For a few years now the storage capacity in phones hasn’t increased much – once storage topped out at 64GB there hasn’t been any drive by any of the major companies to go bigger. So what are we to do if we want to carry around more music and videos?
For Android users, there’s the potentially messy business of swapping MicroSD cards around – a process that probably involves taking the case off of your phone and fiddling with tiny cards in your big fat fingers. For iPhone and iPad users the situation is even more dire: Apple’s attitude is “suck it up and deal with it”.
Luckily – a better solution may be at hand. We’re increasingly seeing wireless media readers make their way to market, and PNY’s attempt could take the pain out of sharing files.
The Wireless Media Reader (WMR) is a small device – slightly smaller and slightly thicker than a phone that will take SD cards and USB sticks and connect to your wifi network (or create a hotspot of its own), enabling you to access the files within on your phone or tablet.
Better still – the device has a built in battery so you can carry it around with you, and up to five people can connect simultaneously. So imagine if you’re on a long train journey, it would be possible to switch on the WMR in your bag and have you and all of the people you’re travelling with watch content off of a high-capacity SD card. Brilliant.
Getting started is easy – all you have to is plug in your SD card or USB device, switch it on and download the app on your phone. Then connect to the wifi network that it generates, and head into the app. A top tip – which I’ll repeat here is that the default wifi code is “1111111” – a fact that is only hidden in small type in the instructions.
Once you’re connected in the app if you head into settings you can setup the device to connect to your own wifi network, rather than generate its own. This means that you won’t have to faff about switching wifi networks every time you want to use it. Brilliant.
The software is fairly straightforward. Browsing your SD card or USB stick is like browsing a file explorer on a computer – and it will let you press on a video to play it, or a photo to view full screen. You can even save photos to your phone’s photo album, which is useful.
The app – probably due to technological limitations – seemed to struggle more with larger files. With big photos (taken on a DSLR camera) it took ages to generate thumbnails, and then when you scroll to the next page of files and back, it has to generate them again (couldn’t it cache smaller thumbnails to load faster?). With a reasonably sized video I watched though, it worked great, with no disruption in the stream.
Unfortunately on the whole though, whilst the hardware feels fairly solid and nice to hold, I think the accompanying app really lets it down. It appears that PNY don’t have the design skills that match those of Apple or Google, which creates a rather ugly experience to browse. Worse still, it appears a little buggy – I had to quit a few times and relaunch the app whilst just browsing through. On my (admittedly ancient) iPhone 4S, it ran sluggishly too. Essentially it felt like it needed more development time: and this is hopefully something that can be fixed with a software update.
Though wirelessly reading SD cards is undoubtedly the device’s main feature, it can do a number of other useful things. For example, you can simply use it as a good old-fashioned SD reader for your computer by connecting it via USB. Better still, you can even use it to charge up your phone. Because the USB socket for mounting USB drives is powered, if you plug in your phone it’ll charge it up – so it makes for a great emergency battery pack when you’re out and about too.
So is it worth getting? At £49.99 it has quite a steep asking price, though could fulfil a vital need. It’d be perfect if you’re going on a trip and want an easy way carry around a bunch of films to watch en route – or if you want to transfer photos to your phone without the need for a computer.
The PNY Wireless Media Reader is available now.
By James O'Malley | July 18th, 2014