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Samsung Wireless & Seagate Backup Plus External HDDs

Samsung Wireless & Seagate Backup Plus External HDDs

January 7, 2014 by Lawrence Lee

Product
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
Manufacturer
Seagate
Street Price
US$170 US$100 US$130

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)



The Wireless Mobile Media Streaming Device ships with a 40 cm USB cable, AC charger, and travel adapter. 5 devices can connect to it simultaneously via wireless 802.11 b/g/n, and its battery lasts a purported 7 hours. It supports Windows, OS X, DLNA devices, Android (2.3 up and up), but it lacks an iOS app, a major oversight.



The drive is set inside a plastic chassis with a faux grey metal top with silver trim around the edges. It's huskier than a typical 2.5 inch enclosure, weighing about 280 g and measuring 12.6 x 8.9 x 1.9 cm, though the rounded edges helps make it appear smaller than it is. The battery and wireless capability obviously adds some girth to the overall package.



At the back is a microUSB 3.0 port for charging and transferring content and a full-sized USB 2.0 port that can be used to charge another device (that's right, the drive can double as a battery pack). The power button sits at the corner next to a status LED and the tiny pinhole on the underside acts as the reset button.



The included AC charger outputs 2A at 5V, for a total of 10W. The device can also be charged by USB as well, but it takes considerably longer.

Seagate Backup Plus Slim 2TB



The Backup Plus Slim ships in a simple plastic clamshell container with a 40 cm USB 3.0 cable and a brief instruction guide.



The Slim is available in 500GB, 1TB, and 2TB capacities and in four different colors: blue, red, silver, and black. The drive weighs 160 grams, and measures 11.2 x 7.5 x 1.2 cm. The case has a smooth, thick metal top that gives it a feel of quality compared to all-plastic enclosures. The small slit at the corner is for the white activity LED.



The bottom is made of plastic but the sides have a pleasing glossy finish that lends the chassis some elegance. Being a basic external drive, there are no extra do-dads, just the USB port on the side.

Seagate Backup Plus 4TB



The Backup Plus ships with a 1.2 meter long USB cable, and a charger with a 1.8 meter cable. This particular model is the Mac version which can take advantage of OS X's Time Machine feature, but it can be made compatible with PCs as well by installing a small piece of software to support the drive's HFS+ file system. The Backup Plus is also available in 2TB, 3TB, and 5TB capacities.



The Mac version is silver while the PC model is black, but this makes it easier to look at the design of the chassis. The casing is made of plastic and it feels rather cheap as the top gives if you push down at the center. The build quality is poor compared to metal enclosures but it is well-ventilated.



The top of the drive is a basic rectangular slab measuring 18.0 x 11.9 x 3.5 cm with the feet propping it up by an additional 4 mm. A look at the underside reveals odd angular contours that match the triangle-shaped vents around the other edges. There is no manual power button, just the USB 3.0 and power jack on the side.



The power adapter outputs 1.5A at 12V for a total of 18W.

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.



Clicking on the battery icon in the top left corner overlays the remaining charge on the right side, though it would be better to have this displayed permanently. The drive's contents are automatically broken down into video, photos, and music, but when new data is copied over, it takes the drive a minute or two to scan and categorize everything. Alternatively, you can browse the folder/file structure as you would a typical external drive.



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.



While you can bookmark/favorite items, there's apparently no way to save playlists, so managing large music libraries is impossible. Both music and photos can be played/viewed within the browser through a basic interface.



The interface also includes some basic networking status and configuration options.

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.



The mobile interface is very similar to the what you get on the desktop.



The mobile app does get its own video player but it's very limited with regard to file formats. I could only get it to play MPEG-4 and MPEG-1 files. Thankfully you can disable the built-in player and use a more capable third party solution to view the content.



The photo section also has a slideshow option which is absent in the desktop interface.



While connected to the Samsung Wireless, you can connect to another network simultaneously, so it's possible to browse the web through a hotspot while listening to music streaming from the drive. According to the manual, you can watch video at the same time as well but I couldn't figure it out.



Compared to the desktop interface, the only thing missing is advanced wireless monitoring and configuration settings.



On the plus side, the app has the ability to shut down, restart, and factory reset the unit, something the desktop side lacks.

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.



The Dashboard utility can perform several different types of backups and restores. You can backup data from the PC it's connected to, a mobile device on the same WiFi network, or from social media services like Facebook and Twitter.



Extra features include the ability to turn the LED on or off (which really isn't necessary as the white lighting isn't very intrusive), performing a drive self-test, and as there is no physical power button, changing how long it will wait before going to sleep (anywhere from 3 minutes to 5 hours or never).



On Windows, Dashboard will backup all non-system files or you can pick and choose which folders you'd like included. I left everything on default but found that it also backs up anything left in the root folder like leftovers from graphics card driver installations and miscellaneous log files.



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.



The Android app has a worrying number of permissions including access to the device and app history, calendar, and camera, all of which seem completely unnecessary based on the app's functionality.



The app allows you to backup to three cloud storage services but interestingly, you can't use Seagate's own cloud service directly. Backing up via WiFi basically links it up with the Dashboard utility on the desktop.



There's less granular control in the mobile app as one would expect, so you can't set specific folders. You can backup camera photos and videos, music, contacts, the call log, and SMS messages.



Basic settings to prevent the app from getting out of control are offered as well. You can backup on a schedule, disable backup under low battery conditions or when running on mobile data instead of WiFi.

Noise

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
Drive
Idle
Seeking
Seagate FreeAgent GoFlex 1.5TB
16 dBA
17~18 dBA
Samsung Wireless Mobile Media

Streaming Device (1.5TB)
17 dBA
17 dBA
Seagate Backup Plus Slim 2TB
17 dBA
18 dBA
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
Drive
SPL @1m
AC Power
Idle
Seeking
Idle
Seeking
Icy Dock Blizzard +

Barracuda XT 2TB (fan off)
22~23 dBA
29 dBA
12.0 W
13.3 W
Seagate Backup Plus 4TB
25~26 dBA
27 dBA
5.5~6.5 W
9.0 W
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 [email protected], and each individual seek is much sharper and harsher than the 2.5-inch models.

Performance

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.

AUDIO RECORDINGS

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.

FINAL THOUGHTS

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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