Hands On with the AirStash Wireless Flash Drive
Notebook users, accustomed to the ease of connectivity via built-in USB ports and card slots, have been known to clench their teeth adjusting to a world of Apple-induced roadblocks endemic with iOS devices like iPads, iPhones and iPods. Now, a clever way to break through is the AirStash AO2 Wireless Flash Drive from Maxell.
AirStash is a USB stick that plugs into any computer for transferring content. It’s wider than a conventional jump drive because instead of containing its own memory, the AirStash has a slot for an SD/SDHC/SDXC card. But it’s more than a USB card reader/writer, due to an embedded Wi-Fi transceiver and rechargeable lithium polymer battery. When a powered-on AirStash is nearby, it shows up as an available “network” on the settings menu of your iOS device. Once chosen, the AirStash becomes a portable server, ready to wirelessly stream or copy files to your device. Suddenly, a dearth of physical ports on your iPad dissolves in irrelevancy.
And the AirStash isn’t limited to Apple handhelds. It works with Android devices and virtually any Wi-Fi enabled device with a browser. For example, once I changed the wireless network setting to AirStash on my Windows notebook, I successfully viewed a variety of file types by entering the URL, “Airstash.net,” in my Firefox browser.
About now you might be scratching your head over the value added regarding a device that could as easily be plugged into a USB port without the computer simultaneously forfeiting its wireless Internet connection or, in the case of an iOS device, simply buying an Apple's iPad Camera Connection Kit for transferring photos from an inserted SD card. In the latter case, you wouldn’t need to dedicate the dock port to a memory card reader (especially at times the port has more pressing uses like charging); and in both cases you’d be missing out on another feature of the AirStash—it’s a wireless server capable of supporting multiple devices at once.
Having loaded photos of a visit to a North Fork vineyard (JPG), the song “Jessica,” by the Allman Brothers Band (MP3), high-def video of my trip to the Bermuda Aquarium (MP4), and the book Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman (PDF) into the AirStash, I managed to stream the files (or different portions of the same file) at the same time to three devices: an iPad, iPod Touch and Android phone. And I was able to carry my iPod touch as far as 60-feet away in an open but crowded office without losing the signal.
According to the company, content on an AirStash can be shared simultaneously with up to six devices, and videos can be streamed concurrently with to up to three devices. The drive has a range of up to 160-feet away when server and client are in line-of-sight. For security, you can invoke WEP encryption.
The next morning I began testing the longevity of the AirStash battery by streaming a looped slideshow of the vineyard to my iPad. A green LED continuously blinks to indicate that AirStash is transmitting. Seven hours later with AirStash still blinking, my iPad shut down. (I checked my iPod to make sure the stream was still available.) At nearly nine hours after turning on the diminutive server, the AirStash finally went dark. The company rates the battery for up to seven hours of continuous usage. It takes two hours plugged into a USB port for an AirStash to fully charge. While charging, a yellow LED fades on and off.
Though I used the Safari browser preinstalled on iOS devices to access files in my AirStash, the 1.4 oz server is best deployed with the free AirStash+ App downloadable from the Apple App Store. You can use it to stream or copy files, but I was unable to move files from my iPad to the AirStash. According to AirStash technical support, the current AirStash+ App is one-way but will soon be updated for photo backup—a plus for owners of iOS devices with built-in cameras.
One thing I found inconvenient about AirStash is that while my notebook, iPad and iPod touch were wirelessly connected to it, I couldn’t use them to access the Internet. You must first change their Wi-Fi settings back to the network normally deployed. Also, don’t expect to be able use an AirStash as a wireless server while attached to a computer’s USB port—even if its battery is depleted and you’ve plugged it in specifically for charging. The wireless transmitter disengages. You can, however, plug it into a USB power adapter, as I did with my iPad’s white adapter. Tech support explained that the trick to making the transmitter work is to hold down the AirStash button while plugging it into the power adapter.
In terms of being able to free up storage on a mobile device, the AirStash is not unlike the Seagate GoFlex Satellite Mobile Wireless Storage Device. A difference is that the GoFlex relies on an embedded hard drive, while the AirStash lets you swap memory cards as needed. The wireless transfer capability of an AirStash is not unlike Eye-Fi Wireless Memory Cards except that
you can use any SD card and you’re not limited to photos. You could, for example, save audio in a field recorder and then transfer the card to an AirStash for streaming or copying the files to other devices. See: Handheld voice recorders using SD cards, Camcorders that record to SD cards and Cameras that save to SD cards.
Ways to use an AirStash abound. If you’re in sales, you could share a business presentation without a projector or printout. If the family is on a road trip, you could beam video entertainment to the kids’ handheld devices. If you’re a photographer who also carries a notebook or smartphone, you’ll be able to review images on a larger mobile screen or copy them.
|Interfaces||USB, SD slot and 2-way wireless|
|Supplied Card||8- or 16GB|
|SD format support||Single extra SD/SDHC card (sold separately) provides up to 32 GB storage; SDXC upgradeable up to 2TB|
|Wi-Fi compatibility||802.11 b/g/n (2.4GHz)|
|Security||WEP 128-bit, WPA2 upgradeable|
|Software||Built-in Web server, media streamer, WebDAV server; downloadable iPad/iPhone/iPod touch App (free)|
|Rechargeable Battery||Non-removable lithium-ion|
|Battery Use||7 hours|
|Dimensions||3.6 x 1.2 x 0.5" (93 x 32 x 13 mm)|
|Weight||1.4 oz (41 g)|