Trying to stay connected when you’re out traveling isn’t always easy. And carrying a bunch of different devices for specific jobs ends up with a lot of moving pieces, a lot of extra weight, and more things to go wrong.
There are starting to be some new products that try to solve several of these problems at once. They don't fit easily into a standard category but are rather a bunch of different solutions packed into a single device.
The one I'm focusing on here is the pocket-sized RAVPower FileHub (model no. RP-WD01). It includes an SD card reader makes it particularly attractive to photographers.
It’s a device of many talents, but they're hard to pin a name to. FileHub isn't especially useful or sexy, but that's not to say that I can think of a better name. And here's why--these are the key features of the RAVPower FileHub.
The wifi functionality is really to the heart of why this device exists. There are several aspects to it, but the first is that it acts as a wifi hub or personal router.
But it’s important to be clear what it isn’t. By itself it doesn’t provide internet access—it acts as a bridge between your wifi devices and another form of internet access. For instance, you can connect the FileHub to a hotel’s wifi and then connect your phones or computers by wifi to the FileHub to share the hotel’s connection. That can come in handy when hotels limit the number of devices you can use (or charge by the device). You can also connect the FileHub by wifi to a mobile hotspot and then connect your devices by wifi to the FileHub.
But the FileHub is not a mobile hotspot. It doesn’t connect directly to cell networks—you need to arrange that separately. And you can’t easily use it as a traditional router to turn a wired connection into a wifi connection (there’s nowhere to plug in a regular internet cable).
SD Memory Card Reader
The FileHub has a built-in SD (SD, SDHC, SDXC) slot so you can download your photos from the memory card to your device over wifi. But it's also important to point out that the FileHub doesn't have any of its own storage space onboard. It's not a portable hard drive, and it's not the same thing as a dedicated memory card backup device. You can, however, connect it to a portable hard drive and access the drive over wifi.
There are two ways to download photos from an SD card. The fastest is the old-fashioned way of connecting he FileHub to your computer with a USB cable and using the USB 2 connection. Then it’s just a regular card reader, and you can download your photos in whatever way you usually do.
But the more impressive feature is that you can use it as a wifi card reader. That comes in handy if you’re using a mobile device like a phone or tablet where it’s not easy or even impossible to connect by regular USB. You an use a web interface or a dedicated app. It’s much slower than using the cable connection, but it also opens up options that aren’t available by USB cable. Most importantly, it means that you can browse the contents of your SD card using your phone or tablet. It’s important to note, though, that you won’t natively get preview images for RAW format image files, so you’ll need to actually download the images to your device to work with those.
NAS Hub / Web File Server
The FileHub doesn’t hold any data itself, but it acts as a wifi bridge between your phone or tablet and an external hard drive. Whether you want to watch movies stored an external hard drive, listen to music, or work with photos on that drive, you can stream from an external hard drive to your phone or tablet.
The RAVPower FileHub is also an external battery or portable USB power bank. You can use it to recharge your phone or tablet or provide external power to your GoPro. It has a built-in 3000 mAh battery.
Compared to some other dedicated external USB power banks you can get, which can run up to at least 20,000 mAh, the FileHub’s battery isn’t huge. But it’s enough to fully recharge most current smartphones at least once, and enough to charge something like a GoPro HERO4 multiple times.
It is also important to know that the battery is used to power the FileHub’s own features, so if you’re using things like the wifi functionality you’ll be drawing down on that same pool of battery juice.
To connect it as a battery you use a USB cable directly to your device and turn the FileHub on. Simple.
I've been testing the RAVPower on some recent trips and have found it to work as advertised. It does accomplish each of the core functions its supposed to. But I still have a few quibbles. Overall, they fall into two areas: the steps required to get the wifi and networking set up and the app/web browser interface. Both work, I've found them to have a little more friction to use than I'd like. There's a third issue that isn't the FileHub's fault--working with photos over wifi is slow. That said, slow is better than not possible.
Battery Power Supply. It works. It's convenient. And while it's a smaller capacity than I usually take with me, I don't have any complaints about the battery pack functionality. In short, it's handy to have, but it's probably not the reason to buy this device.
Wifi Hub. This is probably the feature I've found most useful. Too many hotels, airport lounges, or other protected wifi hotspots still limit usage to a single device or at least make you sign on separately for every device (sometimes frequently). If you're traveling with a phone and computer or tablet and any number of other wifi-enabled devices that can get tedious (and sometimes expensive) very quickly. With the RAVPower you can log in to the wifi network once from the Filehub and then connect up to ten devices by wifi to the Filehub. While that doesn't actually solve the problem of slow internet connections, it does add convenience and can reduce internet connection costs for those places that still charge by device.
And while I'm not a big fan of the Filehub's user interface through a web browser, which you have to use to get it to log into the wifi network, it's functional and stable.
NAS Hub / Web File Server. If you want to watch moves or browse photos from your tablet or smartphone without actually storing them on your tablet or smartphone, this can come in very handy because you can plug in a portable hard drive and effectively turn that hard drive into a wifi-enabled hard drive. I've found this feature also to be useful, especially for browsing photos. It's a bit slow doing it over wifi if you're using large RAW files, and the web interface is a bit clunky, but it works.
SD Memory Card Reader. Again, it works. But I haven't found myself using this function much beyond testing in part because I often use CompactFlash or microSD cards and in part because I prefer to use a dedicated memory card backup device. But if you regularly use SD cards (or microSD cards with an adapter) and want to keep things light, this is a good option.
I'm glad I'm not responsible for marketing this device, because it's hard to pin down exactly what it does in an elevator pitch. But for photographers on the go, it can come in handy to solve several different digital-life problems in a single device that's small and relatively inexpensive.
It's available at Amazon.
Colors: Available in Black or White
WiFi: 802.11 b/g/n 2.4GHz
WiFi Speed: 72 Mbps at 20 MHz / 150 Mbps at 40MHz
Battery Capacity: 3000 mAh
Power input: 1.5A (max)
Power output: 1A
Dimensions: 4.65x3.11x0.55 inches / 11.81x7.90x1.34 cm
Weight: 4.23 oz / 120g
Made in China