I've been using an AirStash (US$99.99) for about a week and have grown to like it very much. This tidy little device stores movies, music, documents and photos for portable, wireless sharing between iPhones and iPads. It allows you to stream those files via its own Wi-Fi network and share with colleagues, family and so on, all while saving space on your iDevices. In my experience it was easy to use and even passed the "keep my kids entertained during long road trip" test, which is crucial. Here's my look at the AirStash for iPhone and iPad.
At 1.9 inches wide (47.8 mm) and 3.6 inches tall (92.0 mm) the AirStash is smaller than an iPhone 4. At the top is a single USB plug, which can be covered with a snap-on cap when not in use.
A single power button/indicator light (more on that later in this post) can be found on the front while an SD card slot is on the bottom. It weighs next to nothing at 1.5 ounces and will occupy just about any pocket without a problem. Plus, the construction feels solid enough that you needn't worry about the bumps and bruises it might incur during a typical day.
I do have two design complaints. First, I couldn't figure out how to turn the AirStash off. The solution is to press and hold the power button for several seconds. I tried 2-3 seconds, but 5-7 seconds are required.
My other complaint is that the SD card could be easier to remove. Once inserted, only a sliver protrudes from the AirStash. Those with fingernails will extract it with no problem, while the rest of us will wish for an eject button. Many users will leave the SD card alone once in place, but I'll describe a scenario later in this post that requires frequent card-swapping. For now, let's discuss adding files to the AirStash.
Use - Adding Files
Think of the AirStash as a USB card reader with benefits. Once you've added an SD card (up to 32 GB), plug the device into your Mac's USB port and it'll show up on the desktop. From there, treat it as you would any other USB flash drive. Create folders, add files, etc. Easy! I made folders for documents, movies, photos and podcasts. From there, all I had to do was drag-and-drop my stuff. It works well with Lion, too.
Speaking of "stuff," what's supported? The short answer is, quite a bit. A partial list includes popular image formats (like .jpg and .gif) and document types from Word, Excel, Numbers, Pages and Keynote. You can also add AAC, MP3, MP3 VBR, Apple Lossless, AIFF, and WAV files plus H.264 video (up to 1.5 Mbps, 640 by 480 pixels).
Movies and music purchased from the iTunes store can be streamed from an AirStash with a few caveats. The short version is this: iTunes Plus files will stream w/no problems. Movies and TV shows purchased with DRM in place can be streamed as long as the account used to purchase the file is the same account that linked to the device. Also, the AirStash FAQ notes that you may have to sync your iPhone, iPad or iPod touch with iTunes to get this to work (not to sync the file, just to perform the sync), but that wasn't my experience. Finally, rented movies will not stream at all with an AirStash. You'll find more information on the AirStash and iTunes DRM here.
Use - Viewing Files
Earlier I called the AirStash a USB card reader with "benefits." That benefit is wireless media streaming, and it works very well indeed. To get started, you'll need the free, universal AirStash app. Once that's installed, press the AirStash's power button. A green indicator light flashes, indicating that it's created a network and is ready to share.
Next, open the Settings app on your device and select Wi-Fi. You'll see the AirStash network on the list of those available. Tap it to join and then close Settings. Finally, launch the AirStash app.
Right away you'll see the folders you created on the SD card when the AirStash was connected to your Mac. Tap any one to navigate, and then tap any file you'd like to view. For example, I opened up a PDF. The app has its own built-in viewer, which presents the file. You can scroll and zoom as you'd expect. There's a share button at the top of the page with options like the "Open in.." button, print and "Open in Dropbox."
The movies feature works extremely well. I had a copy of Jumper to play with. It started streaming right away, and offered to pick up where I left off on subsequent viewings. It will also stream two movies to two different devices (and probably more, but I only tested two). This was super handy during that road trip I mentioned. Each of my kids could watch his/her own movie in the car; movies I didn't have to load onto my storage-challenged iPhone and iPad. We used our demo unit to steam movies for 5 hours before the battery finally died.
In fact, that's where this device really shines for me. Imagine a road trip with this thing in the glove box, serving media to the gang...music, movies, etc. Everyone gets what they want and there's only a single device to sync before departure.
Of course, there are business applications as well. Bring documents or presentations with you and share via a private network of associates. WEP encryption is available. Simply connect, open the AirAtash app, hit settings and then select a password.
Another fun trick is rapid, on-the-spot photo transfer. Here's how to do it.
- Pop the SD card out of your camera and into the AirStash.
- Connect with your device and open up a photo.
- Tap the camera icon at the bottom of the screen.
- You'll see options to import that photo or the entire directory of photos right your device's camera roll.
That's pretty cool, especially when you're away and everyone is shooting photos. Best of all, the AirStash is upgradeable and firmware updates are easy to apply.
The AirStash is a nice product. It allows you to have a portable library of up to 32 GB of documents on your iPad, iPhone or iPod touch without using any of said devices' internal storage. Sharing with family or co-workers is easy and the thing is small and sturdy enough to handle everyday wear and tear. I can whole-heartedly recommend it for road trips (you'll get about 5 hours out of the battery in my experience) and imagine it'll serve business users well.
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