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7 mobile hard drives: More portable and more powerful

By Rick Broida
August 19, 2013 06:00 AM ET

Corsair Voyager Air

Capacity/price: 1TB for $199.99 - $249.00 (retail)

Heavy, chunky and not quite as travel-friendly as the other drives here, the Corsair Voyager Air is nonetheless the most versatile portable storage unit in this roundup.

Corsair Voyager Air
Corsair Voyager Air

It's a lightning-fast, battery-powered 1TB drive that can double as network-attached storage. And it also has built-in Wi-Fi, meaning it can sit in your travel bag while you copy files, stream media and so on -- all without interrupting your Internet connection. A pass-through option lets your PC or mobile device continue to use the local Wi-Fi network even though it's also using Wi-Fi to connect to the drive.

When connected to a USB 3.0 port, the Voyager Air compares favorably with the roundup's fastest standalone drives from Seagate and Western Digital. (Surprisingly, it charges completely via USB and requires no additional power supply, though it does come with both AC and car adapters.) Corsair doesn't specify how many devices can connect simultaneously, but I had no trouble streaming an Amy Winehouse album to my iPhone and PC at the same time.

However, weak mobile apps prevent the Air from realizing its full potential. Although a smattering of short video clips streamed fine to my iPhone, most produced an error message saying they wouldn't play or were too large. In the latter case I could download them directly to the phone, but that sort of defeats the purpose. All these same videos played fine using Kingston's MobileLite Wireless.

What's more, there's no "Select all" option when choosing files to upload from device to drive. If you want to back up, say, your camera roll, plan on doing a lot of tapping.

Corsair backs the drive with a three-year warranty, icing on a pricey (minimum retail price is $200) but very worthwhile cake. If the company can improve its apps' streaming capabilities, it'll have the portable hard drive to beat.

Patriot Aero

Capacity/price: 500GB for $140.00 - $199.00 (retail); 1TB for $166.00 - $220.00 (retail)

The Patriot Aero arrived as a last-minute entrant in the roundup, and this one was worth the wait. The Aero functions much like the Corsair Voyager Air, offering both USB 3.0 and wireless connectivity, but in a more compact and less expensive package. It comes in both 500MB and 1TB capacities; I tested the 1TB version.

Patriot Aero
Patriot Aero

Fortunately, just because it's smaller and cheaper doesn't mean it's slower: The Aero posted impressive benchmark numbers, proving almost exactly as fast as the Air -- at least when connected via USB. As for power, you can charge the drive via USB or the included AC adapter, although unlike the Corsair, it doesn't come with a car adapter.

The Patriot Connect app, available for Android, iOS and Kindle Fire, affords the usual upload, download and streaming capabilities, with support for up to five simultaneously connected devices. However, the apps make for poor MP3 players, lacking both search and play-all options. You can build a playlist on the fly, but it's a slow, cumbersome process. Thankfully, all my sample videos played just fine.

As with the Corsair, you can set up a pass-through connection. However, the iOS app in particular was very slow to discover my home network, and both the Android and iOS apps produced a curious 45-second countdown timer for "restarting the Wi-Fi connection," followed by a message indicating I needed to manually reconnect to the Patriot. Ultimately everything worked, but it was a slow and confusing process to get there.

That annoyance notwithstanding, the Patriot Aero makes a great all-purpose portable drive, especially for accessing video and documents that wouldn't otherwise fit on your mobile device.

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