and a built-in Wi-Fi network that supports up to eight concurrent clients in one compact package about the size of a regular USB 3.0 portable drive. Connected clients can stream digital content from it and you can also back up content to it, using a mobile app or a network browser.

And, when connected to a computer, it also works as a portable drive, just like any other. In either role, the Wireless Plus worked well in my trials, with excellent performance.

Seagate Wireless Plus offers improvements over predecessor (pictures)

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It's far from perfect, however. The Wireless Plus supports only single-band Wi-Fi (802.11n) with a top wireless speed of just 150Mbps. Its Seagate Media mobile app, unfortunately, natively supports a very limited number of digital formats. This makes it a less than an ideal device for those with a digital library from diverse sources.

If you get your content exclusively from Apple, however, chances are you will have no problem with playing it back with the Plus. You can think of the new Seagate Wireless Plus as a wireless storage expander for your iPad that also works with Android-based and Kindle Fire tablets. And for this purpose, it's the best among its type and is totally worth the $200 investment.

Drive type 2.5-inch external USB hard drive with internal Wi-Fi access point and battery
Connector options USB 3.0 (included), FireWire, eSATA, Thunderbolt (via adapters)
Size (LWH) 5 inches by 3.5 inches by 0.8 inch
Weight 0.59 pound
Apps included Seagate Media app for iPad, iPhone, Kindle Fire, and Android-based devices
Available capacities 1TB
OSes supported iOS (iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch), Android, Microsoft Windows XP or later, Mac OS 10.5.8 or later
Software included NTFS driver for Mac OS

The new Wireless Plus (right) is still slightly more compact than its predecessor, the Satellite.
With longer battery life and doubled storage space, the new Wireless Plus (right) is still slightly more compact than its predecessor, the Satellite. Dong Ngo/CNET

Design
The new 1TB Wireless Plus is very similar to the 500GB GoFlex Satellite in terms of physical design, but is slightly more compact. It's a box that houses an internal hard drive, a Wi-Fi access point, and a battery. It's kind of amazing how it manages to remain so small, measuring just 0.8 inch by 3.5 inches by 5 inches, considering those three major components. It also weighs just about half a pound.

On one side, the Wireless Plus has a standard SATA port covered with a lid. By removing this lid, you can use the drive with any Seagate connection adapter, like those of the Backup Plus or GoFlex portable drives. The Wireless Plus, itself, comes with a USB 3.0 adapter and a standard USB 3.0 cable. You can use these to connect the device to a computer, and then it works just like any bus-powered portable drive. This is also a great way to quickly transfer digital content to the Plus prior to a trip. With 1TB of storage space, chances are most of us could easily carry our entire iTunes library this way.

Note that the device always charges its internal battery when connected to a computer, but can only work either as a media server or a portable drive at a given time, not both at once. To make it work as a portable drive, you need to turn it off prior to plugging it into a computer's USB port. For this, on one side the Wireless Plus has a power on/off button that you press once to turn it on or press and hold for a few seconds to turn it off.

When working as a portable drive, the Wireless Plus comes with a few folders for different types of content -- Videos, Music, Photos, and Documents -- but you can make new folders of any name. Once switched to work as a wireless media server, the device itself will automatically organize data from all folders into different categories for users to browse via their connected clients, using the Seagate Media app.

The Wireless Plus also comes with a power connector and a separate power adapter for charging from a wall socket. Unfortunately, unlike the Satellite, the Wireless Plus doesn't include a car charger, but you can use one made for other mobile devices, such as tablets or smartphones, to charge it while driving.

Out of the box, the Wireless Plus comes fully charged and preloaded with a good selection of samples of HD video and symphony music, enough to keep you entertained immediately on the way home.

Features
The Wireless Plus supports a single-stream setup of the 802.11n Wi-Fi standard to offer a top speed of 150Mbps. For this reason, while it can support up to eight Wi-Fi clients at a time, only three of them can stream HD content simultaneously. The portable storage device works only in the 2.4GHz band and doesn't support the newer and faster 5GHz band. It's a delicate balance Seagate has to juggle here, however, since supporting faster Wi-Fi speeds also would mean shorter battery life, a larger physical design, or both.

Like Seagate's portable drives, such as the Backup Plus, the Wireless Plus is formatted in NTFS out of the box and should remain in this file system for it to work. It does, however, come with software drivers to enable Mac computers to read and write on the NTFS file system.

Together with the Wireless Plus, Seagate announced a new version of the free Seagate Media mobile app for iOS, Android, and Kindle Fire devices. The app's interface has been vastly improved and worked much better in my trial than when it was first launched with the Satellite.

Out of the box, the Wireless Plus is preconfigured with a Wi-Fi network and you can connect other Wi-Fi clients (smartphones, computers, tablets) to it. After that, from a connected client, just launch the Seagate Media app and you're good to go. Note that on the iPad the Seagate Media app only works in the horizontal position, and won't rotate if you use the mobile device vertically. It does give you the option of playing music in the background, however, in case you want to close the app and switch to doing something else.

The Seagate Media app works very well and now offers quick access to an existing Wi-Fi network, enabling the Wireless Plus to relay a connection to the Internet to the rest of the clients connected to its own Wi-Fi network.
The Seagate Media app works very well and now offers quick access to an existing Wi-Fi network, enabling the Wireless Plus to relay a connection to the Internet to the rest of the clients connected to its own Wi-Fi network. Dong Ngo/CNET

Limited support for file formats
The Seagate Media app offers access to the library of digital content stored on the Wireless Plus, organized into Videos, Photos, Music, and Documents. Once a category is picked, you can view the content by thumbnail, and list and sort them by date or type. There's also a search function. Once you've found what you need you just select an item (a video, a playlist, or a file) to play it back.

I tried the Wireless Plus with an iPhone 4 and an iPad (third-gen) and the experience was either completely smooth or utterly cumbersome depending on the type of media. This is because the Seagate Media app natively supports only a limited amount of digital formats: H.264 video, MPEG-4, and Motion-JPEG for video, and AAC, MP3, Audible (formats 2, 3, 4), Apple Lossless, A IFF, and WAV for audio. This meant I had no problem playing back any content made for iOS devices but wasn't able to make it play anything else, including popular formats for HD videos, such as Matroska and Xvid.

Note that for formats the app doesn't support natively, it offers the option to download the file onto the connected device to be played back with a third-party app. While this works well with documents, it's not a viable solution for videos since the downloading process would take a long time for a full movie or a full episode of a TV show due to the large file size of HD video content. On top of that you probably want a device like the Wireless Plus because you're running out of storage space on your mobile device. Hopefully the format situation will change via updates.

Apart from playing back content directly from the Wireless Plus, and downloading it onto the connected device to play back without the Wireless Plus, the Seagate Media app now can upload photos and video taken by the mobile device back to the Wireless Plus. (While the new Seagate Media app also works with the old Satellite, this function is only available with the Wireless Plus.) I tried this with both an iPad and an iPhone and it worked well with photos. With videos, however, it didn't work out as one might expect, mostly because the connection speed -- which, again, caps at just 150Mbps -- isn't fast enough to quickly transfer tens of megabytes, let alone hundreds of megabytes, which a 5-minute-or-longer video clip can easily be.

Excellent support for Internet sharing and media streamer
What I like the most about the new Wireless Plus is its new Internet-sharing feature. Basically, the portable storage device can connect to an existing Wi-Fi network, such as that at home or at a hotel or a Starbucks hot spot, and then share that network's Internet connection with the rest of devices connected to its own Wi-Fi network.

It's very easy to get this done. On top, the Seagate Media app shows a Wi-Fi icon; tapping on this icon will display a list of existing Wi-Fi networks at the current location, and with another tap, you can connect the Wireless Plus to a selected network. The Wireless Plus supports all types of Wi-Fi network, including those that require you to log in via a Web page, making it a great device for sharing Internet access at a hotel or airport. This also means that you won't need to change a client, such as an iPad, to another Wi-Fi network to gain access to the Internet. Instead, just connect the Wireless Plus to an Internet-enabled Wi-Fi network and you now can both stream music from it and surf the Internet at the same time on all of devices connected to the Wireless Plus' Wi-Fi network.

In addition to tablets and smartphones, the Wireless Plus works with DLNA-compliant media streamers and also works with well with laptop computers. I tried a few Windows 7-based laptops with the portable storage device and was able to connect both via Samba (the way network computers do) and via streaming with Windows Media Player. Unlike when I used the Seagate Media app with the tablets, with a laptop I had no problem playing back any type of media at all.

Seagate says it's working on an app for Samsung Smart TV and in fact demoed this at CES 2013. In the near future, it's likely that you'll be able to connect the Wireless Plus directly to a Smart TV to play back its content.

The Wireless Plus' content being shown on a Samsung Smart TV via an app at a CES 2013 demo.
The Wireless Plus' content being shown on a Samsung Smart TV via an app at a CES 2013 demo. Dong Ngo/CNET

When using a mobile device, you can also use the Seagate Media app to manage the Wireless Plus' settings, including changing its Wi-Fi network (name and password), updating its firmware, and so on.

Performance
I tested the Wireless Plus' performance both as a portable drive and as a Wi-Fi network media server.

As a portable drive, the device excelled when used with USB 3.0, scoring some 110MBps for both writing and reading, making it one of the fastest USB 3.0 portable drives I've reviewed. When used with USB 2.0, the device's speed was lowered to 28MBps for writing and 32MBps for reading, about average on the charts.

When used as a portable media/storage server, the Wireless Plus also worked very well but did show its weakness due to the lack of support for faster Wi-Fi standards. With its cap speed of just 150Mbps, I had problems downloading and uploading a large amount of data from and to it. Streaming was not a big problem, however, but I only tried with two devices at a time. Obviously, things get slower the more clients are involved. That said, expect no problems while sharing the Internet but you should limit streaming to just two or three devices at a time.

The Wireless Plus offered decent range for a device of its size in my trial. I could get a stable signal from it from up to 100 feet away. Realistically, though, clients should be within 50 feet or less for streaming. The most impressive thing about the Wireless Plus is its battery life. During the testing, I constantly used some five Wi-Fi devices with it and was able to get more than 11 hours out of one charge. Expect even longer battery life if you have fewer devices or use it sporadically.

CNET Labs external hard drive USB 3.0 performance scores (in MBps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
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CNET Labs USB 2.0 external hard drive performance scores (in MBps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
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Write

Conclusions
Though not as revolutionary as the Satellite was when it first came out almost two years ago, the Wireless Plus brings the mobile-streaming experience to a new and much better level compared with its predecessor or any other device of its type on the market. For now, if you own multiple mobile devices, the Seagate Wireless Plus would be the best accessory to carry on the go or even use at home if you live in a small apartment or a college dorm.

Seagate Wireless Plus
8.0

Seagate Wireless Plus

Pricing Not Available

Score Breakdown

Setup 8Features 8Performance 8Support 8