Hands On with the AirStash Wireless Flash Drive

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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.

AirStash is available in two versions: with a Maxell 8GB or 16GB memory card. The innovative product works as advertised. It’s relatively easy to install and a joy to use.

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)

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Who's hand is that in the pictures?  It looks soft and supple!

This seems to be a great product all around!

A02 airstash is a very nice addition to overcome memory problems. However, I found that videos streamed to my ipod could not be projected. The videos were published from itunes and therefore ipod ready. They played on the ipod alright. The airstash support were not helpful. Neither the projector people(Epson) The projector(MG 850 HD) has a dock for the ipod. A digital HDMI connection did not work either. I don't believe that ipod can be mirrored like ipad2. Any ideas?  

This is most likely due to the way that the application plays video. Since the video is already in an iPod ready format, you can also try viewing the video in the Safari browser, bypassing the application. This will work directly with the operating system, and should play video on the projector.

From the AirStash manual “To access AirStash from a web browser on a WiFi device, first ensure that your device is connected to the AirStash network. Once you are connected, browse to the URL  www.airstash.com  to view the list of files.”

If you have a 4th generation iPod touch, you can use Apple’s Digital AV Adapter, and the display will be mirrored via HDMI. If you have a previous model, it will not be possible.

Hi - if I access the data on my iphone, will I be able to recieve calls and quickly drop the signal if needed to make calls?

This device is itriguing. Is this a device that I can use while on a cruise, when I don't have access to wifi. I realize that this device has built in wifi capability, but can I view pictures on my iPad without access to wifi? I am a photographer and need a way to transfer edited pics from my iPad, to an external hard drive, without the use of a laptop and a network wifi connection. My memory quickly fills up if my vacation is longer than two weeks. If this USB device can do this, can I transfer pics more than one at a time? Can I transfer a photo folder from my iPad to this device, or only one at a time?

The AirStash can move documents on, and off of the drive, however it requires support from the application. In your case, it would be the photo app, and the built in program doesn’t have support for WebDAV (A network file sharing protocol.) This drive can still work for your needs, but will require a third party application. I have used a free App called “My WebDAV”. It can access your photos, and upload them to a WebDAV server. (The AirStash.) It is an extra step, but this free application will give you the two way transfer you are looking for with your photos, as well as documents.

The AirStash is an interesting device. But my needs are quite simple.
Can I stick the device in a digital photo frame on the wall upstairs and then use my Windows PC in the office downstairs to transfer pictures to the frame ? Thereby using the existing LAN Network with WIFI in my home.

A problem might be to hide the rather large AirStash behind the photo frame. Will the photo frame provide enough power to constantly recharge the AirStash ? Any ideas ?

You wouldn’t be able use the existing LAN, as the AirStash does not connect to networks. It only creates them. You would need to select the AirStash network from the list of wireless networks to access the files. While you are connected to AirStash, you would not have access to the internet, or other local network resources.

For your second question, as long as the port on the photo frame is powered, you would not have a problem. The AirStash can operate on USB, and provide a wireless signal with standard power output from a USB 2.0 port.

Just a question please: is the battery Replaceable? Mine seems to have died :-(

The battery is unfortunately not user replaceable.