Buffalo MiniStation Air Review

Buffalo LogoThe Buffalo MiniStation Air is “wireless streaming storage” for smartphones and tablets that provides 500 GB of extra space. Simply, it’s a 500 GB portable hard drive with wifi and complementary apps for Android and iOS. The idea is that the MiniStation Air connects to your PC or laptop via USB 3 and gets loaded up with stacks of music and video which can then be played via an app when out-and-about. It’s a great idea, but how does it stack up against “the cloud” and other solutions such as Pogoplug? Let’s find out.

Buffalo MiniStation Air Box

The MiniStation Air itself is a small black and grey unit, 130 x 84 x 23 mm. The top is a polished black surface with four pinprick status LEDs embedded in it and the sides and bottom are a silvery-grey with buttons and connectors on two of the sides.

Buffalo MiniStation Air

This is a USB 3.0 device which is immediately apparently from the shape of the connector. (Apologies for using stock photos but my own photos were all rubbish).

Buffalo MiniStation Air USB3

Connecting the MiniStation Air to the PC was simply a case of plugging it in with the device appearing as a removable drive. Copying media files took no time at all thanks to the USB 3 connection. It works with USB 2 as well, things just take a bit longer.

Once the Air is loaded up, it can be disconnected from the PC and then powered up on its own. At this point, the MiniStation Air is broadcasting a wifi signal (802.11n/g/b) and it’s easy to connect to it using the SSID and passkey details provided on the bottom of the Air.

Browsing the MiniStation Air

To get the MiniStation Air to work fully with smartphones and tablets, Buffalo provide an app for both Android and iOS which can be downloaded from the application app store. I was only able to test out the Android version, but once installed, it’s easy to browse the files and folders on the Air.

Music PlayerPlaying music or watching videos is just a case of tapping on the file. Photos and music are handled within the app, but videos are handed over to the default video player on the device. Movies started up within a couple of seconds (if that) and music started almost instantly. The music player is basic and as with many of these devices, doesn’t correctly pick up track tags, so albums are arranged alphabetically rather than in track order.

There isn’t a full “HD” app for the tablets, but there is some differentiation between tablets and smartphones. For example, on a tablet, pictures are previewed alongside the folder but this doesn’t happen on a smartphone, even when rotated to landscape. However, the four expanding arrows in the toolbar at the bottom shows that this isn’t a native tablet app.

Tablet Preview

The Edit part of the app allows files to be up- and downloaded from the MiniStation Air. It’s the usual check-box / select operation affair but for the small numbers of files that are likely to be transferred this way, it’s fine.

The Settings area provides access to the SSID and passkey plus other details such as hostname and workgroup. Nothing particularly unexpected here but the MiniStation Air has one last trick up its sleeve. The Air can be connected to another wifi network, preferably one that has a connection to the Internet. This means that although the smartphone is connected to the Air’s wifi, an onward connection to the Internet is provided for other queries or web surfing while listening to music. It’s pretty slick and very handy. It’s also something Buffalo should make a bit more obvious.

Performance-wise, it says that the Air can support eight simultaneous connections with three HD streams. I tested two HD simultaneous streams and it worked flawlessly. Battery life is claimed to be “up to 4 hours” and I wouldn’t disagree – I saw over three hours with a mix of video and music. The Air is powered and recharged via USB so it’s easy enough to hook it up for extended operation.

Any problems? Not really. A couple of wishes, though. First, a Windows / Mac app to use the MiniStation Air wirelessly would be good. Second, some kind of security on the device would be handy as being portable, it’s going to be awfully easy to lose. Finally, an SSD version with longer battery life but perhaps less storage would be interesting but probably too expensive to be considered.

Overall, the MiniStation Air is a good product that will appeal to those smartphone and tablet users who need more-than-average storage…much more than average. The Air is available now from all good retailers with a street price of £100-£120.

The MiniStation Air app was tested on a Samsung Galaxy Nexus smartphone and a Motorola Xoom 2 ME tablet.

Thanks to Buffalo for the loan of the MiniStation Air.

 

D-Link Releases 802.11ac Dual Band Wireless Adapter

Easy WPS Push Button SetupWhile all laptops these days have built-in wireless connectivity, it is still not included in every device on the market.  For those unconnected pieces of hardware there is still the trusty USB stick wireless adapter, and D-Link has pushed the envelope a bit for those devices by releasing a new 802.11ac dual-band adapter.

The AC1200 comes with a host of new features that will hopefully improve your connectivity.  In fact, the company refers to this as “next generation” technology, but benchmark tests are still needed to bear that statement out.

Features

  • Wireless AC Technology for Superior Wireless Performance – Wi-Fi 802.11ac
  • Dual Band N Technology for use in 2.4GHz or 5GHz Networks
  • Compatible with Existing Wi-Fi Networks (a/g/n)
  • Access Secure Networks using WPA™ or WPA2™
  • Wi-Fi Protected Setup™ (WPS) Push Button for Easy Connection to a Wireless Network
  •  USB Extension Cradle for Placement Flexibility

The new D-Link AC1200 is available right now online from retailers like Amazon for $69.99, which isn’t a bad price providing it lives up to it’s billing.  It certainly sounds promising enough.  As with all of the modern wireless standards, it is backwards-compatibale with earlier standards and uses a simple WPS button for easy setup.  You can learn more by visiting D-Link.

Buy it now: D-Link Systems, Inc. Wireless AC1200 Dual Band USB Adapter (DWA-182)

UK’s 4G – Common-sense or Cover-up?

Ofcom LogoThe launch of 4G services in the UK by Everything Everywhere today has been heralded by the majority of the tech blogs and news sites as a long-overdue success. But is this a victory for common-sense or has Ofcom simply managed to cover-up its own incompetence? (For those outside the UK, Ofcom is the regulator and competition authority for the UK communications industries.)

Here’s part of article from GNC that I wrote in October of last year.
Ofcom, the UK’s regulator for the telecommunications industry, issued an update on its plans for the auctioning off of the 800 MHz and 2.6 GHz spectrum bands. These are the frequencies that will be used for the delivery of 4G services.

There has already been one consultation on the auction of the frequencies but based on the responses received, Ofcom has decided to carry out an additional second consultation at the end of 2011 which will run for around 8 weeks. The outcome of the consultation and auction proposals will be published in the summer of 2012, with a delayed frequency auction expected in Q4 2012. More likely Q1 2013, based on their track record.”

So how is it possible that Everything Everywhere, or EE, as it is going to be called, can a launch a 4G service when the frequency auction hasn’t even begun?

The answer is that Orange and T-Mobile, the partners in EE, put a proposal to Ofcom that they should be allowed to use one of their existing frequencies (1800 MHz) to launch 4G services in the UK without waiting for the auction. Ofcom thought this was a brilliant idea and gave the go-ahead. As you can imagine, some of the other players in the UK’s telecoms market (Three, Vodafone, O2) were less than thrilled at Ofcom handing EE a 4G monopoly for at least six months. Imagine how tempting it would be to switch networks if a 4G iPhone 5 was available from EE and only EE.

Depending on your point of view, the launch of 4G in the UK is either a victory for a common-sense approach to available spectrum or else it’s a monumental cover-up over the way Ofcom has failed to manage the transition to 4G.

I’m in the latter camp and I won’t be buying a 4G device or service from EE.

 

D-Link Shipping 1,750Mbps Router

If you follow tech news then you may have already heard that there is a new WiFi standard coming.   Today, router maker D-Link began shipping their first product using the 802.11ac standard.  The company claims a staggering 1,750Mbps speed for The Cloud Router 5700 (DIR-865L).

According to reports, the router is “capable of reaching speeds of up to 1,750Mbps speeds when operating in this dual mode, which is made up of 1,300Mbps wireless-AC and 450Mbps wireless-N speeds.”  The router also contains a cloud app that makes it accessible from anywhere in the world.  In addition, there is also an app that allows users to connect a mobile device to the USB port and share data across it.  Finally, there are also four 10/100/1000 ethernet ports for gigabit wired connections.

The new router carries an MSRP of $190 U.S. and is available from various online retailers such as Amazon.  Of course, the router is backwards compatible for all of your current devices.

D-Link Systems, Inc. Amplifi Cloud Router 5700 (DIR-865L)

Frontline Airs Exposé on Cell Tower Deaths

Before you get too excited about the whole cellular radiation debate, which is mostly debunked by the way, this in-depth report was about tower workers falling to their deaths due to poor regulation of safety issues while climbing these monstrous metal towers (climbers are 10 times more likely to die than construction workers).  Frontline aired the show on PBS May 22nd and the entire episode is now available for streaming on their web site.

To nobody’s surprise all of the cell companies refused comment during the show.  In fact, we learned that virtually none of them have even been fined by OSHA for any of the accidents.  They are above responsibility thanks to layers of protection they have put between themselves and the actual contractors who do the dirty work.  Incidentally, many of those workers make around $10 per hour to climb hundreds of feet, mostly unprotected because that allows them to climb faster and get more jobs done.  One of the worst offenders turns out to be AT&T, who pushed hard for fast work to be done during their iPhone expansion.

While one retired AT&T executive did talk with the show, the other interviews are with contract companies and the actual workers.  You can watch chapter 1 of the episode in the embedded video below.  A word of warning – there are a few graphic images of bodies laying at the base of towers.

Watch Cell Tower Deaths on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.

Three Brings Budget MiFi to the UK

Three LogoBased on the entirely unscientific method of “asking my friends”, British mobile telco Three has pretty much cornered the market in personal wifi hotspots. It’s probably a combination of having the MiFi trademark and offering competitive data rates that has led to their success.

Their current model, the Huawei E586, is shortly to be joined by a budget version, the Huawei E5331, according to today’s press release from Three. Like the original model, the E5331 offers HSPA+ with a theoretical download limit of 21 Mb/s and a battery life of 4.5 hours. There’s no word on what the budget price will actually be but you can buy the E586 for £50 upfront with a £15 / 5GB no commitment rolling contract.

Huawei E5331 MiFi

The budget E5331 has a narrower longer screen showing signal strength, no of connected devices, battery strength and waiting text messages. The MiFi supports up to five devices at a time.

Mark Brewer, head of mobile broadband at Three said, “As the market leader in mobile broadband it’s great to be able to bolster our range with yet another high speed mobile Wi-Fi device. The Value MiFi offers fast browsing and a seamless streaming experience, all on Three’s award winning mobile broadband network.

I will be reviewing the Huawei E586 for Geek News Central shortly, but these are very handy devices. It’s much more cost effective to have one of these serving multiple wifi-only tablets than it is to buy 3G devices and multiple data contracts.

TP-Link Mini Wireless Routers at The Gadget Show

TP-Link WR702N wireless-n routerTP-Link had a large stand at The Gadget Show Live with a huge range of different products on show. Switches, ADSL modems, wireless routers, IP cameras, Powerline adaptors; you could easily build a complete home IT infrastructure using only TP-Link products.

What caught my eye was a range of portable mini wireless routers, “nano routers”, that were smaller than paperback books. Three different models were on show; the first was the TL-WR702N, a relatively standard 11n wireless router but only 57 mm square and 18 mm deep – it’s the one shown in the picture left.

Second was the TL-MR3020, a bit bigger at 74 x 67 x 22 mm but offering 3G connectivity via a dongle as well.

Finally, a brand new wireless router was on display, the TL-MR3040, that included a rechargeable battery giving several hours of use. More rectangular than square, it uses a 3G dongle (rather than integrated SIM tray), to get mobile connectivity. Price is expected to be less than £50.

Eric from TP-Link took me through their range in more detail.

Veho Mobile Gear at The Gadget Show

Pebble Power PackVeho probably isn’t the first name that springs to mind when thinking about gadgets but they have a sizeable range from miniature video cameras to digital photo frames and Bluetooth headsets. In the UK, their products are sold in the main big boxes – PC World and Currys.

On Veho’s stand at Gadget Show Live, I played with a USB microscope which showed magnified images on the PC screen. Perhaps a little limited with just two magnification levels (20x or 200x) but good fun nevertheless.

In this interview, James Farmer from Veho takes me through some of the Veho range, including their Muvi miniature DV cameras, Pebble portable battery packs and Mimi wireless speakers. I really liked their Pebble range of battery packs as they had a lovely smooth shape, like the original Palm Pre.

 

Buffalo AirStation N450 USB Adapter

The Buffalo AirStation N450 USB adapter (aka WLI-UC-G450) is a 2.4 GHz 11n wireless adapter capable of a theoretical 450 Mb/s using a 3×3 antenna array. Sweet.

Buffalo N450 USB adaptor

If you are used to small wireless adaptors and tiny memory sticks, then the N450 will be a bit of surprise. It’s a pretty chunky number at a little under 9.5 cm long, including the USB jack. The otherwise plain, but shiny, exterior has a single blue LED to advertise activity.

Buffalo N450 USB Adapter

Setting up the N450 was a doddle. Insert CD, follow the prompts, reboot, insert N450, job done. On my laptop, the adaptor appeared as Wireless Network Connection 2. In order to use the N450, I found that it was necessary to disable the internal wireless card otherwise it seemed to take priority over the N450. (On my laptop there’s a switch for that, otherwise right-click on the icon and choose Disable.)

Network Adapters

Initially, the laptop couldn’t see my 11n wireless network, but it could see a different 11g network. I’d had this problem before so I knew what was up. The 11n network uses channel 13 as the frequencies there are clear from interference in my neighbourhood, whereas I have the 11g network down on channel 1. Unfortunately, some Wi-fi devices only recognise channels 1-11 as these are the channels allowed in the US, and it appears that the N450 is one of them.

Once I’d pushed my 11n network down into channel 11, everything went swimmingly. Regrettably I wasn’t able to test out the full 450 Mb/s connection as my access point only supported 300 Mb/s, but it was pretty quick regardless. Even then you never get the full 300 Mb/s but I regularly saw data transfer figures around 80 Mb/s, which I think is about right. Your mileage may vary, of course, and you’d probably get over 100 Mb/s data transfers connecting at 450 Mb/s.

The high data transfer rates will make the N450 of interest to those wanting to stream HD movies over a LAN to a laptop for viewing, but the adaptor needs to be paired with a suitably fast router or access point to get the maximum speed.

Available on-line for around £30. Thanks to Buffalo for the loan of the adaptor.

Buffalo AirStation Nfiniti Router with DD-WRT

On review here is Buffalo’s AirStation Nfiniti HighPower dual band wireless-n router and access point with DD-WRT pre-installed, aka WZR-HP-AG300H. I’ve had the AirStation on loan from Buffalo for a couple of months and it’s really rather good.

Buffalo Nfiniti Router

As you can see from the pictures, it’s black and about 18 cm tall, excluding the antennae which swivel and tilt to give the best Wi-fi coverage. The unit can support two 300 Mb/s networks, one in the 2.4 GHz band, the other in the 5 GHz range.

Buffalo Nfiniti Router - rear

Round the back, there a four Gigabit Ethernet ports and as this a router, there’s the extra WAN port (the blue one) for connecting to an Ethernet modem (or hotel network port). There’s a single USB socket too that can used either by a storage device or by a 3G modem. In a nice touch, a USB extension lead is supplied, presumably to get the 3G modem positioned away from the high power antennas.

The supplied AirStation Navigator CD gets the AirStation router up-and-running with the minimum of fuss via a straightforward setup wizard. However, it’s largely superfluous as all the configuration of the AirStation can be done through the web interface. A handy tool on the CD that will find the AirStation on your network and provide the IP address. Once you’ve got that pasted into your web browser, you can access a whole plethora of settings.

DD-WRT Interface

Seriously, there are an awful lot of settings in here, from the usual IP setup through to setting up an advert supported Wi-Fi hotspot. I counted no less than 41 pages of settings and frankly, some of the stuff I had to look up to find out what it was about. Fortunately, you can leave the vast majority of the settings at their defaults and there is a setup assistant to start you off. All the usual features of a wireless router are here and then some. If you do find it all too intimidating, it is possible to flash the firmware back to more typical Buffalo wireless router software.

In use, the AirStation was fire-and-forget. I setup the router a few weeks before Christmas and since then I’ve only had power-cycle the device once, which in my experience is very good. Performance was also good with no problems streaming HD media from a network NAS and QoS settings can prioritise video and gaming traffic over other packets. I had a wide range of devices connected to the AirStation including laptops, Android smartphones, an HP TouchPad and a Nintendo Wii, with no lock-ups or unexpected drops apart from the one mentioned previously.

Using the Android app Wifi Analyzer, the AirStation’s range was a few metres better than my other 11n wireless access point, but whether that was attributable to the “HighPower” or the directional antennas is hard to tell. Perhaps it doesn’t matter as long as the extra distance is there.

Overall, this is an excellent wireless router that should be seriously considered by anyone who wants to tweak performance to the max.

The Buffalo AirStation Nfiniti Router is available from the usual retailers for around £80. Thanks to Buffalo for the loan of the WZR-HP-AG300H.