The Samsung Wireless Mobile Media Streaming Device offers truly portable storage accessible by a variety of WiFi devices, while the Seagate Backup Plus drives delivers a more traditional wired experience.
January 7, 2014 by Lawrence Lee
|Samsung Wireless Mobile Media Streaming Device |
1.5TB 2.5-inch External Hard Drive
|Seagate Backup Plus Slim 2TB 2.5-inch External Hard Drive||Seagate Backup Plus 4TB 3.5-inch External Hard Drive|
While hard drive capacity has been steadily increasing over the years, it’s barely been keeping up with our growing appetite for high resolution video, audio, and photos. To make matters worse, the PC market has lately been shifting towards more compact systems like smaller desktops, laptops, tablets, and phones, devices that can’t spare the space for large or multiple drives. Thus, the need for network attached and external storage is more important now than ever before, and we also require more varied ways of accessing this data. The latter point is showcased in varying degrees by the trio of external hard drives I’m examining today from being Seagate.
The most fascinating of the three is the Samsung Wireless Mobile Media Streaming Device (if you’ve forgotten, Seagate acquired Samsung’s hard drive business a few years ago). External notebook drives are often marketed as "portable" but this one more accurately lives up to that billing. It’s a 1.5TB 2.5-inch external drive that’s WiFi-capable and packs a battery so it can be taken out and used on the road without having any kind of wired connection, neither for data or power (at least for a few hours). The Seagate Backup Plus 4TB and Backup Plus Slim 2TB are more typical wired models but they have a bit of extra functionality as well. Seagate’s software has automated backup features both for desktop and mobile devices.
Samsung Wireless Mobile Media Streaming Device (1.5TB)
Seagate Backup Plus Slim 2TB
Seagate Backup Plus 4TB
Samsung Wireless Experience
When plugged into a PC, the unit automatically turns on and it appears as a regular external drive that you can drag and drop files to. Alternatively, you can copy files over via WiFi from any compatible device. Unfortunately, the WiFi shuts off the moment a USB connection is made, whether it be to a PC or the charger. To turn the drive on on its own, the power button must be pressed for about 3 seconds and it takes an additional 25 more seconds for the unit to boot up and the SSID to become visible (the status LED will flash blue when it’s ready). The drive goes to sleep after 3 minutes of inactivity (this can be changed up to 2 hours or disabled completely) but the WiFi remains active waiting for devices to connect to it. From a design aspect my biggest pet peeve is the lack of feedback when it’s turned off. The LED is appears green when charging but there’s no way of telling how much charge is left until it’s turned on and accessed from another device.
The battery doesn’t last as long as the 7 hours specified by Samsung. Playing ~1 mbps XviD-encoded AVIs, the drive lasted 4 hours and 40 minutes before shutting down. The unit succumbed in 3 hours and 54 minutes when I moved up to 720p content even though they were only ~3.2 mbps H.264-encoded MKVs. This was with just a single laptop connected wirelessly (the unit can handle 5 connections simultaneously) about 8 feet away in the same room. Getting it back to full charge took 2 hours and 41 minutes using the included AC adapter. On the PC, playback was completely smooth without so much as a dropped frame as far as I could tell, but on my Nexus 7 tablet, the WiFi would inexplicably turn off once in awhile while navigating through the content (never when it was actually playing). At one point, I had three connections playing the AVIs at once without any hiccups.
Samsung Wireless Desktop Interface
On the desktop, access is offered via a browser, so just about any PC will work. Connect the system to the Samsung Wireless network using the default password ("0000000000") and navigate to "172.25.0.1" to get started.
Single or multiple videos can be selected for playback but it can’t be played in the browser itself. An .m3u playlist file is created which can then be opened in your media player of choice.
Samsung Wireless Mobile Interface
Mobile access is provided by the Samsung Wireless app on the Google Play Store for any device running Android version 2.3 or higher. Connect to the Samsung network and launch the app (there’s also an option to do this in the app itself) to get started.
Seagate Software: Desktop Interface
You can of course use either of the Seagate drives as a simple external hard drive, dragging and dropping files, etc., but if you want to use it as a backup drive, some automated software that works in the background can be useful. Seagate’s Dashboard utility works fairly well in this regard.
Dashboard can backup on a schedule or do it continuously. One thing I noticed was that on continuous mode, each time changes are detected, a new folder was created on the drive for the new files. Trying to navigate this manually is a bit of a nightmare.
Seagate Software: Mobile Interface
For mobile backup to work, the drive must be connected to a PC and Dashboard needs to be running, and the Seagate Backup mobile app, which is available on both Android and iOS, is required.
For our noise measurements each drive is placed on a wooden table without any kind of damping and the mic is positioned 0.6 meters away rather than the typical 1.0 meter as it better simulates the typical distance these devices are placed from the user.
Noise Measurements @ 0.6m: Ext. 2.5-inch Drives
Seagate FreeAgent GoFlex 1.5TB
Samsung Wireless Mobile Media
Streaming Device (1.5TB)
Seagate Backup Plus Slim 2TB
Drives placed on wooden table.
Both the Samsung Wireless and Seagate Slim drives have similar acoustics, to one another and to the GoFlex 1.5TB we reviewed several years ago. The noise output of 2.5-inch drives hasn’t really changed much in that time, so this is not particularly surprising. The heads of both drives also park after about 7 seconds, though this does not effect the SPL.
Sitting idle, the two drives emit a soft innocuous whirling sound and a hum caused by the modest level of vibration passed onto the table. Judging by the 90 Hz tonal peak produced by each unit, they’re both equipped with 5400 RPM drives. The Samsung drive’s seeks are barely noticeable, a very faint low-pitched thumping, while the Backup Plus Slim’s seeks are more pronounced/defined and higher pitched.
System Measurements @ 0.6m: Ext. 3.5-inch Drives
Icy Dock Blizzard +
Barracuda XT 2TB (fan off)
Seagate Backup Plus 4TB
Drives placed on wooden table.
The 4TB desktop version of the Backup Plus is considerably louder. Compared to the Icy Dock Blizzard + Barracuda XT combination we tested a couple of years ago, it’s louder when sitting idle, but quieter when seeking. This is not a flattering comparison as the Barracuda XT is a 7200 RPM model. The Backup Plus’ plastic enclosure doesn’t do a great job of keeping the noise in but it did use much less power which is to be expected as it’s unlikely Seagate equipped it with a 7200 RPM drive. Like the Slim variant, there is a headparking feature, but it takes 30 seconds of inactivity, and drops the power consumption from 6.5W to 5.5W AC.
At idle, the noise produced is heavily influenced by vibration. The tonal peak at ~100 Hz is quite strong, dominating the acoustic profile. This indicates a rotational speed of close to 6000 RPM (most likely it’s a Seagate 5900 RPM model inside). Placing the drive on a soft surface is highly advisable. Seeks bring the noise level up from 25~26 to 27 dBA@0.6m, and each individual seek is much sharper and harsher than the 2.5-inch models.
According to CrystalDiskMark, the Samsung Wireless has a relatively slow hard drive inside. These numbers are indicative of an older budget 5400 RPM drive, which makes sense as some of the product’s budget has to go the battery and WiFi capability. Thankfully, they didn’t cheap out on the Backup Plus Slim’s hard drive as its performance is noticeably better.
The Backup Plus 4TB’s results are very close to an internally-connected Seagate NAS HDD 4TB. This, plus the acoustic analysis, leads me to suspect there’s a similar drive inside, with the Seagate Desktop HDD.15 being a prime suspect. Unfortunately these modern external enclosures are not designed for user accessibility so I can’t get inside them to confirm, at least not without a high probability of completely destroying the housing.
These recordings were made with a high resolution, lab quality, digital recording
system inside SPCR’s own 11
dBA ambient anechoic chamber, then converted to LAME 128kbps encoded MP3s.
We’ve listened long and hard to ensure there is no audible degradation from
the original WAV files to these MP3s. They represent a quick snapshot of what
we heard during the review.
These recordings are intended to give you an idea of how the product sounds
in actual use. The recording contains a stretch of ambient
noise that you can use to judge the relative loudness of the subject. Be aware
that very quiet subjects may not be audible — if we couldn’t hear it from
one meter, chances are we couldn’t record it either!
The recordings start with 5 to 10 seconds of ambient noise, then 5 to 10 second
segments of the drive idling and seeking.
Samsung Wireless Mobile Media Streaming Device
While the drive inside is a bit on the slow side, the Samsung Wireless delivers exactly what it promises. Aside from the odd hiccup here or there with the mobile app, it’s a solid drive for streaming media via WiFi. The software is a bit inconsistent as there are features in the mobile app not available on the desktop, but overall it gets the job done. The lack of an iOS app is inexcusable though, and does nothing but alienate a significant portion of the market.
The fact that you can tap into the battery to charge a phone or tablet is a nice bonus feature, but the battery life isn’t great to begin with. This, coupled with its inability to operate while charging will be a show-stopper for some. This type of product seems like it would be perfect for a long road trip but only if the journey is no longer than about 4~5 hours. If more than one device is streaming from it, it will die even sooner. Once the drive runs out of juice, another 2~3 hours is required to charge it back up again. The Samsung Wireless Mobile Media Streaming Device is currently selling for US$170, which is actually fairly affordable compared to competing wireless models, but the drawbacks it’s saddled with may make the price a moot point.
Seagate Backup Plus Slim 2TB & Backup Plus 4TB
There isn’t anything particularly striking about the Seagate Backup Plus Slim 2TB, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s a fairly quiet drive with a reasonably fast 2.5-inch drive inside, and a solid metal-topped casing. It’s available in a few different colors and it seems better constructed than competing drives in the same US$100 price range. The Backup Plus 4TB has an interesting case design with plenty of ventilation, but the plastic construction leaves a lot to be desired. The level of vibration and noise produced is surprising considering there’s a 5900 RPM hard drive packed inside and no fan. It is priced fairly well though, selling for US$130 which is quite competitive.
Seagate’s Dashboard software works on both drives and provides an easy enough experience for users who can’t be bothered to consciously backup at regular intervals. However, there are several free software solutions with similar capabilities. The mobile backup feature is probably the main differentiator but if you’re concerned about privacy, the long list of seemingly unnecessary permissions required by the Android app may deter you from taking advantage of this extra functionality.
Our thanks to Seagate for the Samsung Wireless Mobile Media Streaming Device, Seagate Backup Plus Slim 2TB and Backup Plus 4TB samples.
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Seagate Backup Plus Slim 2TB is Recommended by SPCR
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