Two minutes and eighteen seconds. That’s how long it took me to set up the $99 Pogoplug hardware and activate it online. In just over two minutes I was able to open a web page and browse the contents of my 320GB external USB drive, which is connected to the Pogoplug. The Pogoplug, in turn, connects to just about any router; in my case it’s an Apple AirPort Extreme. Since the drive contents are available over the web, I can share files or folders with anyone who has a browser and web connection. All in just over two minutes. I’m amazed at how simple this was.
Since the setup was only a few minutes, I’ve got time to kill now. I suppose I should step back and explain a little bit more about what the Pogoplug is, what it does and how it works.
Essentially, the Pogoplug takes any standard USB drive and turns it into a web-accessible data cloud. Think of it as being similar to an online data storage service with the exception that you’re not actually putting your data on someone else’s servers; you’re simply providing your own storage, and Pogoplug puts it on the web. It works with either a traditional USB hard drive or with a USB flash drive, so you can plug in those little thumb drives to the Pogoplug. You can also connect multiple drives to a Pogoplug with an inexpensive USB hub. The device is roughly 2.5″ x 4″ by 1.5.”
Color me impressed by how easy it was to get the Pogoplug going. Let me put it another way: There are only a few simple steps and I think even my Dad could get it working. If you knew my Dad and his lack of technical prowess, you’d have a better understanding of what I mean. Suffice it to say it’s drop-dead easy.
- Connect the Pogoplug to your router with the included Ethernet cable.
- Connect the Poloplug to an outlet.
- Go to my.pogoplug.com/activate and create an account with minimal, basic info (e-mail address, password).
- Enter the unique 26-character Pogoplug ID on the same Pogoplug website. (Note: getting the 26 characters entered correctly is about the most challenging effort)
- Connect your USB drive to the Pogoplug
Seriously, that’s all there is. For the majority of personal networks out there, I wouldn’t expect any firewall configuration or any changes needed on the router; the device handles most everything for common setups.
So what does all that not-very-hard work get you? Once you’re up and running, you can log into mypogoplug.com from any web browser anywhere to see or use the files on your USB drive. Your home computer doesn’t have to be on because the USB drive is routed through the Pogoplug and your home Internet connection. You can also access your drive and files from a handheld device, but it appears that some of the web interface uses Adobe Flash. When I used my iPhone’s browser, for example, I could access all of my files, but previewing an audio file didn’t work. Instead there was a link to install Flash, which of course isn’t supported on the phone. The Pogoplug folks tell me that they have an iPhone application submitted for certification in the iTunes App Store. The software will allow you to view files, watch video content and stream music, plus you can shoot photos from your iPhone right to your Pogoplug-connected drive.
The web interface showing your external drive is clean and intuitive. On the left side you see a menu structure with smart folders based on file timestamps and file type. You also see which files or folders you’re currently sharing with others. I shared my iTunes folder with James just as a test, which was as simple as clicking the Sharing icon under the folder and providing his e-mail address. Don’t worry, copyright police: It was a very short test. ;) He tells me it worked great and since my computer doesn’t need to be powered on, the files are accessible as long as my USB drive is powered up and connected to the Pogoplug. I’ve since decided not to subject James to my country music-heavy iTunes collection; I’m sure he’s thankful. Unsharing is a simple click: no muss, no fuss. I also like the RSS functionality. You can publish an RSS feed for any shared folder or file; a nice touch!
Taking action on a file or folder is pretty simple as well. When you hover over either, several icons appear, each with a different function: download, preview (handy for media files), rename or remove.
The Pogoplug web interface to your USB drive isn’t simply made to access or share your current files, though. At the bottom are menu options to upload files, create new folders or copy files as well. You have total remote control over the drive contents and speed isn’t too bad, either. I downloaded a 98MB video file using the web interface over my home DSL connection using Wi-Fi and had a local copy of the video in about 15 seconds.
Since the Pogoplug is hardware and accessed directly through a web browser, there’s no software to install. However, if you’d rather access the Pogoplug and drive through a file explorer like Windows Explorer or Finder, you can do that, too. Pogoplug offers a small bit of software that you can download and make your Pogoplug and storage look like a standard drive. It supports Microsoft Windows XP and Vista (32-bit) as well as Mac OS X 10.5 and up.
With the software installed, you have access to the drive just like you did before putting the Pogoplug into the equation. That’s a smart move on the company’s part because it enables a familiar feel to the data that consumers are likely used to.
Security & Longevity
There isn’t any information in the Pogoplug FAQ’s on the security of your data. According to the support forums, however:
“Pogoplug is tied to your email address and protected by a password that you assign. We always try to create a direct connection between your computer and the Pogoplug (fully encrypted), but even when we do have to relay through our service it is done using an encrypted tunnel. Pogoplug effectively creates a vpn into your hard drive that is very secure. Web access is over ssl, including initial email address/password authentication.”
It’s interesting to note that while the “web access is over SSL,” the actual web page you connect to for your data is an “http” connection and not “https” as I’d expect. As with any service provider, there’s always a question of the company’s viability. CloudEngines makes the Pogoplug and if for any reason they failed to be around in the future, I’m not sure how the Pogoplug would be of value.
Color me impressed. Although tech-saavy folks have long been able to share files remotely or use cloud services to store data, Pogoplug took the mysticism out of the process for everyone else. The device is simple, reasonably priced and works as advertised. For the moment, the Pogoplug won’t work if your drive is HFS+ formatted with journaling enabled; the company is aware and is working on a solution. That minor issue aside, this device is poised to take advantage of the growing trend to share media and files in a simple fashion. Aside from the simplicity and functionality, I’m thrilled that I’ve just freed up one of the two USB ports on my MacBook, yet I still have access to my USB drive.