Tablets may not be as mobile as users would like to believe. In certain regards, tablets are not really standalone devices – at least not yet.
Yes, you read that right. Tablets are not quite standalone devices. Limited internal storage capacity (typically 16GB, 32GB or 64GB) on these versatile electronic products routinely requires the use of a desktop or laptop computer as a base device for uploading music, video, photos, documents, and other media.
"For many users, ITS [internal tablet storage capacities] are just not enough. Users have to pick and choose what content they want on their tablets and delete when they want additional content," says Liz Conner, senior research analyst, storage systems and personal storage at IDC.
There's actually a good reason why tablets are configured with low amounts of storage. Flash memory (NAND) is expensive, and it costs more than 10 times the cost of hard disk drive (HDD) storage on a dollar-per-GB basis. However, NAND is ideal for a smaller form factor; it's solid-state and more durable than a disk hard drive, which is great because users are more apt to handle and drop a tablet than a notebook that may spend most of its time on a desk.
Tablets Will Need More Storage
With the increasing power and functionality of tablets, consumers and businesses are busy exploring the potential of these devices with activities that include surfing the web, sorting through photos and music, gaming, watching and editing videos, checking email, as well as running education and business apps.
Considering that terabytes (TB) of internal storage are now common on desktop computers, and the internal hard drive capacity of laptops is inching toward 1TB, tablet flash memory pales by comparison. It's only a matter of time before users clamor for more storage.
Not to worry. Tablet capacities are likely to increase with each generation of product. In the meantime, there are a number of options that tablet users can explore to boost the storage capacity of their tablets or to better utilize what they currently have.
1. Sync to a Computer
This is the most common scenario for storing music, movies, PDFs, and any other content that a tablet user may want to upload to their device. By comparison, storage on a desktop or laptop computer is cheap. According to John Rydning, research director, hard disk drives at IDC, HDD cost-per-GB varies a bit based on the capacity of the drive. Higher capacity HDDs tend to have a lower cost-per-GB cost. A blended average cost-per-GB for a mobile 2.5-inch HDD is about $0.11, and for a desktop 3.5-inch HDD, it is about $0.07.
The pros to using a desktop or laptop computer for storage is that you can store a lot of data for little money and most devices are configured with hundreds of GB of storage. The drawback to using only a desktop or laptop HDD for storing tablet data is that the HDD isn't portable. So, the only music, video and personal data on the tablet is what you load when syncing to the HDD.
For those that want to carry more, tablets come with a variety of internal storage options. The cost difference between an Apple iPad 2 with 16GB, 32GB and 64GB (Wi-Fi model), for example, is $499, $599 and $699, respectively. That's $2.08/GB for 48GB, or upgrading from the 16GB model to the 64GB model; $3.12/GB for 32GB, or upgrading from the 32GB model to the 64GB model; or, $6.25/GB for 16GB, or upgrading from the 16GB model to the 32GB model. More capacity equals lower cost per GB.
2. External Drives
Only a couple of vendors, including Hitachi and Seagate, are selling external hard drives for tablets and their products have only recently become available.
Hitachi's G-Connect Wireless Storage with Internet Access for iPad is a wireless storage device that is designed for on-the-go access and works with Apple's iPad and iPhone (an Android version is reportedly in the works). All data is streamed to the iPad over Wi-Fi as Apple designed the iPad with no USB port or SD expansion slots.
Similar in its functionality to Apple's Time Machine, the 500GB 2.5-inch hard drive features a Wi-Fi antenna for up to five different connecting devices. The G-Connect also has a pass-through feature that enables internet access when the HDD is hardwired into a network through its Ethernet port. The hard drive is priced at about $199 or $.0.40 per GB.
Both Android and iOS tablet users can opt for Seagate's GoFlex Satellite for mobile wireless storage. Seagate offers a free GoFlex media app or users can opt to use the tablet's web browser to access and stream to the media library via Wi-Fi.
According to Nathan Papadopulos, senior manager at Seagate, the GoFlex Satellite allows for five hours of continuous streaming and doesn't require a connection to a power source (unlike Hitachi's G-Connect), making the GoFlex a truly portable device. The GoFlex Satellite measures about 4.7 x 3.4 x 1.2 inches, and TabletPCReview will have a full review of it in the coming week.
Like the G-Connect, the GoFlex Satellite also runs about $199 for 500GB of storage.
For wireless flash storage, both Kingston and Airstash offer wireless flash drives, also called pocket servers. Kingston's Wi-Drive, an external solid-state drive (SSD), is available for Apple devices including the iPad. The vendor offers both 16GB and 32GB models, priced at about $130 and $175, respectively. Per GB, the Wi-Drive runs about $8.10/GB for the 16GB version and $5.40/GB for the 32GB model. The company offers a free app to use the device, and is just a little bit larger in size than the iPhone.
According to Andrew Ewing, flash memory business manager at Kingston, the company expects to have a comparable product for Android devices next year. Currently, Android tablet owners can opt for the company's class four and class 10 microSD cards with storage capacities that range from 2GB to 32GB.
With AirStash, an SD card hub small enough to fit comfortably in the palm of your hand, users can get 32GB of extra storage capacity per SD card. Users can also carry and swap out multiple SD cards for even more storage. There's a free app for Apple iPad users and AirStash also creates its own Wi-Fi network for data access. The device, capable of sharing files with multiple users is priced at $100.
While it has its benefits, remember that using an external drive is only as good as the content on it. An HDD also requires a desktop or laptop PC to transfer media and documents. Plus, it's one more thing to carry.
3. Network-Attached Storage (NAS)
Using NAS is another storage option for tablet PC users. There are tons of NAS vendors offering products that target the consumer and SOHO markets, like Buffalo, Drobo, Iomega, Netgear, and Western Digital.
NAS products for the home and SOHO markets are available with a range of features as well as different approaches for getting information onto the tablet PC. For example, earlier this year Iomega announced Personal Cloud technology that connects Iomega NAS devices to other devices, including the iPad. The vendor is making a free app available to users.
Pricing and storage capacity varies; Netgear Storage 1TB Home Media NAS is under $150 while Iomega's Home Media Network Hard Drive Cloud Edition NAS Server (3 TB) can be found for $250.
4. Cloud-Based Storage
What do Carbonite, Dropbox, Mozy and SugarSync have in common? They're all cloud-based storage services that tablet users can access wirelessly. The services offer both free and paid online storage options, with Dropbox providing 2GB of storage at no cost, for example. Coming down the pike is Apple's iCloud service and Google is currently beta testing Google Music, which is currently limited to music files. Amazon also offers the Amazon Cloud Player, which is also focused on music files.
Going beyond the free online storage and pay-per-month subscriptions, prices vary depending on capacity. For example, for $9.99/month, Dropbox users get 50GB, or you can opt for 100GB and pay 19.99/month.
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