See the Update section toward the end of this review for my latest experiences.
Tablets have forever changed the computing landscape, giving consumers highly portable access to email, the Internet, movies, music, e-books, etc. The biggest drawback for many tablet users, however, is tablets’ relative lack of storage space. Most tablets don’t offer more than 64G of storage, making it difficult to store the immense multimedia libraries many of us have. One solution is to use an external hard drive, which offers large amounts of storage space for a reasonable price. Recently I have been using one of the more unique offerings in this category—the Seagate GoFlex Satellite. With it you can offload your collection of digital music, movies, photos and documents and, with its built-in Wi-Fi connection, wirelessly stream this content to your iOS or Android device.
Out of the box, the GoFlex Satellite looks like a typical external hard drive. It measures 4.7 by 3.5 by 0.9 inches and weighs less than 10 ounces, making it highly portable. It comes with a wall charger and a compact car charger for use on road trips. For transferring content from your computer to the Satellite, you also receive a USB 3.0 adapter and detachable USB 3.0 cable. With 500G of storage, you can store over 300 HD movies.
You will want to begin the setup process by going to the Seagate website and downloading the latest firmware update for the drive, then downloading and installing the free media synchronization software. Seagate provides detailed documentation for both of these tasks, and performing them takes only a few minutes.
From either your Windows- or Mac-based computer you can drag and drop files to the GoFlex Satellite or you can use the Seagate Media Sync software. With the software you can choose from the sync options—simple iPad sync, simple sync or custom sync. The simple iPad sync synchronizes only media files your iPad can play or view; simple sync syncs all of your computer’s media folders with the Satellite drive; and custom sync allows you to manually select folders and media types to sync between your computer and the external drive. I chose the simple iPad sync and transferred roughly 10G of music, video, pictures and documents to the Satellite drive in under five minutes.
After transferring your files from your computer to the GoFlex Satellite, you disconnect it and power it on. The drive’s internal Wi-Fi transmitter automatically begins transmitting, and its Wi-Fi LED indicator light turns blue.
At this point, you have a couple of options for accessing the contents of the Satellite using your tablet or smartphone (actually up to three devices can connect to the GoFlex Satellite simultaneously). Seagate has created free, dedicated apps for both iOS and Android, which are available at iTunes and Android Market, respectively. Alternatively, “any” Wi-Fi–enabled device can connect to the GoFlex Satellite and, using a web browser, navigate the contents of the drive.
Downloading and installing the iPad app on my iPad 2 was very quick and easy, but I immediately ran into some serious problems that I was initially unable to overcome. [See the Update section below for new information regarding this problem].
I connected to the GoFlex Satellite from the available Wi-Fi networks on my iPad and then started the GoFlex Media app. Initially I was greeted with the listings of videos, photos, music and documents I had downloaded from my PC. I even was able to start playing one of my songs, and then I lost connection. For the next few hours I connected and reconnected to the GoFlex Satellite, but I was not able to access my content through the app or browser. I wasn’t able to find any helpful information at the Seagate site, so I finally reset the drive. This momentarily fixed the problem, but soon the GoFlex Satellite again stopped transmitting Wi-Fi. Thereafter, I was only able to connect to the GoFlex Satellite intermittently with a variety of devices. I called Seagate support and their only suggestion was to replace the drive, so I am awaiting a replacement and will update this review when I receive it.
When I was able to establish a Wi-Fi connection between my iPad 2 and the GoFlex Satellite, music and video streamed without pauses or anything else that degraded their quality. You also have the option of downloading content from the Satellite to your tablet or smartphone for “offline” viewing. It is disappointing that you are not able to play music in the background while performing other tasks. When you navigate away from the media player, the playback stops.
Also, when you are connected to the Satellite, you cannot connect to the Internet. Since you can’t multitask when using the Satellite, this isn’t as big a deal as it could be.
The GoFlex Media app itself is very basic, with your files broken down by type—videos, photos, music or documents. There is also a folder view, where you can view your files in the folder structure they were in when you downloaded them from your computer.
Seagate claims the GoFlex Satellite can stream for five hours on a single charge, which is long enough to watch movies on a transcontinental flight. For road trips, the included car charger is an added bonus.
After experiencing the dropped connection problem, I got in contact with a member of Seagate’s technical support staff. He offered me a list of potential fixes, including reformatting the drive and copying my files in small batches (supposedly, transferring too much data at once might corrupt the firmware, preventing proper wireless connections). I reformatted the drive and copied only a few songs over, but I still was not able to get through an entire song without dropping the connection.
At this point, my Seagate contact advised me to wait for a new firmware update that would hopefully fix the problem. Once the new update was available, I downloaded it and installed it on my GoFlex Satellite drive. This alone, however, did not fix the problem.
As a last resort, I once again reformatted the drive and then installed the new firmware update. This time, instead of performing the simple iPad sync, I performed a custom sync—manually selecting the files to transfer to the drive. After the sync was complete, I connected my iPad 2 to the drive, and I have been able to stream media without any dropped connections. As I told my contact at Seagate, I am not sure if it was the new firmware update or the manual sync that solved the problem, but the drive now works as advertised (he surmised that is was a combination of factors).
It was unfortunate that it took this long to get the drive to work; it definitely took a lot of the luster off a seemingly great product. But at least I was able to get it to work in the end, instead of being left with a new paperweight. If you do get this drive, be sure to install the new firmware update first thing so that you can, hopefully, avoid the problems I encountered.
The concept behind the Seagate GoFlex Satellite is a useful one—offload content from your main computer and access it wirelessly from your tablet or smartphone. After several false starts, I found the GoFlex Satellite to deliver on its promise. Being able to access 500G of storage capacity wirelessly from your tablet or smartphone is an exciting option for those who rely heavily on such devices. Having up to three simultaneous connections is also a nice touch, especially for parents looking for a way to keep little ones occupied on a long road trip. The convenience the Satellite offers makes me feel that the $200 cost is also more than justified. Barring any future hiccups, the Seagate GoFlex Satellite will have a permanent place in my travel bag.
Seagate GoFlex Satellite Mobile Wireless Storage
$199.99 (currently $180.52 from Amazon.com)
Wayne A. Thorp, CFA, is the author of “Gadget Corner.” All reviews are based on firsthand experience of the product or service. No third-party compensation is received for opinions on products, services, websites or topics. However, sometimes the author is not required by the manufacturer or their PR firm to return the product under review. In such instances, it is our policy to convey this within the review. The views and opinions expressed in these reviews are strictly those of the author. Any product claim, statistic, quote or other representation about a product or service should be verified with the manufacturer or provider.