3 wireless media hubs: Extra storage for mobile devices

Travelers who want to take some extra storage and battery power along with them should check out these three mobile devices.

When you've burned through the available storage on your smartphone, tablet or laptop, you have two basic options: Delete old stuff to make room for new, or upgrade to a new device that offers more space. The former is a hassle; the latter, expensive.

Consider a third option: The wireless media hub. These compact devices let you add your own storage in the form of SD cards and USB drives, thus affording you lots of extra space for your documents and media. In this roundup, I review three of these useful products: the Apotop Wi-Copy, the Iogear MediaShair Hub and the Kingston MobileLite Wireless.

(Computerworld's Lucas Mearian recently looked at two similar devices from SanDisk: the Connect Wireless Flash Drive and the Connect Wireless Media Drive.)

For mobile workers, hubs make it possible to stream movies, music, photos, slide decks and more to a storage-strapped smartphone or tablet. They also allow you to upload memory-hogging photos and videos to higher-capacity memory cards and drives, thus freeing up space on your phone or tablet. And as an added bonus, these three hubs double as mobile chargers, providing supplemental power at the same time they're supplementing your storage. Two of them can function as mobile routers, too.

If you're merely looking for added storage for your laptop, check out my recent roundup of 7 mobile hard drives. However, the USB-powered models are for laptops only, so they won't help your overstuffed phone or tablet. And except for a couple of drives with built-in Wi-Fi -- the Corsair Voyager Air and the Patriot Aero -- they can be used with only one device at a time. The hubs reviewed here let you connect multiple devices simultaneously.

Indeed, a hub serves as its own Wi-Fi access point of sorts. You connect your phone, tablet, or laptop to it the same way you'd connect to any wireless hotspot. The hub's app -- all three support iOS and Android -- not only allows you to access your stored files, but redirects your device to the main Wi-Fi network so you can continue getting Internet access. Some hubs are better at this than others.

I tested the hubs with my iPhone 4S and a rooted Kindle Fire tablet running Android 4.2. For media I used several generic SD cards and USB flash drives, along with a Seagate Slim portable hard drive.

Apotop Wi-Copy (DW21)

Price: $109.99 Amazon and Newegg (Retail)

Carry Technology's Apotop Wi-Copy is an ambitious product marred by mediocre apps. The matte-black drive, which closely resembles an old-fashioned memory-card reader, not only slings data from SD cards and USB drives, but also recharges your mobile devices and serves as a Wi-Fi extender.

Apotop Wi-Copy
Apotop Wi-Copy

The 3.6-x-2.9-x-0.9-in. device is the heaviest of the three hubs -- although at 5.6 oz., that doesn't make that much of a difference. A sliding switch toggles the Wi-Copy between off, charge and Wi-Fi modes, this last allowing you to connect it to Android and iOS smartphones and tablets.

Stocked with a 5,200mAh battery, the Wi-Copy can run for 14 hours -- nearly three times as long as Kingston's hub and 50% longer than Iogear's. (But if you forget to turn it off, tough luck: There's no auto-off feature to preserve the battery after a period of inactivity, as I discovered the hard way.)

And like those units, it can deliver power via its 2A USB port, a great way recharge your gizmos (tablets included) on the go. You can also plug in an Ethernet cable and turn the Wi-Copy into a mobile wireless router -- handy for hotel rooms that lack Wi-Fi.

Although every feature I tried worked as advertised, the Wi-Copy app (which is what enables media streaming and file management) suffers from some issues.

First and foremost, there's no simple pass-through option -- no way to reconnect to a Wi-Fi network after you've connected your phone or tablet to the Wi-Copy. It's possible, but only by venturing into the browser on your mobile device and manually accessing settings that should be available within the app. And this confusingly named "Wi-Fi Repeater" mode is described only in the full manual, which is available only online, not in the included quick-start guide.

The Wi-Copy app lacks a search option, and it's terrible at streaming music. You can choose individual songs to play, but not playlists or even just folders. There's no shuffle option, and on my iPhone I couldn't get the next-track function to work. What's more, although I had an easy time offloading photos from my Camera Roll to an SD card, all of them revealed upside-down thumbnails when I viewed them in the Wi-Copy app.

Another nit: SD cards are left protruding way out from the front of the Wi-Copy, instead of tucking all the way in like they do on the Iogear and Kingston drives.

Bottom line

With its big battery and impressive feature set, the Wi-Copy deserves consideration. But Carry Technology definitely needs to improve its apps before it earns a full recommendation.

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