Sooner or later almost every iPad owner asks the same question: How do I expand the memory on my iPad? A 16GB or 32GB iPad might sound like it has a ton of storage, but once you start loading your new tablet with an entire music library, HD movies and TV shows, and a few dozen apps, suddenly you wish you had the same amount of storage you get from a laptop.
Unfortunately, since Apple didn’t include an SD card slot or powered USB port on the iPad, your options for adding storage space to the iPad have been limited … until now. Several companies are now offering network attached storage (NAS) devices and customized iPad apps so you can expand the capacity of your precious iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch. We’re going to take a look at two of the leading contenders: the Kingston Wi-Drive and the Western Digital My Book Live.
For those readers who aren’t familiar with a NAS technology, the idea is pretty simple. The NAS device is basically just a hard drive that is connected directly to a Wi-Fi network and it allows secure (or unsecured) access to shared folders for anyone who connects to the network. Although the Kingston Wi-Drive and Western Digital My Book Live essentially do the same thing, each device takes a different approach.
Why the Wi-Drive?
The Kingston Wi-Drive ($149.99 for 32GB) was one of the first NAS devices marketed for the iPad. What makes this device special is that it is a mobile local NAS. A “local” NAS is a storage device that is only accessible on a local network (you have to be within Wi-Fi range of the device). The Wi-Drive is essentially a portable flash drive (available in 16GB or 32GB capacities) with a built-in Wi-Fi router and a battery.
Using the Kingston Wi-Drive is pretty easy. You simply attach the Wi-Drive to your PC or Mac using the included USB cable, then drag and drop the files from your computer to the Wi-Drive. Then install the free Wi-Drive app (available via the Apple App Store) and wirelessly connect your iPad to the Wi-Drive. That last part is catch.
The biggest problem with the little Wi-Drive is that it works as its own network rather than connecting to an existing network. In other words, when you want to access files that are stored on the Wi-Drive, you have to disconnect your iPad from whatever Wi-Fi network it is currently using and connect your iPad to the Wi-Fi network being generated by the Wi-Drive. While you’re connected to the Wi-Drive you cannot connect to the internet via Wi-Fi … because your Wi-Fi connection is being used for the Wi-Drive.
This gets pretty annoying when you want to watch a movie stored on the Wi-Drive and then quickly jump online using the Safari browser. You have to disconnect from the Wi-Drive network and reconnect to your regular Wi-Fi network before you can start browsing the web again.
Battery life is another potential issue with the Wi-Drive. Kingston claims that the tiny battery inside the Wi-Drive lasts for “up to four hours of continuous use” and that is pretty accurate for a single user. However, if you allow multiple iOS devices to connect to the Wi-Drive then the battery life drops much faster. For example, if you’re at a friend’s house and you and two of your friends (and their iPads) want to share music and photos via the Wi-Drive, then the battery life might only last 2-3 hours while transmitting files back and forth between all three iOS devices.
On a happier note, the Wi-Drive gives you some sense of physical security because the Wi-Drive is always with you. You don’t have to worry about where your NAS is stored and whether it is connected to a vulnerable network … although you might have to worry about accidentally leaving the tiny Wi-Drive behind while traveling.
My Choice: My Book Live
The new Western Digital My Book Live ($159.99 for 1TB) is a more traditional NAS device designed to stay at home or your office and provide remote access for your iPad and other devices. The My Book Live looks like a typical bulky desktop hard drive, but instead of connecting the hard drive to your computer, you connect the My Book Live to your Wi-Fi router using the included Ethernet cable. Once you’ve installed the My Book Live and the included software on your home PC (or Mac) you can access any files stored on the My Book Live from any device connected to the internet.
For security purposes, you have to create user accounts and grant permission to each user so they can access one or more file folders (called “shares”) on the My Book Live. This added level of security helps prevent unauthorized individuals from accessing your important files, but it also means you have to perform extra steps before your iPad can use the My Book Live.
Not only do you have to create a user account (with a unique security code) for each person, you want to have access to the My Book Live, but iOS devices like the iPad have to install a dedicated app in order to see the shares stored on the My Book Live. This wouldn’t be a problem if the app was free like the Kingston Wi-Drive app, but Western Digital decided to charge $2.99 for the full “pro” version of the “WD 2go” My Book Live app.
This additional level of complexity and the additional $3 charge just to give you full access to the WD personal cloud is my biggest complaint about the My Book Live. The iPad is the pinnacle of a simple, intuitive user interface. The My Book Live and WD 2go Pro app are more than just a little complicated to setup. If you aren’t technically inclined or you don’t have a friend who can help you set it up, you might have serious trouble getting your iPad to access the files stored on the My Book Live.
That said, if you can overcome the technical hurdles of the setup process then the My Book Live and WD 2go Pro represent the single easiest method to consistently and reliably access extra storage space on your iPad. Simply open up the app, select the share folders you want and your files are immediately available just as if they are being stored on the iPad. Not only that, but since the My Book Live is connected to your iPad via your existing internet connection you can launch the Safari browser and visit websites without changing any settings.
Winner: WD My Book Live
I genuinely love the compact, sleek design of the Kingston Wi-Drive and works as a very good extended storage solution for the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch. Unfortunately, the Wi-Drive simply cannot overcome one fundamental technical flaw in its design: You cannot be connected to the web and the Wi-Drive at the same time.
The Western Digital My Book Live and WD 2go Pro app might be a little complex at the start, but once you get going, the expanded storage is almost seamless. You can jump back and forth between files stored on the My Book Live and browse the web without having to mess with your Wi-Fi settings every time.
In short, it might not be easiest thing to setup, but the My Book Live is the easiest storage solution to use on a regular basis.