Seagate’s GoFlex media sharing device, also called GoFlex Net, is a dock with an ethernet connection. You can either attach a single USB drive – though the port is only USB 2.0, sadly – or else plug a GoFlex portable drive (reviewed here) into one or both of the two slots on top.
If you use one of the slots, then a four-position LED gauge at the front indicates how full your drive is. Lots of lights means nearly full.
Now your drive(s) are attached to the network – but how do you access them? The key thing to realise is that this dock is also a Pogoplug. This is an online service that communicates with your local drives and enables you to access your files over the internet, or share them with friends.
This means that you have to register with Pogoplug, starting with a link on Seagate’s site for registering and activating your dock. I ran into a small problem here. First, I am behind a firewall and I had to enable UDP 4365 send and receive in order to enable Pogoplug to communicate with the Pogoplug service. Second, I had to type in the serial number from the device in order to activate, which in my case meant disconnecting it from the network temporarily. This might explain why there was a long delay before I received a confirming email; and until you click the link in this email your Pogoplug is not really activated.
I also found some usability issues in the setup. I looked at the Security Settings in my Pogoplug web dashboard and wanted to know the purpose of Enable SSH access for this Pogoplug device:
As you can see from the screen, there is a help link at top right. However, clicking this takes you to the home page for Seagate support:
Pretty useless in this context.
It turns out there is a story behind this. Each Pogoplug device runs Linux. Cloud Engines, the company which runs Pogoplug, had the bright idea of enabling access to the Linux terminal over SSH, so you could log into your Pogoplug from anywhere and do anything, provided you know Linux. SSH was enabled by default, and with a default password too.
This was a security hole, as bloggers like Rob Pickering observed. So now SSH access is disabled by default, and when you enable it you are prompted to create a new password. Much better.
In fact the security risk was not all that great, because typically Pogoplug is behind a firewall and unless you redirect the SSH port to the device, attempts to access it from the internet would fail anyway.
Anyway, I enabled it for internal access only, and was was able to get to the Linux shell.
I also downloaded the Pogoplug software which enables you to access your attached drives as drive letters in Windows. There is similar software for Linux and the Mac. I was puzzled by the option to Enable multi-drive mode; again there is no help for this.
It is no big deal and you can find it explained here; it makes a small difference to how the drives appear in your file manager, for example Windows Explorer.
Once I had done all this I had a P drive on my desktop:
If you use this on a laptop, you can still see the P drive when out and about, provided you are on the Internet.
The folder called “Files shared with me” is initially perplexing. This refers to files shared with you by other Pogoplug users. It is nothing to do with files you are sharing out.
I thought, “There must be an iPhone app for this”; and there is. I downloaded it. It worked great over home wifi and I could access the drive; but what about when on the go? I turned the wifi off, so I was connecting over 3G only. Sadly the results were poor and I kept getting Error code 5 when I tried to view some images. In the end I created a tiny text file and managed to view it successfully, proving that the system can work:
Note that Pogoplug never copies your stuff to its own drives, and when you access files locally they are not going over the Internet. Nothing is backed up online, even though it appears as if you can see your files on the Web.
But what about the GoFlex dock?
Indeed. This is meant to be a review of Seagate’s GoFlex media sharing device, but it is mostly about Pogoplug.
This is an issue. The front of the GoFlex box does not mention Pogoplug, though it is named on the back. The fact is, someone might buy this expecting a simple NAS (Networked Attached Storage) device, expecting to get immediately to the stage where the attached drives appear in Windows Explorer.
Instead, they find themselves having to agree to Pogoplug terms and conditions, and being handed a bunch of Internet features which may or may not be required. As I discovered, you can also have firewall issues.
It is possible to access the drives over a Windows network without using Pogoplug – but only after enabling Windows File Sharing for each drive, which is done through … the Pogoplug service. See the GoFlex Net User Guide [PDF] for more details.
It is also worth noting that this is a media sharing device and not a media streaming device. Well, that is not quite true; Pogoplus has added some basic media streaming using Upnp; but I had limited success when trying to use it with a PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360. On the PS3 I could view pictures OK, but even playing an MP3 file stuttered.
More positively, it is also true that the Pogoplug tie-in offers genuinely useful features. In a nutshell, it is file sharing over the Internet. There are other solutions for this, some aimed mainly at businesses, but Pogoplug’s effort is simple and cost-effective. Since the files remain on your own drive, there are no issues about having to purchase more space as there are with Internet synchronisation services like Dropbox. If you have a large amount of files which you want to make available from anywhere, Pogoplug is worth investigating.
Of course you could just buy a Pogoplug rather than Seagate’s GoFlex dock. The most obvious difference is that the basic Pogoplug, which costs much the same as Seagate’s device, has four USB 2.0 ports, whereas the GoFlex has one USB 2.0 port and two of special GoFlex docks which only fit GoFlex portable drives. If you do have GoFlex drives, the Seagate option is more convenient and looks better too.
Could do better
This is a decent product, but as is often the case among vendors other than Apple, strong features are spoilt by poor documentation and presentation.
My suggestion to Seagate: redesign the product slightly so that Pogoplug services are optional rather than required; and have an install application that does the magic of enabling Windows File Sharing without the need to register for Pogoplug at all. Then Pogoplug can be presented as an optional benefit, rather than being something forced upon you.
The packaging should be clearer and more open about the Pogoplug element of the product.
I’d add that both Seagate and Pogoplug need to work on conveying the essence of what the service does clearly, accurately and concisely. Misunderstandings seem to be common.
Nevertheless, this is a clever and capable device. It is just that it is nothing special as a NAS device, and poor as a media streamer.
Disclosure: Kudos to Seagate for asking me to mention in my review that that the review sample does not have to be returned.