AirStash wireless flash drive (and iOS app) review

We love ourselves extra storage as much as the next guy, and we also happen to hate cables as much the next guy, so whenever a device promises some extra wiggle room with no strings attached, we're all ears. The AirStash is a wireless flash drive that lets you expand the capacity of your mobile device up to 32GB at a time through swappable SD cards, freeing up local storage for apps and the like. We first got our paws on one back at CES, but now that it's a shipping product and has a finalized iOS app, we gave it a quick shakedown as promised to see whether this gadget is worth dipping into your personal stash for.

The AirStash is much like the Seagate GoFlex Satellite hard drive we reviewed earlier this month, but unlike the GoFlex this is a BYO storage affair. It's essentially an SD card reader that creates its own WiFi network, enabling you to access the content on whichever card is inserted as long as you're connected to the network it emits. Cards up to 32GB in size are supported, and you can load up any kind of content your heart desires -- but more on that in a moment.

Size-wise, the AirStash is fairly portable, clocking it at 1.9 x 3.6 x 0.5-inches in size it's certainly small enough to toss in a bookbag. It's got a USB port on one end for file transfers from your PC and to handle charging duties, while the SD card slot is at the opposite end. We should mention that when inserted, the card is essentially flush with the edge of the AirStash itself. We found it a bit difficult to remove the card, needing to dig a fingernail in the small indentation on the outer edge of the SD card to get a grip on it. We would've much preferred a sort of "push to eject" method that would make swapping cards easier. It's quoted to get around five hours of battery with continuous streaming, and though we didn't perform any scientific testing, it hasn't died in the week we've been using it on and off for this review.

AirStash has a built-in web server for file-sharing, and we're told that up to eight people can connect to the same one simultaneously (but we're not nearly that popular). The fatal flaw of the AirStash is in its WiFi implementation, however; since it creates its own wireless network, when in use you lose your internet connection. To make matters worse, any time you want to use the AirStash, you have to manually switch WiFi networks and then switch back. This doesn't seem like much of a problem, but becomes annoying if you're like us and switch between apps quite often. We also noticed that the AirStash network shuts down when plugged into USB, so you can't access files from your PC in real time.

Though the company claims all you need to access files is a device with a web browser -- except the BlackBerry Playbook, interestingly enough -- there's also a dedicated iOS app tailored for the iPhone and iPad. It's essentially a file browser, but has some nifty features specifically for iOS. First off, you can import photos from a memory card, either individually or by directory. We wish there were an option to selectively choose multiple items at a time, and perhaps that'll come in a future version of the software. Also, there's no indicator in the app, so things can get hairy when transferring a large amount of files. (Update: Turns out there is a status indicator that pops up when you're transferring full directories.)

You can also store video and audio files on an SD card and stream them to the i-device, even if they're protected by iTunes DRM. We were bummed to discover that the AirStash+ app doesn't support background audio, so once you leave the app you lose whatever was playing. You can also store documents on your SD card for quick access in other apps. Since the dongle supports the open WebDAV standard, you can mount it as a server in apps like GoodReader and read / write files directly to it wirelessly. We're still not quite sure what the advantage would be over completely cloud-based solutions like Dropbox, but if you're paranoid about privacy and need to keep your data locked down, AirStash's solution could be worthwhile.

The AirStash is a solid option if you're looking to add storage to your device and have a stack of SD cards lying around. Dragging and dropping a video to an SD card and streaming to an iPad is much more enjoyable than waiting for a needlessly long iTunes sync, and we're definitely fans of this simple workaround. Not having to purchase Apple's Camera Connection kit is also a nice value proposition, though the import options aren't as robust as we'd like. Overall, this device is definitely for a certain crowd of people, but if Apple's storage options just aren't cutting it, you may want to give the AirStash a proper once-over.