If there’s one big gotcha on mobile devices — phones and tablets alike — it’s the lack of widespread USB support. Some Android devices have SD card slots or USB ports, but the tablets lack the power to run bus-powered USB drives. And Apple’s mobiles famously have neither SD nor USB support built in.
But at long last, CloudFTP, one of the most successful gizmos ever funded by Kickstarter, fills in this missing USB link.
Connect any USB device to the CloudFTP box, and it becomes accessible on your phone or tablet via an ad hoc Wi-Fi network. It works with cameras and card readers as well as storage devices that require bus power. Connect a USB drive, and that drive essentially becomes a wireless file server. Also, any data stored on the USB drive becomes cloud-accessible — create a cloud backup, or transfer files to and from services like Dropbox.
The seven-ounce box is the epitome of simplicity. It’s outfitted with a small, two-line LCD display on top, a power button on one side and a recharge port on the other to top off the internal Lithium-ion battery. There’s a single, powered USB port on the rear, and it provides enough juice to connect an USB hard drive for up to five hours without requiring any additional source of power.
To test the CloudFTP’s mobile fortitude, I USB-ed it out the wazoo. I connected an array of drives, from a 1TB Seagate drive to a 32GB USB 3.0 Lexar Triton flash drive. The CloudFTP handled each with aplomb. I was delightfully surprised that its single USB port could handle the 1TB Seagate drive — to power the same drive on a laptop, I had to use two ports.
I was able to play the videos and music loaded on each drive on my iPad by switching to the CloudFTP’s unique, ad hoc wireless network, and accessing the directories of each drive using iPad’s Safari browser (CloudFTP has its own built-in HTML web app for poking around on your drives). All media played as seamlessly as if it was stored on the iPad. HyperDrive, the manufacturer of CloudFTP, says you can use it on a PC or Mac as well, but only if you browse with Safari. No other browsers are supported at this time. If you want to browse a drive on an Android tablet, you may need to download a free file manager app like ES File Explorer.
CloudFTP can also join other existing Wi-Fi networks. This makes it possible to share with multiple devices on the same network, and to automatically connect to the internet so it can back up and sync your USB drive’s data with cloud storage services. There’s a slight usability issue here, since connecting to an existing network takes a bit of finagling with settings in the CloudFTP’s menus. Following the instructions posted in the online manual, I was able to maneuver through the setup fairly easily.
Still, it seemed a long way to go to add files to my Dropbox account. I already have the Dropbox app on the iPad, but using the default ad hoc connectivity modem I could only read what was on the USB drives, not move the files into the iPad’s Dropbox. So to get the true power of the device, jumping through the extra hoops and connecting to an existing network is essential.
Still, CloudFTP is a unique and useful product that works as advertised. There are stand-alone Wi-Fi drives that perform the same ad hoc networking tricks. But with its ability to connect anything to your iPad or phone, the CloudFTP brings much more versatility to the table.