Hitachi LifeStudio Mobile Plus review

An external storage, backup and management solution aimed at media collections
Photo of Hitachi LifeStudio Mobile Plus
500GB version, £69.99

The LifeStudio Mobile Plus from Hitachi is a modern twist on portable storage that’s specifically designed for those who work with large amounts of media – be it photos, video or music. It comes in a number of versions, and at its core provides an interactive 3D interface of content that can be browsed and manipulated via your computer.

The Mobile Plus model comes in three parts – a dock that’s powered by USB to avoid stringing extra cables around, a 320GB (or 500GB) 2.5in external hard drive that fits snugly into this chassis, and a 4GB MicroSD USB key that can be expanded using an additional memory card. The idea is that the external drive comprises the core backup space for your files (and is supplied with a data cable for use as a standard external drive), and the USB key offers a portable alternative for carrying around that syncs automatically when connected to update your collection.

Setup and library
Setting up the LifeStudio Mobile Plus up is fairly straightforward – though one strange requirement is that it requires Internet Explorer 7 or higher for PC users, which may not be a popular choice for those who have been happy with very capable alternatives. Once you’re up and running, a Flash-based interface offers access to all of the software’s key features. Thankfully there’s a bit more to it than a snazzy design.

The first thing the application does is to scan your computer to populate its library, which can take some time depending on the number of media files you have available. Unfortunately, there seems to be no way to disable this, so if you only want to catalogue files stored directly on the LifeStudio’s drives, you’re out of luck.

3D cinematic interface
From this point on, content can be viewed by category and searched using the impressive 3D cinematic interface, which we found to be responsive and very useful in terms of identifying files at a glance. It’s possible via the software to view photos, music, videos and documents stored on a PC, which opens an associated application where necessary to handle playback.

Files can only be viewed by date however (though music is displayed by album or artist), and it would have been useful to have a more flexible way to organise large collections to make it easier to find specific content. It’s possible to enter search criteria into the main search box (which can also be used to search for online content on sites such as Google Images, YouTube and Flickr), and thankfully this is quite responsive, but does rely on accurate file labelling to be effective.

The interface also offers access to a wide range of online content such as TV clips, trailers, documentaries, music, photos and more. You can read news reports and view the latest headlines, plus a range of Flash-based games are available to play through the software. All of this is handled through the same flow-based interface – although, due to the wealth of content in most of these categories, it can be rather daunting to browse. While most of it was quite quick to load, we also noticed that videos are of a fairly low resolution, and while in some instances you can navigate directly to the original source page to improve this, it seems like an unnecessary extra step.

Aside from viewing and managing content stored on a local machine, you’ll find the software automatically adds anything stored on the 2.5in external drive, and can sync content from the USB stick whenever it’s connected. Unfortunately this is again bundled into the main collection of files, so it can be difficult to locate exactly what you’re looking for without resorting to a keyword search.

Additional features
LifeStudio Mobile Plus also offers both local and online backup functionality, with 3GB of online storage provided as standard. Using this separate application it’s possible to save specified files and folders to locally connected drives at specific intervals, or choose content to upload to the ‘cloud’. Up to 100 file versions are archived here, and the content is accessible from any web browser including smartphones and tablets (separate apps are available for the iPad and iPhone for an additional fee). It’s a fast and straightforward solution that adds a bit of extra appeal to the software, and though it offers limited control, casual users will appreciate the ‘set and forget’ approach.

LifeStudio is certainly an interesting concept, and for the most part does a nice job of organising files in an attractive interface. It really needs to be more customisable to aid in managing large collections, however – which we’d expect to be one of its main uses. The additional backup software is a nice touch, and though 3GB of online storage won’t be enough for an entire collection, it should be plenty for critical files.

Company: Hitachi

Positives
  • Attractive and responsive 3D interface, access to online content.
Negative
  • Large collections can be difficult to browse, little control over file views.

Verdict

Despite the attractive and versatile nature of LifeStudio, it's essentially a stripped-down media centre application that must be accessed through a computer via mouse and keys. Though it's reasonably priced considering what you get, the lack of fine control can be very frustrating, particularly for those with large collections who don't want everything catalogued.