The Hartford Courant The Electronic Jungle column
Mar 10, 2013 (The Hartford Courant - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
A little space in the cloud doesn't cost a lot. The first five gigabytes, in fact, are usually free from services like Amazon's Cloud Drive, Google Drive and Apple's iCloud.
For those who haven't stuck their heads in the cloud, these services store personal documents, music, movies and photos on a remote server so you can access them anywhere from a computer, smartphone, tablet or other device.
I found a much better freebie, 50 gigabytes, recently at Box.com, enough to store everything (if I desired) currently on my iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, MacBook and Dell laptop. Yes, I live a fairly spare digital life, except when it comes to music. My music library, approaching 700 gigabytes, keeps growing.
That's what led me to Pogoplug's "personal" cloud storage concept, which debuted in 2009 with a device that looked like an external hard drive but acted more like a mini-computer.
Now in its fourth generation, the Series 4 ($99 retail; $40 at Amazon.com) resembles an AppleTV or Roku set-top box, but its mission remains the same: When connected to a router and an external hard drive (or with the current version, an eSata drive, USB 2.0/3.0 drive or SD card), it creates your own private cloud with no monthly fees.
It's like a simplified, easy-to-set-up, network-attached storage system. Everything on the connected drives become available on Pogoplug's iPhone, iPad and Android apps and Windows and Mac computers. Setup takes only a few minutes.
Once the Pogoplug is connected to a router, the user registers at the Pogoplug website (pogoplug.com). Download the app and you're ready to go.
Unlike a cloud service, which actually stores your data, Pogoplug streams a hard drive's contents back to your smartphone. For documents or photos, the Pogoplug worked smoothly during my evaluation. Luckily, my interest in Pogoplug was not as a mobile music streamer for my iPhone.
Using my iPhone's Verizon Wireless 3G connection, I could not play a song without it sputtering or stalling altogether. Before playing a movie, the Pogoplug transcodes the file into an "optimized" format for streaming, a process that can run longer than the movie. ("Quantum of Solace," I believe, is in the third week of transcoding.)
Over a Wi-Fi connection, however, the Pogoplug did exactly what I had hoped: It accessed my music library, without iTunes or a computer, while reducing power consumption to five watts. Here's how it worked: I copied all the music onto an external hard drive and connected it to the Pogoplug. I then downloaded the Pogoplug app to both my iPhone and iPad.
The mobile devices were not the last stop on this wireless train. They merely acted as a remote control by sending the audio to an Airport Express -- an AppleTV would work too -- also linked to the home network and finally to a connected audio system. All this to bypass booting up a computer To this lazy-bones listener, there's nothing like instant-on, no-fuss music.
The music portion of the Pogoplug app resembles Apple's Remote app but lacks access to playlists or queuing up multiple tracks. It also displays few album covers from my library, which the company's chief product officer, Jed Putterman, says is unavoidable with iTunes.
"Unfortunately," he says, "iTunes stores some cover art in their own proprietary database rather than in the file itself."
The Pogoplug's maker, Cloud Engines, itself appears to be moving toward the cloud, with a service that charges $4.95 a month for unlimited storage. The Pogoplug is stuck on Series 4, which first appeared in late 2011. How about a Series 5 with wireless connection instead of a direct-to-router lifeline
The older, USB-only Pogoplugs are essentially the same as the newest version. I paid $20, shipped, for a second-generation version coveted by hobbyists because it can be turned into an on-the-cheap version of Logitech's now-discontinued Squeezebox music server. (See the VortexBox forum at http://vortexbox.org/content/150-Building-the-VAMP.)
A newer, smaller Pogoplug Mobile is available at Amazon.com for $2 more. Just add an external hard drive, even a USB jump drive, and your head's in your personal cloud.
What: Pogoplug media sharing
Price: $20 to $40, pogoplug.com
Hot: Inexpensive "personal" cloud storage with no monthly fees.
Not: Poor music, movie streaming over a mobile network.
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