There's only so much storage space on mobile devices, but what if you want to take a few movies with you on a cross-country trip? Essentially a rebranded and repackaged Seagate Wireless Plus drive, the LaCie Fuel is a 1TB portable hard drive that lets you stream high-def content to your smartphone, tablet or laptop. Find out why this $199 accessory is worth the investment.
At 4.5 x 4.5 x 0.9 inches, the Fuel's design is meant to resemble a small fuel can, complete with an orange "handle" that's purely aesthetic. The case is made of a rough-textured gray plastic that feels as sturdy as its rugged design suggests. While not designed for tossing, the LaCie Fuel feels like the kind of sturdy tech you can throw against a wall.
The Seagate Wireless Plus looks more like a traditional hard drive, measuring 5 x 3.5 x 0.78 inches, and weighs 9 ounces, compared to the Fuel's 9.7 ounces.
Despite its rugged plastic exterior, the Fuel takes a minimalist approach to design. A power button, a USB 3.0 micro port and two LEDs (one for activity and one for battery life) are all you get.
In addition to its wireless functions, the LaCie Fuel can be used as a traditional portable hard drive. Simply plug it into a free USB port on your computer.
When you're ready to go wireless, hit the power button, and connect to the Fuel via Wi-Fi. The Fuel also has a pass-through Wi-Fi connection that keeps both the hard drive and your devices online. When you're in the Seagate Media app, you choose your preferred Wi-Fi connection under Settings, and it connects. It's all pretty easy.
The plug-and-play ethos of the LaCie Fuel's design carries over to the very clean Seagate Media app, available for Android, iOS and Kindle devices. (You can also browse files on your notebook using your browser.) Movies, photos and music are presented in a thumbnail mode, but files can also be viewed in a more traditional list view.
The Fuel does not operate like a traditional external hard drive in wireless mode. Instead, it functions more like an NAS (network-attached storage), allowing you to access the device via the Seagate Media app or your local network. That means you're also stuck with local-network Wi-Fi speeds, which can be much slower than USB or Ethernet. In our tests, the drive rarely delivered speeds higher than 4 MBps — making the transfer of a 5GB file a very long chore. The limitations of Wi-Fi are mitigated when the device is used as advertised: The Fuel is fantastic for streaming big movies, showing off photos or just listening to MP3s.
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The Fuel is quick when plugged into a laptop, thanks to USB 3.0. Copying 5GB of multimedia files from the drive to our notebook took 1 minute and 15 seconds, a rate of 67.9 MBps. That's more than 20 MBps higher than the USB 3.0 average of 45.6 MBps. And writing from a PC to the drive was just as speedy, at 74.8 MBps. That's also 20 MBps faster than the USB 3.0 average of 54.5 MBps.
Streaming worked like a charm. The LaCie Fuel had no problem delivering the 1080p version of the "Captain America 2" trailer to three devices at once, just as promised. We saw dropped frames when we attempted to stream to a fourth device, but LaCie doesn't promise to support streaming for more than three gadgets. However, the Fuel can be connected to five devices at once.
When streaming a 480p video continuously, the Fuel lasted a respectable 8 hours and 5 minutes on a charge. Still, that's almost 2 hours less than Seagate's claim of 10 hours. When we streamed 720p video, the battery life halved, clocking in at only 4:10. With a 1080p video, the Fuel managed 3:10 — a full 40 minutes worse than last year's Seagate Wireless Plus, which lasted 3:50. That's still better than the less than 3 hours the Gauntlet 320 lasted.
Easy-to-use software, solid battery life, a hefty 1TB of storage and a fair $199 price tag make the LaCie Fuel a great external hard drive for your smartphone, tablet or notebook when you're sitting on the plane or stuck in the car for a long trip. The Seagate Wireless Plus ($199, 1TB) performs equally well and is slightly lighter, but those looking for a design that's a little flashier and more durable will really like the Fuel.