Portable memory devices keep getting better. Hugh John reviews AirStash wireless flash drive

Heralded as, “the only wireless flash drive for your iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch and many other wireless smartphones, tablets and e-books” Maxell’s AirStash has a fulsome, perhaps extravagant billing to live up to, especially as it goes head to head with Kingston’s very successful Wi-Drive.

Both devices transfer data wirelessly and both use solid state drive technology but there are important differences which will probably determine which unit one opts for.

Perhaps the biggest difference is that whereas the Wi-Drive (see "Mobile media and streaming for 'pad' road warriors") is offered in three different sizes (16, 32 and 64Gb) the AirStash, which is sold with either an 8Gb or 16Gb SDHC card, accepts SD/SDHC cards up to 32GB and the new SDXC cards up to 2Tb – that’s right, two terabytes – although it should be pointed out that 128Gb cards, recently introduced, are the largest presently available in the new format.

Here’s how it works. Removing the protective cap at one end of the AirStash exposes a standard USB 2 connector. This is used for data transfer to and from any USB equipped device, primarily, most of the devices that don’t have apples printed on them! Your AirStash can now, using drag and drop, be loaded with any form of digital data – text, music, images, video – that needs to be transferred.

The other end has an SD card push in-push out slot into which is inserted either the 8 or 16GB SD card supplied by Maxell or one of your own. As SD cards now seem to have become the common digital currency for most uses, it’s likely that most computer users will have more than a couple knocking around. The disadvantage in building a drive to accommodate such a card is that the AirStash is necessarily chunky – think bulked-up disposable plastic lighter – and will probably require sacrificing the use of a second USB slot while plugged in.

Transferring data between the AirStash and iDevice, tablet, Kindle or smart phone is done over a dinky little wifi network created by the AirStash app which can be downloaded free from the Apple App Store or from Android’s Play Store. Configure your host device to recognise the AirStash wifi signal and you’re all set to transfer or receive data. I had no problem importing or exporting image or text files back and forth and streaming MP4 movie files was a snip, especially using Apple’s iOS. The built-in Lithium polymer battery is good for up to five hours and is recharged via the USB connection.

Where the AirStash comes into its own is in importing files from iPad , iPod or iPhone or indeed Kindle. Any device with ‘baked in’ fixed memory, no matter how much one tries to future-proof it, will eventually run out of on-board space, especially as videos and still images, which are so easy to capture nowadays, use such a lot of memory. With AirStash as a supplementary storage option it is possible to free up precious space on your iDevice and to view pictures and movies over the wifi network.

What’s neat is that as the AirStash drive is effectively a conduit between SD card and device, once information is loaded onto the card it can be removed and used on any device with either an inbuilt or external SD card reader. And as the card can multi-stream it is possible to share images (either RAW or JPEG) with up to eight devices connected over the AirStash wifi network.

The latest AirStash software addresses an issue of wifi connectivity which hamstrung original users; namely any devices tethered to AirStash over wifi would lose connection to the home wifi network. The Sidelink mode, offered as a beta addition to the new AirStash app, supports simultaneous connection to AirStash and another wifi network. Users are also able to change the wifi channel to resolve any wireless interference issues and to password-protect their drive using WEP or WAP encoding – both very convenient features in a school environment.

Unfortunately, it’s not all good news. TheAirStash wireless flash drive is a powerful, easy to use device, no question, and the latest software update gives it added functionality. At £80 and £95 for the 8 and 16Gb versions however, it compares unfavourably with Kingston’s Wi Drive series, the most capacious version (64Gb) of which can now be bought for £70. Factor in the additional cost of a 64Gb SDXC card and you’re looking at a hefty layout.

School buyers would certainly baulk at paying these prices for what is essentially an SD card with added wifi functionality and that would be a real shame as this drive, competitively priced, would be an extremely attractive proposition. However, many educators will be tempted to purchase it for themselves

Ratings (out of 5)
Fitness for purpose  5
Ease of use              5
Features                   5
Quality                      4
Value for money       3

AirStash
Wireless flash drive: 8Gb version £80, 16Gb version £90. Both available from Amazon.co.uk