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The Poor Manís Personal Cloud
Jan 14, 2013 (Updated Mar 7, 2013)
Review by Stanley Goodner
Rated a Very Helpful Review
User Rating: Excellent
Ease of Installation:
Ease of Use:
Pros:No monthly fees, no software needed, use your own hardware, easy setup, secure, inexpensive
Cons:Slow transcoding, no straight network access, speed based on your network, interface lacks, not portable
The Bottom Line: If you have $20, external USB drives, patience, and concern for security in personal cloud storage, then this might pique your interest when you're evaluating your cloud options.
My experience with the Pogoplug Pogo-P21 has definitely been one of patience and re-evaluation. I originally sought out this product because I was interested in having my own personal cloud, where I can store videos to watch from my smartphone later on. Online storage sites like Box, Dropbox, or Google Drive don't really cater to the large(r) file sizes required for video streaming like the P21 can; you'll run out of space real quick when uploading 1 GB or larger files. So after some investigation, I decided to purchase a NAS (network attached storage) that was private, had decent limits to file sizes (up to 16 GB files for the P21), requires no subscription, and is inexpensive. I zeroed in on the Pogo-P21 on Amazon, and for $20 on sale the price was certainly right. I read through much of the reviews and figured why not? It was only $20, and I have a couple of external drives that aren't doing much right now. The added bonus is that the company also offers an android app to access all your files from your smartphone.
Recommend this product?
Little did I know how much I underestimated "slow," when it came to this device. Upsetting, at first, but I'm happier now that it's all done with what I had originally tasked it to do.
 INSTALLATION & SET UP 
The installation and set up is super easy. Some consumers have had problems, but when it came to making everything work it was just smooth sailing for me. The P21 comes with a standard network cable as well as the power plug. All you need to do is power it up and then attach it to any open RJ45 port on the back of your network router. Then you simply take any USB-equipped external hard drive you own and plug it into one of the USB ports available on the Pogoplug, and there's all that needs to be done for the installation. Of course, the instruction manual adds a few steps in between, but that's basically the long and short of it. If you encounter any problems, the site has an extensive help section and customer support is quick to respond as well.
The set up involves using your computer to register on the Pogoplug website. There is no special software needed. The company provides the access you need through their site. Once you log in, you can then have the device recognize your drive and you can also adjust different options for your account. The company does offer 5 GB of free online space as well as pay-for-space if you need, but considering that the P21 lets you attach USB drives externally you can create your own space without having to pay a dime (except for your own hardware.) The Pogoplug P21 has a limit to the maximum drive size per drive that it can handle, which may irk some, but all my USB drives are well below that limit. I think I remember reading that the P21 can recognize drives up to 160 GB, but I can't seem to verify that even in the website's help center. It might be 750 GB.
Once everything is set up, you browse through the hard drive's contents through your web browser. If you don't have existing files, then you simply add what you want. If you do have existing files, you're not likely to see anything at first and might think that something is wrong, which is not the case. The Pogoplug P21 has to read and index all of the files before they will show up to view or access. Depending on the number of files you have, this can take half an hour or half a day. The device itself does all the work (sparing the company's servers as well as your PC hardware) and it's meant to be a careful energy saver.
 INTERFACE 
The website navigation is simple and pretty easy to use. If you've used Box or Dropbox, then the Pogoplug website will also be a piece of cake. It's not robust like Box or Dropbox; just different. The site supports drag and drop uploading as well as click-button uploading. When using the drag and drop, the little icon that pops up says "move", but it really means copy. Files can be uploaded one at a time or as a whole group only - you can't upload folders filled with files. So if you have highly organized files for backing up, you'll have to enable the mirroring option in your settings and do it that way. So far it's worked flawlessly for me, but just keep in mind the mirroring is drive to drive within the Pogoplug.
The viewing and sorting options are somewhat limited. You can see file folders, but it doesn't show the number of files in those folders or the overall folder size. You can only see the sizes of each individual file. You can't really sort your files, movies, music, photos, whatever, and it's much easier to use and navigate if you organize your uploads as you go. What's really awesome is that you can send file links to people to view/download and they don't even need to have a Pogoplug account. By doing so, I'm able to let my brother watch movies on the go without having to give him explicit access to my NAS. It only works for streaming as long as the video file has been transcoded, otherwise you can only download it. More on transcoding later. As of now, I can't disable a link. It still must be one of the bugs.
The upload and download speeds for the Pogo P21 is whatever your home network upload and download speeds are. If you're like most people with cable or likewise, you have typically fast download speeds and complete crap for uploading. Sometimes if you have a lot of data to move over onto the storage, it's actually easier and faster to remove the USB drive and do a straight copy with it hooked up to your PC. It seems odd that you can't do a straight access to the hard drive connected to the P21, considering that it's right there on your own network. But the way that the manufacturer has their setup designed, everything goes through web traffic through the site and then back to your network drive. So don't think that massive uploading is going to be a quick feat - be prepared for long waits.
 MUSIC PHOTOS DOCS 
Music streams well. You have simple listings based on artist, albums, genre, or songs in a simple yet effective interface. Music will continue playing so long as the browser is still open and you're working in your media library. If you go to view your settings, the music will turn off. The quality of the music is the same as if I've played it through Google Play or straight from my hard drive. There was no detectable pausing or skipping at all. Adding songs to the queue is easy, but you can't edit the queue except for removing songs (i.e. no reordering of songs.) Removing a song from the queue interrupts the current song playing, and it will automatically start playing the song that was after the one you just deleted. You can't save the queues like a playlist either and there is no option to shuffle songs. You don't have any equalizer controls either, which, of course, might be asking too much. The queue will stay as-is until you delete it or decide to play new music, not by adding it to the queue.
Individual files can be searched for by keyword, but I've found it takes too long and it's faster to manually look for something. When viewing photos as a whole, they're only separated by months, but you have to turn on thumbnails in order to view them quickly. Unfortunately, music album art also gets thrown in the mix and you can't sort any other way when you're viewing files by category.
Document files also have to be indexed when they're uploaded to the drive, and they must go through a web conversion to be viewed. It's no big deal for files under 1 MB in size, but larger ones will take longer to load when you want to look at it. You can't edit any files on the drive, nor can you access them through the program you'd normally view them from either. Something like Google Drive would be better suited for such editing tasks. With the Pogoplug, you have to save the files locally first in order to do that. Document files that you want to view on the drive attached to the Pogoplug P21 are viewed as an image. You can scroll, zoom in and out, view as single or double page, and flip through the pages of the document with ease.
 VIDEO & TRANSCODING 
Transcoding video is what irritated me the most, at first. I have had the Pogoplug Pogo-P21 since late September 2012, and I set it to transcode 117 AVI files between 1.3 GB and 2.5 GB in size - these files were ones pre-existing on the hard drive I attached to the Pogoplug. It just fully completed transcoding the last file yesterday. Other than uploading different photos, documents, and music files to play around, test, and store, all the device has been doing 24-7 has been transcoding.
The transcoding process is required before being able to view any video files. The only other option is to download the file and play it from there. The P21 supports most all video formats for transcoding and playback. After a couple of months, when I was wondering what was taking so long for the rest of the files to finish, I contacted customer support about the transcoding. They told me that the transcoding does not affect the original file (awesome) - the transcoding creates a compressed version hidden in a folder on the hard drive. They said to keep about 10% of the drive free for such files, and once a file has been transcoded it stays that way even if you disconnect and reconnect the drive. Customer support said that I could use the software Handbrake to transcode files myself and upload them, but I figured that I might as well just be patient.
When you're viewing your media under the settings option, you can see the current list of files to be transcoded as well as the percentage progress and time spend on the current file. That's it. There is no more detail or information other than that. You can refresh the media list to have it updated. The transcoding takes place so long as the P21 and the harddrive are connected and powered on, so you don't have to worry about keeping your PC connected. Strangely enough, even though I had only 117 files, it oftentimes stated that more than that number were queued for transcoding, but only at the beginning. I also noticed that the queue sometimes shows, or is transcoding, a file I had previously thought transcoded. My assumption is that, for whatever reason, files will transcode to a certain point and then the device skips to the next video file to work on. The partially-transcoded file goes back in the queue to be completed whenever it comes up again. Same thing applies if you happen to reset the devices. The transcoding picks up wherever it left off on whichever file it resumes with.
Viewing videos remotely from a digital device is where the true joy comes in. While the videos are enjoyable from a standard 14- to 16-inch laptop screen, you will notice the effects of the lowered quality due to the transcoded file. I wouldn't recommend any screen larger than that unless you're watching it from way way back. But that's not the main reason why I purchased the Pogoplug Pogo-P21. I wanted to be able to enjoy videos on my Samsung Galaxy Note II wherever I'm at. It doesn't work too well if your device is using 3G data, but the playback is smooth and flawless with a good 4G or wireless data connection. The videos load quickly even when you skip forward in the movie, and I've experienced no freezing or lock-ups with the Pogoplug android application or with my web browser.
 SOME SMALL ISSUES 
A few times I hadn't been able to access the data on the drive, and I had to go home and reboot everything. I read that this happens on occasion and usually when there is some sort of automatically-pushed update to the device. In this sense it can be somewhat unreliable, but it's only happened a few times over the past four months.
Batch uploading with large files in large amounts is not really recommended. Many of those files will upload, but some will hang and have to be individually re-uploaded. I've found that it's better to upload small groups of files within folders, if you choose to do it all manually.
Uploading slows down network access to your router (of course.)
 WHY I LIKE IT 
The Pogoplug Pogo-P21 is absolutely fantastic when it's working properly. I can watch transcoded videos instantly without any buffering needed. The only drawback is that it's easier to notice the lowered quality on larger screens.
You have the peace of mind that your personal files are secure on your own cloud network. No data is stored on the internet (unless you opt for it), and the Pogoplug site states that they don't save or have access to your passwords either. You don't need to worry about your data being at risk from hackers targeting the most popular cloud sites, being inaccessible from severe weather taking out servers, or being viewed by networks interested in data-mining.
Unlimited storage. If you need more storage it's as easy as plugging in another hard drive. Old laptop hard drives can be encased in a USB enclosure kit and repurposed toward your own personal cloud. You can share files with others, even if they don't have a Pogoplug account.
You could, technically, rely on using the free data storage with Skydrive, Google Drive, Amazon, Box, Dropbox, etc., or you can access and manage all your files in one place with little restrictions.
It's easy to set up. It's quiet. You can access files remotely from any computer or smartphone. Best of all - there is no monthly fee.
 THINGS I DONT LIKE 
Transcoding is the biggest, slowest pain in the butt ever. It requires much patience, especially if you're frontloading tons of files at once. Upload and download speeds are based on your home network speeds - it can actually take a fraction of the time to use a PC to copy files compared to uploading them through the Pogoplug site.
The website interface is too simple and limited in some ways. It can use a serious overhaul.
It does not operate on your own network, so you can only access your files through the web or android app, even if the drive itself is literally feet away from your computer.
You can't use password-protected or encrypted drives at this time.
 VERDICT 
While all the transcoding was taking place, I ended up poking around to see what other fee-free options were available to me. I did find Splashtop software, which has actually been out for a number of years. I really do like using Splashtop, since I can remote-connect to my computers for non-compressed video watching, or even some low-key games. Most of the PC games I have have too much going on to effectively stream and play on my Galaxy Note II. The drawbacks are cursor lag and the fact that you have to pay a yearly fee if you want to connect from any network but your home.
With that aside, the Pogoplug Pogo-P21 has done what I've intended it to do, but in the time-frame it works at, which took awhile for me to realize. Even though the website interface and the android app could use a freshening up with more features and controls, they do get the job done. My original reaction to this whole process was that I hated it. But over time, as I've gotten to understand the nuances and limitations of the P21, it's grown on me and is truly a useful piece of equipment. I have the peace of mind that my important files are backed up automatically (mirroring) and are secure. I can always expand my storage without monthly fees. The best part - the whole reason I purchased the P21 - is that I can watch my videos anytime anywhere on my smartphone with no buffering or lag. While there may be other NAS devices that can perform similarly or with more features, I haven't found one that costs only $20. At the very least this product is a 3.5/5, but the value for what it does gives it that extra nudge to a full four stars for me (after months of learning patience, of course!)
Amount Paid (US$): 19.99
Driver Availability: Windows, Linux, and Mac
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