The Seagate GoFlex Satellite provides portable wireless storage for iOS and Android devices. The 500GB hard drive features its own Wi-Fi connection, letting you access files and stream media from the drive to iOS and Android devices, where space is presumably at a premium. All that is required, other than $200 of your hard-earned money (which represents approximately a $150 premium over a regular 500GB external hard drive), is the installation of a free app on your iOS or Android device.
The drive is easy to set up and use, but the accompanying iOS app is hampered by a few limitations, with photo viewing and particularly with music playback. (I would assume the same holds true for the Android app, which was just released a few weeks ago, but I can’t say with any certaintly since I tested with only the iOS app.) For those with expansive movie libraries, however, the Seagate GoFlex Satellite is a great way to watch movies on your iPad or Android tablet without having large video files clutter your mobile device.
BUILD & DESIGN
The Seagate GoFlex Satellite is very compact, measuring 3.5-inches wide by 5.1-inches deep by 0.9-inches thick. It weighs a scant 9.8 ounces and includes a battery that Seagate rates as supplying 25 hours of standby time and 5 hours of life when streaming media. Its portability, along with its ability to establish its own Wi-Fi connection between itself and your iOS or Android devices, lets you access the drive wherever you may roam. Just throw it in your bag and you have 500GB at your tablet or phone’s disposal.
Seagate claims it has a range of 150 feet, and in testing, I was able to smoothly play a movie from the GoFlex Satellite on my iPad 2 at roughly that distance. Seagate also says that up to three devices can access the drive simultaneously, and sure enough, I was able to play movies (the same file or different files) on an iPhone 3GS, an iPhone 4, and an iPad 2 at the same time. The limit of three simultaneous users means large families who don’t like to spend time together, but would rather each stare at an iPad, will need to share. It also means the GoFlex Satellite can’t be used as a shared movie repository for a large group, say, a dorm-room floor where everyone would want unfettered access at any time.
To get started, download the GoFlex Media app from Apple’s App Store or Google’s Android Market. Connect the drive to your PC or Mac using the included USB 2.0/3.0 cable. The drive comes pre-formatted for Windows PCs (NTFS), but Mac users need only to install a small application stored on the drive to get write access to the drive. Seagate suggests PC users, too, install the app stored on the GoFlex Satellite for full functionality.
PC and Mac users can also download an application, GoFlex Media Sync, from the Seagate website; it syncs folders you designate with the drive, and you can set it up to only sync files that are compatible with iOS devices. Lastly, your PC or Mac can access the drive wirelessly by hopping off your regular Wi-Fi network, establishing a connection to the GoFlex Satellite’s Wi-Fi network, and opening up a browser window to access the drive. It’s an easy way to copy files to the drive if you aren’t near the drive or can’t locate the USB cable.
In addition to the USB cable, the drive also ships with a power cord and both DC and car chargers. There are also two face-plates for the bottom edge of the drive: one with a port to connect the USB cable and another one without the port for increased portability. Once you have loaded up the drive with files from your computer, you must disconnect it and power it on before wirelessly connecting to it.
To test the Seagate GoFlex Satellite, I used an iPad 2 and two iPhones. To connect to the drive, I had to go into Settings > Wi-Fi and log off my home Wi-Fi network and connect to the GoFlex Satellite network. It takes only a few seconds to switch connections, but you have to perform the reverse when you want to get back on the Internet (unless your device has 3G connectivity in addition to Wi-Fi). The upside of this arrangement is you can wirelessly connect to the drive when you are out of range of cellular or Wi-Fi service.
Launch the GoFlex Media app and you’ll see a left-hand navigation with folders titled My Satellite, Videos, Photo, Music, Documents, Folder View, Settings, Local Content, and Getting Started. The app automatically places your videos, photos, music, and documents in the appropriate folder. And by tapping on Folder View, you can access a file directory, including any folders you created.
The app is very easy to navigate and feels responsive, but it does suffer from a few annoying shortcomings. When viewing photos, for example, I occasionally experienced a lag as the photo took a few seconds to load. Also, you can swipe from photo to photo through an album, but the pinch zoom gesture is not supported.
With music, the organization is terrible. It’s the anti-iTunes. For starters, there is no album art. Worse, using the Music folder in the GoFlex Media app, you must sift through a list of songs either alphabetically or by ‘date added’. All you get is a list of songs – it’s up to you to figure out the artist or album they belong to. You can select a group of songs to play by tapping the Options button and highlighting the songs you’d like to listen to, but there is no way to order the playlist and you can’t see the title of the song playing. If you use the ‘Folder View’ folder instead of the Music folder, you can browse by artist and then drill down by album, but you can’t select multiple songs in this folder to play. Highly frustrating. Lastly, there is no way to shuffle songs.
Supplying extra storage space for movies is where the GoFlex Satellite works best, though I ran into some compatibility issues with the iPad. The iPad supports MPEG 4 and H.264 video formats (M4V, MP4, MOV) along with motion-JPEG AVI files. For other file formats, you’ll need to transcode the video to a format the iPad can read. I successfully ripped a DVD to M4V format, dragged over to the GoFlex Satellite, and started watching it on my iPad without a hitch. When I purchased a movie from iTunes, however, DRM got in the way for a moment. For DRM-protected content, you’ll need to sync your iPad with a computer with the iTunes account as your iPad in order to watch. Amazon Unbox users will need to transcode the WMV files before viewing them on an iPad, and the GoFlex Satellite is of no real value to users of a streaming service such as Vudu.
I found that using the GoFlex Satellite to view documents was a mixed bag. The drive boasts a handy, Quick Look feature that gives you a read-only view of a document. I tried it with Word, Excel, and PDF files, and it loaded each quickly and legibly. When I tried to open a document using the ‘Open In’ feature in iOS, the GoFlex Media app crashed each time.
You can download documents from the GoFlex Satellite to the iPad, storing them in the Local Content folder. It’s a convenient way to copy a file to the iPad for times when you might not have access to the drive. Unfortunately, it’s a one-way street; you can’t move files directly from the iPad to the drive, which would be incredibly convenient for photographers looking for a quick-and-easy mobile backup solution.
In the end, the Seagate GoFlex Satellite is a slick device for extending the storage capacity of your iPad or Android device. The GoFlex Media app, however, needs a little work. Using it to view photos isn’t the best experience, and trying to use it to browse a music library is nearly impossible and its functionality is severely limited. For movie fans however, the GoFlex Satellite works well, giving you 500GB of portable storage space that is easily and wirelessly available.
More Storage Coverage
Whether you’re a gamer, photographer, busy professional or just on the go, be sure to check out the rest of our storage special report. Demystify the digital clutter in your life!