Review: A Pocket NAS from Western Digital

The My Passport Wireless is like having your own Cloud always at hand while travelling: the 2TB model can hold 32 64GB cards.

Launched to celebrate Western Digital’s 10 years of the My Passport brand, the new My Passport Wireless may not be the fastest or cheapest external drive around, but having a SD card slot makes all the difference for those on the move. There’s a lot of space for your files on this hard drive, which works a bit like a pocketable NAS or Network-Attached Storage. Or your own Cloud on wheels.

When in September I wrote about this drive, in the article My Passport Wireless for Videographers, I had not yet received a sample to try. I’ve one now, a 1 TB model (there are 500 MB and 2 TB models, although the 500MB model is not available in all the markets) and I’ve explored some of its options, in order to write this note about this product. I did not cover all the features, because some are common to this type of devices, but looked at those that make the My Passport Wireless attractive for photographers and videographers.

Portable drives are nothing new, and it is easy to find different choices in multiple brands – I’ve said this before – but this one is unique because it offers a SD slot, which can be used to backup or offload SD cards while away from home. The My Passport Wireless also lets you connect your camera through FTP (if available), but it does so in the standard anonymously mode, which some may find unsecure, although it uses the WiFi connection to guarantee no one sees your files. In fact, the My Passport Wireless, once the device is started, immediately prompts the user, through the computer interface, to use a password to access it. This said, I do believe the most usable option is really the direct SD transfer, which means you do have to have a camera that uses SD cards to reap the full benefits of this new drive from Western Digital.

The interface for the My Passport Wireless is similar to the one used in Western Digital My Cloud devices, offering in a user friendly manner complete control over the drive

To fully access the functions in the My Passport Wireless and set it up the way you like, you need to use a computer or a mobile device that connects to the drive. There are different connection options available:

  • Direct Connection
    Connect the wireless drive directly to your computer. Set up a direct connection from your computer or a mobile device to the drive by joining the My Passport Wireless drive’s Wi-Fi network. Referred to as Direct or AP mode. In this mode the drive is not connected to your wireless network or the Internet. However, this direct connection between your drive and the computer provides the best throughput performance.
  • Public Wireless Network Connection
    Connect the wireless drive to a public Wi-Fi network and the Internet. Set up the My Passport Wireless drive to join a public wireless network and share the Internet. Any other computers or devices connected to the public wireless network are unable to see your data. Referred to as Hotspot or Shared Connection mode.
  • Home Network Connection
    Connect the wireless drive to your home’s Wi-Fi network – Connect the wireless drive to your home’s Wi-Fi network to share content and Internet connection. All devices on the drive’s network and on the home Wi-Fi network can access the content stored on the wireless drive and attached devices. Suddenly the My Passport Wireless becomes a NAS or Network-Attached Storage. Or a segment of your own Cloud.
  • USB Connection
    Plug the drive into your computer (USB mode) – Connect your computer and your My Passport Wireless drive with a USB cable, essentially turning the drive into a Direct-Attached Storage (DAS) drive. In this case, there is no wireless connectivity so you don’t get Internet access and are unable to display the My Passport Wireless web interface.

Usable as aDLNA media server for home or office, the My Passport Wireless allows the streaming of photos, music, and videos to your DLNA-compatible devices so you can play media on a compatible device easily. DLNA-compatible devices search for media stored on the drive if streaming is enabled on the Media page. Streaming is enabled by default.

With streaming enabled, just transfer your multimedia content to your My Passport Wireless drive, and you are ready to stream and view content on your home entertainment center, game consoles (for example, Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3), WD TV Live media player, or DLNA® 2.0 digital media adapters), and other PC computers on your home or office network.

Although streaming is an interesting option, together with the connecting options available, I do believe the true value of this new drive is not there, but in the portable back up options it offers photographers and videographers. The fact that the My Passport Wireless creates its own WiFi network to which you can connect means you can stream content to multiple devices simultaneously (although bandwidth available may create a bottleneck), but that should also be looked upon as just a fraction of what this drive can do for you. Yes, it can be used to show content, even to clients, anywhere you go, but it really shines as a way to backup your files, while away from home.

The My Passport Wireless comes formatted in exFAT, so it works both with Windows and Mac out of the box, but you can change the file system format afterwards. To access the drive for setting it up the way you like you need a computer (with WiFi) or any portable device from the Android and iPhone family (Windows Phone 8 is sadly missing here). The interface is the regular Western Digital interface for their products. It’s user-friendly, once you understand what each icon (there is always explaining text and tool tips available) represents. It’s through the interface that the magic from the drive comes to work.

I used a portable computer for this test, as my Windows Phone 8 does not have a My Cloud app allowing to “talk” with the drive. The interface allows to set up the network, inspect media, check the status of the drive and many other things usually expected in a device like this. It also allows to disconnect options like streaming, and database building, which use energy and make no sense to let active if you’re not using them. The drive will run for over 5 hours, as I had the chance to test, with 20 hours pointed as the standby time, but opting for Battery Life on the optimization panel, instead of Performance, may give you some extra time. Still, I do not think this is a crucial element, if you intend to use the My Passport Wireless for backup purposes and are not away from a power outlet for a long time.

From my point of view, this is a tool that will be adequate for photographers or videographers travelling and wanting to backup their files. Being able to define if the drive copies or moves files automatically from the SD card once it is inserted means that you really can depend on the My Passport Wireless as your backup equipment while away from home, be it for some hours or some days. In fact, being able to copy  something like 32 64GB cards into a 2TB My Passport Wireless is what makes this solution shine.  You do not need a computer, the small portable drive is all you need. That and a way to recharge the battery when it goes flat.

I found that I could move about 12GB of data, composed of video and RAW files, from a SD card to the drive in a little bit over 20 minutes. If we consider that the drive works for 5 hours on a single battery charge, this mean one can backup some 180 GB before the battery needs to be charged. That’s a lot of information.

Being able to move or copy your files directly into the My Passport Wireless is what makes it a piece of gear that some people may want to include in their travel kit. There’s always a question of being assured that the files are copied correctly, but that’s always a problem with electronic devices. I tested copying different cards and had no problems with the content transferred. Having a device that connects to the drive, like a smartphone or tablet, to check the files just transferred, may be a way to have peace of mind, but I do believe that once one gets used to the process and the way the drive behaves, trust in the system will grow.

I had that same experience with my old CD burner with integrated battery: when I started using it I made tests at home, to be sure it would not fail me. In the end I trusted many Megabytes of files (that was years ago) to the system and it never let me down. I believe the same will happen with the My Passport Wireless.

Those using RAW files in their photography may complain that with the My Cloud app available for Android and iPhone there is no way to check the RAW files in the drive, but that’s usually what happens, as those little programs are not built to be compatible with the multiple RAWs in the market. The app only reads JPEGs from the camera (although it reads other image files), so you may want to shoot both RAW+JPEG in order to be able to check your images. My opinion? I wouldn’t bother! Do a few tests while at home and then just use the drive. If at any moment you think it may have a problem, use the interface accessed through your computer, when home, to test the system through the Diagnostics page.

The interface allows to set the SD card reader so it automatically copies or moves files once a card is inserted. This means the My Passport Wireless becomes totally “no string attached” afterwards. No need for a computer to backup your photos in the field.

Western Digital tried to make this device both simple to use and reliable for its intended purpose: to backup files while away from your computer.  As it is, it works flawlessly. But advanced users might want to explore the full featured Debian/Linux system hidden behind the interface and accessed through SSH (Secure Shell), which allows another level of control of the device. This, though, should only be done by users knowing their way into Linux. But it gives access to tools like Rsync, which is a copy standard in Linux systems that is native to My Cloud’s Debian build and may be working on your behalf, to make sure files are transferred properly. Still, for most users, me included, the way things work through the  normal interface may be more than enough.

Once back home, you can connect your My Passport Wireless to your network and transfer the backup files to your home computer. If you’ve one of these drives and want to transfer many files, do remember that while wireless is a fantastic tool, the best way to transfer large amounts of data is through cable. So hook your My Passport Wireless to the computer using he USB 3.0 and enjoy up to 5 Gb/s (625 MB/s). That’s the right way to use this portable Cloud.

The My Passport Wireless is not a solution for everybody.  People like sports photographers or those needing to have a fast backup of their cards may have to use other systems, probably a computer. The hardware on the My Passport Wireless was not made to be the fastest. This drive is perfect as a portable, pocketable NAS or Cloud used to keep your files safe until you get home, freeing your cards at the end of the day or even while in the field. When travelling or even on a day shoot, it may make sense. Small enough to carry around everywhere, the SD slot really makes it a unique contender in the world of portable drives.

The My Passport Wireless drive is currently available at select U.S. retailers and online at the MSRP is $179.99 USD for 1 TB and $219.99 for 2 TB. The WD My Cloud mobile app currently is available for download for free from the App Store and Google Play.

Jose Antunes

Jose Antunes

I am a writer and photographer living on the West Coast of Portugal, a place I tend to call the Atlantic Realm. An area of rugged cliffs and sandy beaches overlooking the sea, a coastal area sitting between the Atlantic Ocean waves and hills and forests with some of the most magical palaces, castles and prehistorical sites for you to visit and photograph. Little hamlets, vast fields, inviting you to a contemplative state of mind. That’s where I live, and the landscape surely makes you what you are.