We really enjoy the ability to consume content on any device from just about anywhere we may roam. The cloud has been a big part of making that happen, but there are still a few things the cloud can't do nearly as well as local storage -- namely, share large files and provide continuous full backups of large media libraries. Attempting to bridge that gap is the Seagate Central. Ranging in price from $189 to $259, depending on whether you get it with 2TB, 3TB or 4TB of space, the Central connects to your home network and gives you a single place to store or back up your content, making it accessible both at home and on the go. That's the idea, anyway. But what about the reality?
Seagate Central review
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If you've ever owned or even seen an external hard drive then you already know what the Seagate Central looks like. It's designed to lie horizontally anywhere you have power and a network connection. The box isn't designed to be stackable and has vents on the top, which are covered with plastic mesh, like a speaker. There's just a single green LED on the top near a corner that lights up when all systems are go. The power supply is of the typical wall-wart variety and the only other connections are a USB port for an additional external hard drive and a Gigabit Ethernet port for connecting to your home network. It should fit right in on your desk.
Physically, setup is a breeze: you plug in the power, connect a network cable to your switch or router and wait for the status LED to illuminate a constant green glow. At that point the Central will show up like any other computer on your network, offering up a public share that any locally connected device can access. The default host name starts with Seagate to make it easy to identify and can easily be changed within the settings. To access those settings you click on a shortcut in the root of the public share, which automatically takes your browser to the configuration webpage. This couldn't be easier and contributes to the Central's great out-of-the-box experience.
Now that you've gotten that initial setup out of the way, you can follow the getting started guide or simply skip it. At the very least, you'll want to create one user account and set up Seagate Global Access. Otherwise, you'll be confined to simply using the default public share from within your home. You can of course add more users if you need to -- say, if you want to keep things private. The one caveat, though, is that the Seagate Mobile app can only access content remotely if it's stored in the public folder.
There are many other configuration options here, but unless you need to set a static IP, add a USB drive or upgrade the firmware, you probably won't be fiddling much with the settings. Disabling one of the sharing services that are on by default might be something else you'll consider, but the only other reason you'd find yourself in the settings is to configure the backup for your social content -- more on that later.
Having access to your content on any device from anywhere is certainly great, but not nearly as essential as regular backups. You can easily back up computers running Windows or OS X, and you can also do the same with photos and videos you've posted to Facebook. Adding access to your account on the social network is easy enough and once configured, it'll all happen automatically using the Central's connection to the internet, so no computer required. Backing up your Mac is also easy since the Central shows up like any other available Time Machine backup disc -- no need to modify your Mac to work with unsupported network drives.
Automated Windows backups are pretty easy too, but include a few more steps. Not every version of Windows includes backup software that will automatically backup to a network drive, so if you don't want to run them manually, you'll want to install Seagate Dashboard. You can configure its continuous backup feature to keep your data safe. Every which way we tried, it worked as promised, with our only complaint being performance. In our tests, we were only able to read from the Central over our gigabit network at 64 Mbps, with write speeds averaging around 40 Mbps. While this is certainly fast enough to stream most media, it does make for a long backup window -- at least initially.
So we got it set up, got our backups going, but now it's time to relax and kick back with our favorite content. In addition to what any basic network-attached storage can do with a Samba share, the Central offers four other ways to access content. Two are limited to the local network (iTunes sharing and DLNA), while Seagate Remote Access and Seagate Media work from anywhere with an internet connection. DLNA works exactly as you'd expect, as the device follows the defined DLNA guidelines for a Digital Media Server (DMS). You simply copy your content to the appropriate subfolders in the Public share (music, videos and photos) and the content shows up on your certified DLNA Digital Media Players. The nice part is that the iTunes music sharing uses the same music folder, so you can use iTunes on your Mac or PC to listen to your library without making another copy of your collection.
What's more unique than DLNA or iTunes sharing, though, is Seagate's own Remote Access and Media apps for iOS, Android, Kindle Fire and Samsung TVs and Blu-ray players with Smart Hub. Remote Access is accessible via any browser that can get to the website access.seagate.com and provides the ability to upload or download content to your Central from any device with a web browser. It allows access to both public and private data stored on the Central, but the Seagate Media apps can only access content stored in the public folder when not connected to your network.
We were only able to test the iOS version of the Seagate Media app, and while it does make it easy enough to consume and upload content, it isn't as tightly integrated or as polished as the native iOS media apps -- for example, when you click on a video downloaded from the iTunes store, it launches a web browser, then uses the built-in iOS media player. The other problem is that it isn't exactly snappy, with a number of pages leaving you waiting for what seems like forever to load a list of content (which should probably just take a few seconds). Those complaints aside, the app does enable easy access to your media from anywhere and on more than just one platform. It makes it easy by providing both thumbnail and list views as well as filters that vary by the type of data, like size or type for documents and year or genre for videos.
What we have here, in a nutshell, is a hard drive attached to your network, with the ability to share content using common protocols, as well as apps for most mobile devices. And that's a good thing. When you consider it only costs about $60 more than the same size bare hard drive, it isn't hard to see the value in the Seagate Central. It makes backing up your computers easy, and it also makes it easier to view content across different devices. Sure, there are plenty of other network-attached drives out there, but Seagate put together a unique combination that will certainly set itself apart for a least a few who require solutions that are device-agnostic.