SanDisk Connected Flash Drive review

The SanDisk Connect Wireless Flash Drive puts wireless media streaming and storage into a convenient compact size and keeps things extra simple.

The SanDisk Connect Wireless Flash Drive is a wireless media streaming and storage device that fits into keychain friendly flash drive-like device. If you want to enjoy movies and music on your phone, but don’t want to fill up the phone’s limited storage space, this may be the answer you’ve been looking for.

Design and Features
At first glance, the drive looks like a standard flash drive, measuring 3.07 by 1.04 by 0.54 inches (HWD) and fitting easily into a pocket or hanging on a keychain. The three-inch long drive has a black plastic enclosure, which has a textured stripe running down the front of it to provide some traction when pushing and pulling the drive in and out of a USB port. A tethering loop on the back end of the drive lets you attach it to a keychain or lanyard. The only issue with the design is that the drive is a bit too bulky, making it difficult to use with some USB ports.

The end of the drive has a sliding metal cover that pulls back to expose a USB 2.0 connector which you can plug directly into any USB port. In two weeks of testing, the only issue I saw with the design was that the black paint on the end cap didn’t hold up well when jangling around in a pocket with keys, with the paint chipping off from simply being carried in a pocket.

Though it looks like a regular flash drive, it’s actually more accurate to call it a wireless card reader, as all of the storage resides in a 32GB microSDHC card that can be removed from the card slot on the back end of the device. Inside the device is a rechargeable battery, which charges up whenever it’s plugged into a USB port, and a transmitter that lets you connect to the drive wirelessly via Wi-Fi. Because the drive is designed only to stream and share content over this Wi-Fi signal, but not provide an internet connection the way a mobile hotspot does, you can also enjoy the functions of the device when regular 4G or Wi-Fi is inaccessible, such as in a subway tunnel or a basement office. The wireless connection has a range of up to 150 feet (line of sight), and can support multiple connections.

The other distinguishing feature of the drive is a small button in the center of the drive, which turns the wireless transmitter on and off. Press it once to turn on, and a blue LED indicator blinks every few seconds to let you know it’s accessible via Wi-Fi. Press and hold to turn it off.

The Wireless Flash Drive comes with a 32GB microSDHC card in the built-in card slot, and there’s a 16GB version also available. However, because the storage card is removable, you also have the option of swapping out the card for another, or upgrading yourself to a bigger card further down the road. SanDisk sells the Wireless Flash Drive for $59.99, but charges $77.99 for the same 32GB microSDHC card when purchased directly from SanDisk. While you can find the same card sold elsewhere for less, the Wireless Flash Drive is one of the best deals I’ve seen for this sort of storage, and it comes with the bonus or wireless sharing and streaming. SanDisk covers the Wireless Flash Drive with a one-year limited warranty.

Wireless Flash Drive App
The Connect Wireless Flash Drive access the drive, and all of the files in it, through SanDisk’s Wireless Flash Drive App, which is available for free through Google Play, iTunes, and the Amazon App Store, providing support for a wide range of Android and iOS devices. With the app on your mobile device, just open the app and follow the prompts to wirelessly connect to the drive.

The app itself is a fairly basic file browser, but its strength lies in its simplicity. Upon opening the app it will walk you through the process of connecting to the Wireless Flash Drive via Wi-Fi, along with prompting you for any needed password. Once you’ve successfully connected to the drive, you can browse through the folders and files stored on the drive in one of two display modes, list (sorted alphabetically) and grid. Navigation is simple, with basic swipe and tap functions.

The drive comes with four default folders already on the drive (Documents, Music, Photos, and Video) but there’s no reason not to use your own preferred file setup. Included in the Videos file is a collection of introductory videos, which explain some of the functions of the drive, and how to use them.

Sharing and Streaming
Putting files on the drive on a PC is just like using a regular flash drive. Drag and drop your media files to the desired folder on the drive, and you’re good to go. Once you have some files on the drive, streaming to a phone or tablet is as simple as connecting to a Wi-Fi network.

Push the button on the drive to turn on the internal Wi-Fi connection, and the drive—by default named “SanDisk,” though it can be renamed—shows up from a list of wireless signals available to connect to. Worried about security? You can also set up the drive with a Wi-Fi password, and protect the disk with 128-bit AES protection.

When connecting wirelessly, the Wireless Flash Drive can support up to 8 different connections, and up to three media streams at once, meaning that two kids can stream their favorite shows, be it Bob the Builder or Batman: The Brave and the Bold, while the grown-ups can watch Grown Ups 2 up in the passenger seat.

To test the drive’s streaming performance, I loaded it up with a selection of movies, video clips, photos, and music. Made for streaming media, the Wireless Flash Drive does best with video and audio files, which can be streamed directly from the device. Streaming media is as simple as opening a video, and after a moment of two of loading and buffering video, it plays simply and smoothly. The video comes through with no loss in resolution, no lag in picture or sound, and you can skip back and forth to various points within the video, just like a locally stored file–and distinctly unlike a streamed video via YouTube or similar service which then must reload and re-buffer to jump forward.

Photos are a bit more cumbersome, as each one is separate file that needs to be loaded individually, even for browsing small thumbnails. Open up a folder of photos and it will begin loading a thumbnail for each photo, one after another. The app only displays photos in slideshow mode, so this problem is amplified when you try to open a photo, as it begins loading every photo in the folder, starting at the beginning regardless of which specific photo you are trying to view. This isn’t too inconvenient if you’re browsing a folder of 15 or 20 images, but if you load up the folder with some 2,000 photos (more than 7GB of data), it becomes almost unusable. This can be alleviated in part by breaking things up into different folders, but it’s tiresome to have to adjust your filing habits to accommodate an accessory.

More mundane files—like documents, PowerPoint presentations, and PDF files–are downloaded to the device instead of streaming. Unlike photos, which still need to load individually but aren’t stored locally, standard files actually save directly to your device. Once downloaded to your phone or tablet, the files can then be opened and edited as normal, and then uploaded back to the drive. The process is fairly straightforward, but no matter how elegant the interface, the need to download files will fill up the local storage on your phone or tablet. Despite this, the wireless connectivity makes it very easy to share files between several devices, so it’s a trade off with real benefits.

Conclusion
We’ve looked at several wireless drives that aim to make wireless storage as simple as a USB drive, but this is the first we’ve seen that actually has the dimensions of one. With most wireless drives taking up as much space in your pockets as a phone, these drives always seemed a bit inconvenient, but the small form factor makes the wireless USB drive immensely more convenient. The one-button wireless connection and simple free app are also easy to use, keeping complexity to a minimum. Combine this ease of use with swappable memory cards and a price that is nearly half that of its competitors, and the SanDisk Connect Wireless Flash Drive is easy to recommend. If you want more sizeable storage, the Seagate Wireless Plus is still our Editors’ Choice, and SanDisk would do well to tweak the design to fix the paint-flaking on the sliding USB cap, but it’s still a solid device at a good price.

Specifications
Storage Capacity (as Tested) 32 GB

Verdict
The SanDisk Connect Wireless Flash Drive puts wireless media streaming and storage into a convenient compact size and keeps things extra simple.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc