Backing up data to an external drive is essential to recover documents, photos, music, or video that may be lost in the chance of hard drive failure, but what happens in those moments when you need to retrieve a file when you're not on your primary PC? Cloud Engine's Pogoplug is a $99 device that lets you connect any external storage device to the Web, allowing you to access files from any Internet-connected computer that doesn't reside behind a corporate-level firewall.
Designed for home and home office use, the 9.6-ounce Pogoplug resembles a notebook's power brick both in terms of appearance and size. The white, 4.0 x 2.5 x 2.0-inch device features prongs on the back, LED status lights on its face, and USB 2.0 and Ethernet ports on the bottom. Thankfully, an Ethernet cable is included in the package, as well as a six-foot power cord for times when you need an extra reach.
Think of the Pogoplug as a Network Attached Storage drive for the casual user. Setup was simple: we plugged the Pogoplug into an outlet, connected it to a Belkin router via the Ethernet cord, and then plugged a 32GB Corsair Flash Survivor drive into the Pogoplug's USB port. Within 10 seconds the LED lights turned a steady green, signifying that the Pogoplug had successfully connected to our home router. We then created an account at my.pogoplug.com on a notebook (we used a 10-inchAcer Aspire One) and keyed in the registration code printed on the device. After clicking the confirmation link that we received in an e-mail, we logged in and were ready to begin accessing files. Note: The Pogoplug will work with NTFS, FAT32, and EXT-2/EXT-3 formatted drives, as well as non-journaled HFS+ drives and thumb drives. If you attach a USB hub, it will recognize more than one hard drive.
Easy to Read Interface
The Pogoplug page consists of main screen that shows the content of your drive, and a column on the left that lets you select files added during a particular time frame (a day, a week, or month ago) as well as by the type of file (photos, music, movies). Our 32GB Corsair Flash Survivor into the Pogoplug's USB port, it was recognized almost instantly, and the main content area was quickly populated with all of the files on the drive. Here we could play music, view video clips, and check out photos in a slideshow. When you mouse over a file, you're presented with the options to download it, rename it, or delete it.
At the bottom of the interface are four buttons that let us select how we wanted our content to be displayed (list or grid views), and we could create new folders, upload content copy files between folders, and share. Pogoplug has no file restrictions, since it simply acts as a conduit between your computer and external storage; whichever files your Mac or PC is compatible with is what you'll be able to open.
Upload and Download Speed
Over our home network, we tested the speed by which we could fetch a 1GB video file that we had stored on a Corsair Flash Survivor. It took a lengthy 8 minutes and 21 seconds to download the file to our desktop, a rate of 2.0 MBps. Downloading individual music and photo files took less than a second. Conversely, uploading a 1GB file from the PC, through Pogoplug, and into the Corsair Flash Survivor took 9:01, a rate of 1.8 MBps. Uploading small files (such as a photo) took a second or two. Accessing the Pogoplug remotely was even slower: When we attempted to download the file from an open signal at a diner, we were able to finish eating before the download was complete. Performing the same test using a 320GB Seagate FreeAgent Go portable hard drive produced similar results: a 1.6-MBps download speed and a 1.4-MBps upload speed. Naturally, your router's throughput speeds may result in different numbers, but we suspect you won't see blazing results.
Sharing and RSS
One of our favorite aspects of the Pogoplug is its simple sharing feature; after highlighting a particular folder and clicking the Sharing button, we entered a friend's e-mail addresses and clicked Add to send him a link to our photo folder. The great thing about the service is that the recipient doesn't need to create an account to access the content you send. As soon as our contacts opened their e-mails and clicked the link, they were able to view a grid containing our photo, video, and music files (as well as play them back) within their browsers. They could then download files of interest, but couldn't upload content. They reported hiccup-free audio and video streaming after a few seconds of buffering. Unfortunately, you can only share folders, not individual files, and protected content cannot be played on another person's computer.
Those you share content with are automatically added to the "People I'm Sharing With" section in the left column of the interface. Even more convenient, you can create an RSS for a specific folder by checking the RSS button, which gave us a feed that we popped into Google Reader to view our files. It's a great way to update devices constantly with fresh content, such as Wi-Fi-connected digital photo frames.
If you'd prefer not to visit the Pogoplug Web site every time that you'd like to access your files, you can install Pogoplug Drive, a free download that makes the device appear as a normal drive within Mac OS X Finder or Windows Explorer. The app can be downloaded by clicking the "Make your Pogoplug look like a desktop drive" link on your Pogoplug page, or by visiting www.pogoplug.com/downloads. Once it's installed, clicking the drive's icon (it was listed under the My Computer heading) and we were able to dive into our content as effortlessly as we did the Web application.
Cloud Engine's free iPhone app adds to the ecosystem by letting you retrieve files using an iPhone or iPod touch. After downloading the application, we logged in using the same username and password we used when we signed up for the Pogoplug service. The app is broken down into four sections: "Test 1" (the name that we gave our drive), Files I Share (which is a shortcut to show shared folders and allows you to upload photos from your handheld), Files Shared with Me, and My iPhone (where you download files to the handset).
With the Pogoplug still in our apartment, we streamed Creed's "With Arms Wide Open" and a MP4 home video to an iPod touch in our office without a hiccup. You can even multitask; with the song playing in the background, we returned to the main menu and opened a Word document. Our only gripe with the Pogoplug app is that we couldn't download audio or video content to the iPhone or iPod touch (though we had no problems downloading photos and Word docs).
Pogoplug doesn't work through corporate-level firewalls, which can prove frustrating if you want to retrieve a file while at the office. However, the device should work fine with more than 99 percent of consumer-level routers, according to a company spokesperson. When you sign into my.pogoplug.com using Google Chrome, you'll get a message that it isn't fully supported, but we had no issues accessing or uploading files; the experience was as smooth as when we used Firefox, Internet Explorer, or Safari.
For anyone who's been intimidated by the cost or the technical barriers to buying and installing a network-attached storage drive, Cloud Engine's $99 Pogoplug is a marvelous solution. Not only is it useful for accessing your most important files from any Mac, PC, iPhone, or iPod touch, but it's an excellent method for sharing files with friends and colleagues. We would've liked additional USB ports for plugging in multiple drives without needing a hub, but as is, Pogoplug is an excellent device for retrieving data while on the go.