This is the third time we've visited the Pogoplug, a plug-and-play device designed to turn any USB hard drives or thumbdrives into Internet-connected data drops for storing or sharing files. The Pogoplug Pro is basically the same device as the second-generation Pogoplug we reviewed back in May, except that the new model sports built-in Wi-Fi. This review covers what we reviewed about the earlier Pogoplug, along with added software features and our experiences using Wi-Fi.
The desire for easy file storage and cloud sharing has only increased in the past year, especially with the growth of cloud-based storage and streaming options. The biggest appeal of the Pogoplug is its economy, in principle: the device uses whatever USB hard drives you have lying around and instantly turns them into online-sharable drives, doing away with the need for any additional hard drive or NAS purchases.
When we first reviewed the Pogoplug, we found its oversize wall-wart design to be refreshingly simple and compact, and its purpose streamlined. Although somewhat utilitarian, at least it didn't waste any space.
The Pogoplug Pro (like the second-generation Pogoplug before it) seems to have forgotten the lessons of the original product. The curved, awkward shape and bizarre springboardlike base, combined with its ribbed glossy minitower look, it can't help but make it come across like an iMac peripheral made in 1998. Thankfully, the Pogoplug Pro has shifted to a black color scheme, leaving the previous, frankly hideous pink design in the dust. At $99, the Pro is actually $30 cheaper than the second-generation Pogoplug was--essentially, the same as what the original Pogoplug cost in the first place. Plus, it has Wi-Fi.
Note: Despite its confusing "Pro" name, this is a consumer-oriented device that's the best version of Pogoplug, the one anyone interested should buy. A business-targeted Pogoplug with multiple user access functionality also exists, but it's called Pogoplug Biz, and costs a hefty $299.
The original Pogoplug got its name because it was a big wall wart: you could plug it directly into a wall AC outlet (though an extension cord was provided as well). Alas, the newer Pogoplugs need to stand on a table or other surface and use a long power cord by default. The Pogoplug Pro's squat and somewhat bulky box has three USB 2.0 ports in the rear and one poking out the front above a Pogoplug logo that lights up when the box is powered on. The box looks large enough to possibly house its own storage, but that isn't the case: you still have to plug in your own USB-connected hard drives or thumbdrives. With four attached at once you'll have an impressive, almost NAS-like online multidrive, but the setup will also look bulky and full of snaky USB wires. The Pogoplug Pro has a curved, springy stand that doubles as a cable organizer, but there's no rack or method for holding plugged-in hard drives. Hard drives can be unplugged and swapped easily, but we noticed that plugged-in USB thumbdrives got disturbingly warm after only a night of staying in the Pogoplug.
In terms of usability, the experience is straightforward if all you want to do is plug in and share a hard drive. The Pogoplug is compatible with NTFS, FAT32, Mac OS Extended Journaled and non-Journaled (HFS+), and EXT-2/EXT-3 formats, covering most bases for nearly any hard drive. Connecting a drive is as simple as plugging it into the Pogoplug after plugging the Pogoplug into a router via Ethernet and a power socket. The whole system recognizes itself and is ready to go, as advertised, after you log in to Pogoplug's Web site and register.
There are three chief methods of interfacing the drives connected to Pogoplug: directly through a Web browser via the my.pogoplug.com Web site; via a downloadable software client for Mac, PC, and Linux that shows the Pogoplug-connected drives directly on the desktop; and via mobile phone apps. Originally, the Pogoplug app was only available for the iPhone and iPod Touch, but it's since expanded to Android, BlackBerry, and Palm (WebOS) phones.
Wi-Fi capability on the Pogoplug Pro works very easily, refreshingly so. The Pogoplug must first be plugged in via Ethernet to a wireless router, and then the device can be wirelessly connected to any available networks via a settings tab on the my.pogoplug.com Web site. The password settings are retained even when the device is unplugged and moved. That the Pogoplug can be used anywhere in an office or home, plugged into an outlet and tucked near a bookshelf or closet, really makes it a far more versatile device.
Wi-Fi worked great for sharing files like music and pictures, but videos suffered an expected bandwidth drop and slowdown. MP4 files that effortlessly streamed via the Pogoplug to our iPad when directly connected to a wired router suffered pauses and a long buffer time using Wi-Fi.
On the browser side, folders can be viewed, and music, photos, and video can be seen and streamed. All files can also be downloaded, and folders can be selected to be publicly shared via direct link or through social media such as Facebook or Twitter. Music streaming works after a short delay, but the controls are as small and awkward as before, and playlists can't be easily created--it's on a song-by-song basis. Video has a huge delay over the Internet; if you're on the same home network as the Pogoplug, the streaming result is markedly better, but--for video, anyway--still not reliably smooth.
The downloadable client offers the greatest flexibility, allowing drag-and-drop uploading and downloading of files. Deleting files was an awkward process, and sometimes we hit a few lags, but it's still a far cheaper and easier solution than most.
For mobile smartphone apps, interaction is limited largely to viewing and streaming of documents, photos, music, and video--again, with mixed success for video. But the problem is that it's something of a walled garden compared with the computer-based Pogoplug interface: you can't really do everything you'd like with the remote files. Yes, you can view and even download them to the phone, but once you do, you're not always free to share them outside of the Pogoplug ecosystem. For instance, we pulled down a PDF that we needed on our iPhone, but we couldn't e-mail it to anyone; instead, we'd be forced to set up a Pogoplug share with the intended recipients. That works, it's just more involved than we'd prefer for a one-off document.
Since our last review, a few new features have been added. The iPhone app now allows photo and video uploads from an iPhone or iPod to a Pogoplug-connected drive, but we were never able to make it work without crashing. There's also an iPad app which works well, provided you're not uploading. Interfaces on all apps still don't feel smooth, though: it took deep diving into the iPhone app to even discover we could upload at all.
Pogoplugs can also connect to the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, use a NAS-like backup service called Active Copy to redundantly copy often-used files, and even cloud-print to an attached printer. The Pogoplug's list of proffered features is long and eye-opening, but the more fantastic the promised features get, the less likely we found the Pogoplug to be able to deliver on them.