Review: Kingston MobileLite Wireless

I've always bought 16GB iPads. Some think that's crazy, but for the 95%+ of my daily usage I don't find the storage constraints of 16GB to be a problem. I'm not doing any major photography work with my iPad, storing my music collection or videos. However, I do quickly bump up against the 16GB storage limit when traveling. Then I like to load up my iPad with media-rich iBooks and video content to watch on the go. I also like to backup my photos taken with my digital camera to the iPad so if a camera is lost or damaged, the images are still preserved. Still, it was hard to justify spending an extra $100 - $200 on a larger iPad for those few times a year I need the extra space. I was looking for a better solution.

For a couple of years now companies have been making add-on storage for the iPad. I looked seriously at the Seagate Wireless Hard Drive at Macworld this year but with a price tag of $200 it was a little too expensive to justify for occasional use. My friend David Sparks recommended the Kingston Wi-Drive which he uses to add 32, 64 or 126GB of storage to his iOS devices. While researching the Wi-Drive on Kingston's site I came across the MobileLite Wireless which seemed like a better fit for me.

The MobileLite is a few devices in one. First, it's a wireless card reader that will transfer data between a memory card and your iOS (or Android) device. By comparison, the Apple SD to Lightning Adapter works with SD cards, but currently only for iPads. In addition to using an SD or MicroSD card for storage, the MobileLite also has a USB port that you can use to expand your storage options even further. Plug in a USB flash drive or hard drive to make that hard drive accessible to your iPhone or iPad. This potentially expands the storage space on your iPad by a couple terabytes if you're willing to carry around a separate hard drive in addition to the MobileLite. Third, the MobileLite will work as a backup battery pack and can use its 1800 mAh battery to provide power to a USB powered devices in a pinch.

The MobileLite connects to your iOS device via Wi-Fi and requires the use of a free companion App available currently for iOS or Android. You can connect up to three devices simultaneously to the MobileLite which makes it great for sharing with family or colleagues. Before we left on vacation I instructed my family to download the MobileLite App for their respective devices and I loaded up an SD card with movies and TV shows. When we got on the plane I turned the MobileLite on in my bag and we were each able to connect and watch different programs from our various devices.

Importantly, you can configure the MobileLite's wireless access from within the app. I was able to change SSID of the MobileLite and include a password to prevent other travelers from potentially accessing my files. Because an iOS device can only connect to one Wi-Fi access point at a time, you can configure the MobileLite to connect to other wireless networks and bridge the connections. Meaning I could save the Wi-Fi information for various access points within the MobileLite App and still have Internet access when connected to the MobileLite network. This allows you to share photos or documents from within the MobileLite App without having to first transfer files to your iOS device and then change networks.

The feature I like most about MobileLite is that you bring your own storage. This gives the device a much longer life expectancy because I have the ability to expand storage based on my needs. I can travel with a 16GB flash drive or SD card for a short trip, or bring along a 500GB hard drive to plug in via USB if the need arises. Because you bring your own storage, loading up content is as easy as plugging in your preferred storage device to a computer and dragging your content over. Although not required, I choose to organize my content into folders separated out by movies, TV shows, podcasts, and other media.

In my case, I choose to store my content on an SD card because once inserted the SD card was flush with the MobileLite and added no additional bulk. A 16 or 32GB SD card is fairly inexpensive now and was plenty of space for movies and TV shows while still leaving room for photos. I simply popped the SD card in my MacBook air, copied over my media files and they were immediately recognized when I put the card into the MobileLite and activated the App.

In addition to using the MobileLite as a storage device to stream content to my iPad, I also used it as a backup for photos I took throughout my vacation. The MobileLite App has access to iOS's camera roll meaning you can save images to or from the camera roll and the MobileLite app. Before leaving on my trip I created a folder for photos where I intended to backup all our various photos. Each night, I would collect the SD cards from various family members and plug them into the MobileLite, using it as a bridge to transfer the days photos to my iPhone's camera roll. From there I could view, edit, delete and share the photos as I desired. Once I had all the photos from a particular day transferred, I would put back in primary SD card back into the MobileLite and transfer all the photos from my camera roll to the MobileLite for backup. In the event we lost a camera or an SD card was corrupted, we always had a backup of the photos from the day before on the MobileLite.

The only complaint I had about the MobileLite was when it came to selecting large quantities of photos to move to or from the SD card. I found you either had to select all photos or select photos individually, there was no way to batch select a group. This may be more a limitation of iOS than the MobileLite but it was still an annoyance when transferring a hundred or more photos from an SD card each night. I tried one night just selecting all my iPhone's camera roll and asking the App to overwrite the duplicates on the MobileLite, unfortunately this produced a warning message I had to tap for each and every photo it found a duplicate for making that process no easier. Hopefully this is something that can be in a future software update with the addition of a "overwrite all" option.

The MobileLite is about the size of a portable USB hard drive, and will easily fit in a travel bag. It recharges via micro-USB which is a standard these days meaning you likely already carry the cable in your bag and won't have yet another proprietary charging cable. Battery life is claimed to be up to 5 hours but will vary depending on your actual usage. I was able to use the MobileLite for several hours at a time on the airplane and never got a low battery warning.

The MobileLite served all my needs and was a great value at $60 given the variety of uses. Especially when you consider the Apple SD to Lightning card adapter alone costs $30. While you can buy other wireless hard drive solutions to use with iOS I liked the "bring your own storage" approach used by the MobileLite as it keeps initial costs down and almost everyone has a spare flash drive of SD card they can use with it. While I was seriously considering upgrading the storage on the next iPad I purchase, the MobileLite has alleviated that concern.