Category: UPnP AV / DLNA media-server hardware

Buyers’ Guide–Network-Attached Storage

Introduction

Netgear ReadyNAS

Netgear ReadyNAS as a music server

A new class of hardware has been brought about by the networked home and small office environment. This is in the form of the network-attached storage device which works simply as a hard disk that is attached to the small network, sharing its resources using common network protocols.

Description

A network-attached storage device or NAS is an appliance that connects to your home or small business network via Ethernet to serve as a communal storage device for that network. This is instead of purposing an older computer for this role of a common storage device.

One main advantage of these devices is that these devices don’t demand as much power as a regular desktop computer running as a server and they make less noise than the typical ATX desktop tower computer. Therefore they need less power to run and don’t need to have a constantly-running fan. This also leads to a device that is quiet and energy-efficient, values that are being asked of in this era.

The devices are typically very small, often ranging in size from a pair of cassette tapes through a small book to the size of a kitchen toaster for the small-business units.This means that they don’t take up much desk space and can even be hidden behind other computing devices, which also puts them in the good books with those who value aesthetics. This small size also wins favour with those of us who want a data storage to serve multiple devices but that can be quickly shifted to a location at a moment’s notice; as I have seen for myself at the Australian Audio and AV Show with a few of these devices working as DLNA-compliant media servers for demonstration hi-fi equipment. Infact the pictures of the Netgear ReadyNAS and the Seagate GoFlex Home NAS units are images of fully-operational units serving this aforementioned role, with the Seagate single-disk unit being photographed on the floor and it being slightly higher than the skirting board.

Disk Storage

Single-Disk NAS

Seagate GoFlex Home NAS as music server

Seagate GoFlex Home single-disk NAS

Cheaper consumer-focused NAS units are typically equipped with one hard disk with a few of these units like the Seagate GoFlex Home being a network bridge for a removeable hard-disk module that is part of the manufacturer’s modular-hard-disk system.

This also includes the portable NAS units like the Seagate GoFlex Satellite that are their own Wi-Fi network and are intended to work as a data offloading device for tablet computers.

But on the other hand, there are some single-disk NAS units like the QNAP range that can excel as highly-capable network storage hubs. In the case of the QNAP, these units are able work as full-flight Web servers suitable for serving intranets or “proving” Web-site prototypes; or pull off other advanced network-storage tricks.

Multi-Disk NAS

On the other hand, the better units will support two or more hard disks which work the installed hard disks as a RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks) that facilitate either extra capacity, higher data throughput or increased fault tolerance.These multi-disk units can be set up to have two hard disks of equal capacity “mirroring” each other as a safeguard if one disk fails or to facilitate high-throughput low-latency data transfer. On the other hand,the disks can be seen simply as a large volume of data. Units which support three or more disk drives can support disk setups that combine failsafe data storage and increased data capacity.

Some multi-disk units like the Netgear ReadyNAS units have the ability to support in-place volume expansion. This is where you can add extra hard drives to the NAS while it is running in order to build up redundant failover storage or increase system capacity. But other systems will require the NAS to be taken out of service if you intend to evolve the multi-disk RAID volume.

User-installed disks and upgrade options

Most of these NAS units have the hard disk integrated, which is at a known capacity whereas others, commonly known as BYOD enclosures, come simply as an enclosure where you buy the hard disk separately and install it yourself. A variety of multi-disk units do come with a single hard disk but you upgrade them to the RAID resilience or extra capacity by installing a hard disk in an empty disk bay. This kind of installation typically can be done without the need for tools in all of the recent implementations.

Of course, the cheapest single-disk NAS units don’t allow you to upgrade or replace the hard disk yourself, so you have to replace the unit if that hard disk fails or you outgrow the hard disk capacity. On the other hand, the better units permit the user to upgrade or replace the hard disk, thus providing for a long device lifespan.

External connection ports

A lot of NAS units have one or more USB ports so you can copy content off a thumbdrive or external hard disk, use an external hard disk as extra storage or a backup device for the NAS or use other peripherals. Some of them may use an eSATA port for the same purpose, especially to add storage or maintain a backup device.

It is also worth knowing that these ports may be used as a way of extending the functionality of the NAS devices through the use of various device classes; especially if subsequent firmware upgrades take place. Example applications include working as a print server for a USB-only printer to a camera server for a Webcam.

Functions

Network-central backup location

Most network-attached storage devices typically provide the ability to be a network-central backup device for all of the computers in that network. This is typically facilitated through manufacturer-supplied software or backup utilities that are part of a regular-computing operating system such as Windows Backup or Apple Time Machine.

Network-central file storage and drop-off point

They also work as a data-drop-off point where users can “park” redundant data or data being moved between computers and hard drives. This is facilitated using standard SMB/CIFS, FTP or HTTP machine-to-machine data transfer protocols which these operating systems can support natively. The computer may run a manufacturer-supplied “assistance” shell to help with locating the device or linking it to the computer.

In the same extent, the NAS may work as a shared data library for software and data that is needed across the network. This would include utility software, device drivers, updates and patches as well as documents of common interest.

It is being extended to mobile computing devices like smartphones and tablets through the use of manufacturer-supplied or third-party network-file-transfer apps for the common mobile-computing platforms like iOS or Android. I have covered this topic in an article about moving data between your NAS and your smartphone.

Media server

This now covers the ability to share media files like digital images, music and video files to every computer and DLNA-compliant media device across the network.  This is facilitated through an integrated DLNA media server for standards-compliant devices and an iTunes-compatible server for iTunes media managers including Apple iOS devices.

But some manufacturers are targeting some of their consumer-focused NAS units at the distribution of media files across the network. These will typically have software that provides for low-latency transfer of audio and video content as well as an improved DLNA media server. Some of these DLNA media servers may support content-metadata aggregation where they index all media held on every DLNA server in the network and become the single point of reference for that media.

Some of the NAS units like RipNAS, ZoneRipper or Naim UnitiServe may even have an integrated optical drive to allow you to “rip” CDs to the hard disk or allow you to connect an optical drive to their USB port so you don’t have to power up a computer to “rip” new CDs to your media collection.

Remote access and the personal cloud

A new capability that is being promoted by NAS vendors such as Western Digital and Iomega is remote access, commonly marketed as a “private cloud” or “personal cloud”. This requires the NAS to have server software that exposes its location to a cloud service on the Internet and manage access to the data from Internet-based users. It works alongside client software available for regular or mobile operating systems to enable users to transfer the data outside their home network.

Variants of this software, such as what Iomega offer, may support peer-to-peer data transfer between multiple NAS units installed at different locations. This could cater for multi-site content replication or simple offsite data backup requirements.

Platform NAS systems

An increasing number of high-end NAS units have the equivalent of an app store, where the manufacturer can provide free or paid file-handling programs that load on to these devices. These can include a simple photo-viewing intranet app, a DVR for video-surveillance apps, an email server or a download / Bittorrent manager amongst other things.

Some systems like the QNAP units deliver every function in one “hit” when the user purchases the NAS devices whereas others just maintain the “app-store” or “download-point” for users to add the functions on at a later time.

What should you get

A single-disk NAS can serve a typical household well as a data drop-off point and media server. It can also augment a small-business’s server by fulfilling low-risk tasks such as DLNA media-server functionality thus keeping the server for business-critical needs. The high-end varieties of these single-disk NAS units like what QNAP sells would work well for those of us who want more functionality such as a Web-development workbench or a DVR for an IP-based video-surveillance system.

If you end up with more devices in your home and you want to be sure of continuity or expandability, a multi-drive system would fit your bill. You may go for a multi-disk system that has one hard disk installed so you can upgrade to resiliency or extra capacity at a later time.

Small businesses should consider a good multi-disk MAS that has what it takes to support increased resiliency. In some cases, a small business may operate the multi-disk NAS as a backup or file-archive device for their site’s main operational server; as well as a media server or similar application.

It is also essential to look at an offsite backup option for these units, such as the ability to connect a USB external hard drive for the duration of a backup job or the ability to backup to another NAS or cloud service via the Internet.

Mandatory features

For basic functionality, the NAS should support the SMB/CIFS and NFS network file protocols and have an integrated DLNA and iTunes media server. The computer-NAS backup options can be hosted with manufacturer-supplied software bout should work with Windows Backup or Apple Time Machine options.

I would also prefer that the NAS supports a continual software upgrade path for its functions. This is where the manufacturer keeps the firmware up to date as new standards come about, thus opening up the door to newer functionality and better performance.

The connection to the networks should be at least one Gigabit Ethernet port in order to support higher data throughput. You may not get this throughput with your existing router but if you upgrade to a newer router that has Gigabit Ethernet ports, you will end up with significantly higher throughput which would benefit applications like movies or high-quality music files.

Conclusion

Once you have a network-attached storage device in place, you will never know what capabilities these devices will open up to the connected home and small business. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a backup location for your computers or a media server or just simply a “file parking lot” for your home network.

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A digital camera that can be controlled by a smartphone

Article

CES: Samsung SH100 camera wants to be BFF with your smartphone – CES 2011 CNET Blogs

My Comments

At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, Samsung had demonstrated a compact digital camera which has integrated 802.11n Wi-Fi functionality. It would have the usual benefits like uploading pictures to a computer or cloud-based storage service; and exhibiting pictures on a DLNA-compliant video-display device.

But this camera has a feature that has impressed me very much. It is to use the Samsung Galaxy S smartphone as an external viewfinder and control surface. This has been a function that I have been wishing for with digital photography and cinematography.

Here, this would work well with a photography situation that most of us encounter. When we are at a party or nightclub, we may want to take a picture of everyone on that dance floor dancing to that dance hit thumping through the speakers. Similarly, we may want to get a picture of the live band playing at that pub gig which is packed out. When we are outdoors, we may want to grab a picture of the floats that are part of the parade for example.

In these situations, you may need to lift the camera over your head but you won’t get a fair idea of what you are to photograph due to a small screen size or viewing the screen at an “off angle”. Here, you just end up taking a large number of “rough shots” that you will end up editing out for example.

Similarly, if you use your camera for wildlife photography for example, you will find it hard to take the right shot because the moment you get near the camera, you spoil the shot.

Here, Samsung has established a wireless link which uses the phone’s screen as a viewfinder and control surface for the camera. The user would have to download an app to the phone in order to achieve the functionality. This link is also set up so that pictures can be sent to the phone for sharing via the phone using MMS, email or Web-based services.

There have been further questions about other smartphones, whether based on Android, iOS or other platforms being able to have this functionality. What actually needs to happen is for device classes to be defined or existing device classes reused and amended for photographic / cinematographic applications. This is to provide remote viewfinder and status display as well as remote control of the shutter / recording start-stop and other aspects of the exposure. Similarly, the device classes also have to provide control of flashguns and other lighting in order to synchronise them with the exposure.

Here, the device classes should work with USB wired connections as well as wireless Bluetooth or Wi-Fi connections.

Similarly, cameras could implement USB “On-The-Go”, Bluetooth “Object Push Profile” or similar technologies to allow a user to upload a picture to the phone. As well, the phone could provide dynamic scale-down of high-resolution images when sending pictures by MMS or email. This would avoid me having to take pictures with the phone rather than my digital camera if I intend to use the picture for a picture message for example and I can still use the good-quality imaging attributes of the camera to yield a good quality photo.

At least Samsung has taken a step in the right direction by enabling a digital camera to work with a smartphone for improved photography.

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Vodafone Mobile Wi-Fi R201 “Mi-Fi” wireless-broadband router – raising the bar for this class of device.

Carry an instant Windows 7 hotspot in your pocket | NetworkWorld.com Community

From the horse’s mouth

Vodafone Mobile Wi-Fi R201 – Product page

My comments on this device

I have come across most of the small wireless-broadhand Wi-Fi routers and most of them seem to offer the same functionality – working just as a wireless router for wireless-broadband services. But the Vodafone Mobile Wi-Fi R201 has offered more than the typical device of its class.

This battery-operated device has a built-in microSD card and is able to work as a network-attached storage device as well as a router for wireless broadband. It can present the files via three different protocols – SMB/CIFS, HTTP or UPnP AV / DLNA for media files. The latter function is provided for by TwonkyMedia Server which is being integrated in to many network-attached storage devices.

It can be powered from AC power, USB or integrated rechargeable batteries but, due to its small size, it doesn’t have an Ethernet connector for either LAN or WAN (broadband) connectivity. An Ethernet connector being added to the device could allow the unit to become a NAS / wireless access point for an existing network or it could work with a cable or ADSL modem as a router. As well, it is dependent on the Wi-Fi network as the primary connection method.

The unit can work tightly with Windows 7 or with other operating systems and devices that support WPS, especially the PBC “push-to-connect” method. As well, the PSK passphrase for the WPA2 security setup and the SSID are unique to each unit, which makes for better security.

Another feature is that this particular “Mi-Fi” can work alongside the network-connected computers as an SMS send/receive terminal. This is done using a Web form that is part of the Web management interface for this device.

My comments about this device is that it would work hand in glove with a portable Internet radio like the Pure Evoke Flow that I previously reviewed as long as you have a generous data plan on the SIM card for receiving Internet-radio programs. This is intensified by you putting a microSD card full of music or a SlotMusic card (the microSD equivalent of the pre-recorded Musicassette) in this device and using the radio’s DLNA music-player mode to play the music files from the card.

As well, I would recommend that users who buy this device buy a USB car charger that plugs in to the vehicle’s cigar lighter in order to avoid compromising the device’s battery life when they use it in the car. This charger should have a standard USB socket on itself or a microUSB plug that fits the device.

By the way, it is worth noting that this router is now available in the UK and will be rolled out to countries that Vodafone does business in as a name.

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A serious wireless router / NAS combo from LaCie – ready for next-generation broadband

 

LaCie Intros ‘Wireless Space’ Wi-Fi Router / Access Point / NAS Media Server All-in-one | eHomeUpgrade

 

Video direct link

My comments

There have been previous attempts to combine a network-attached-storage device with a broadband router but most of these have resulted in devices having the worst of two worlds unless you build a computer to work as this kind of device. Mostly you have a “storage router” which is a regular wireless “edge” router which can convert a USB-connected storage device in to a network-attached storage or a network-attached storage which can serve two networks and offer elementary routing functionality.

But LaCie have made a better attempt to bring the best of both worlds together. They have released the “Wireless Space” which is a NAS with integrated wireless-router functionality in a beautiful piano-black housing.

The network-attached storage can do what most single-disk systems can do such as offering integrated backup using operating-system-integrated backup functions that are part of Microsoft Windows or Apple MacOS X. Of course, files can be stored using the SMB or CIFS in a network-public share or a private share and the unit can provision media using UPnP AV / DLNA or Apple iTunes. One feature that I would like to know about with the UPnP AV media server is whether it can work with the full metadata for audio, image and video files or simply provide a folder view.

The unit can be set to work as a wireless “edge” router, a wireless access point or a wireless client bridge which provides for high flexibility, no matter whether you want to keep your existing broadband router going or replace it with something better. There are 3 Gigabit Ethernet ports for the LAN side of the connection and one Gigabit Ethernet port for the WAN (broadband) side of the connection, which makes this unit fit for use with “next-generation broadband” setups. The wireless network is based on 2.4GHz 802.11n technology and can use WPS quick-setup options.

When the unit works as a broadband router, it has the full expectation for a mid-range broadband router including UPnP Internet Gateway Device functionality and VPN pass-through. If it works as a switch, it can work alongside UPnP Internet Gateway Device routers to enable remote access to the network-attached storage resources.

It could have support for 4-port switch functionality when in switch mode rather than the 3-port switch + “recovery port” functionality that it has. As well, it could do well with support for WPS-assisted “extension access point” setup so it can work quickly and easily as part of an “extended service set”. Of course, I would prefer to hook this device to a wired backbone or run it as a wireless broadband “edge” router in order to avoid putting your data at risk due to the radio-interference risks associated with wireless networking and the fact that the wireless network is a shared-bandwidth network.

This may raise questions about this device being an “infill” NAS/access-point network device for a small network or being a replacement for an existing broadband router such as to “fatten the pipe” for next-generation broadband.

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Another dockable NAS system from Seagate

News article

Seagate introduces GoFlex Home for household network storage | The Toybox – ZDNet

From the horse’s mouth

Seagate –

Product Page

Press Release

My comments

Seagate had previously released a docking hard-disk system under the FreeAgent name, with a USB dock, media-player dock and the DockStar which is a network-attached storage which works with the FreeAgent docking hard disks.

This unit was based around the PogoPlug technology which has an Ethernet-ended network-attached-storage circuit in the same space as a “wall-wart” AC adaptor. It was able to support these functions:

  • “cloud-based” file sync
  • file backup either with supplied software or operating-system-native software in the form of Apple Time Machine or CIFS
  • a DLNA-compliant media server or
  • Remote file access from the Internet

Now, Seagate have established a new “FreeAgent” docking hard-disk form factor in the form of the GoFlex, which has some different attributes to the previous standard. Why has this action been taken?

One issue that may be of concern is the desire for Seagate to move from one platform to another but keep a few products going to support those who have the established platform.

Whatever, I would consider this NAS design as being suitable for use with a small network or as a secondary unit for a larger network. One application that I would think of for these units would be as a DLNA media server for a small-business network that has a dedicated server computer running something like Windows Server or a Linux business server build for company data. This unit would, as outlined in “DLNA and UPnP AV in the business”, hold media like pictures or videos to show using DLNA-capable TVs and electronic picture frames as part of the business’s visual merchandising strategy without putting business-critical data at risk.

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An Internet “edge” router that can become a DLNA media player and controller

Article

D-Link’s Xteme N DIR-685 All-In-One Router Gets DLNA Certification and Some Nifty New Features | eHomeUpgrade

Download link:

D-Link’s support website – DIR-685 downloads

My comments

I had previously mentioned the D-Link DIR-685 Wireless-N Broadband Router / Electronic Picture Frame in this site during my coverage of the CES 2009 show in January 2009. This warranted my attention because of a storage router that also worked as an electronic picture frame because of its colour LCD display.

This router also was part of the DLNA Media Network because it could become a DLNA media server for material held on a user-installed hard disk or an external USB-based storage device. But this functionality has been extended through the latest firmware update for it to become a control point in the DLNA Media Network as well as showing pictures held on other DLNA Media Servers on that same network.

By the same token, the screen can be controlled by other DLNA Media control points such as TwonkyManager or a control point integrated in a smartphone like Andromote (Android), PlugPlayer (iOS – iPhone / iPad / iPod Touch) or the one that part of most of the Nokia phones.

At the moment, the utility of this function is limited to digital images because there isn’t any sound-handling functionality in this router.

This could lead to ideas like a “two-box two-screen” network solution for visual merchandising consisting of this router and a Sony or Samsung DLNA-ready TV with images shown on both the router and the TV. Similarly, this device could be seen as another “screen” for pictures to appear in another area but sharing a common pool of pictures in the network.

Therefore this is another example of a common standard breeding product software innovation rather than an imitative design culture.

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Product Review – Western Digital MyBook World network-attached storage device (1 Terabyte)

WD My Book World Edition network hard driveI am now reviewing the Western Digital MyBook World network-attached storage device which is the first such device to be reviewed in this blog.

It is a white box about the size of an average paperback book such as a personal Bible but has a white “operation” light along the spine. This light can be turned off through the Web-based configuration menus under the “System-Advanced” screen in the Advanced menus. There is a vent along the top of the unit to allow for proper cooling.

Connection

It can connect to an Ethernet network, even a Gigabit one which would be part of high-end routers and equipment optimised for “next-generation” broadband services. There is also a USB socket for use with adding external USB storage or USB printers that can work as network printers to the network.

Storage

This unit has 1 Terabyte worth of storage available on it, which would be the minimum required for these devices. If you use it primarily as a media server, you would have plenty of room for many hours of high-definition video, oodles of “many-megapixel” pictures and many hours of audio content using good-quality codecs.

This is provisioned through one hard disk but the step-up model (WD MyBook World Edition II) has the ability to work with two user-replaceable hard disks and can support a two-disk RAID data-mirror setup.

Ethernet connection to the NAS

Ethernet connection to the WD NAS

Network functionality

It may be worth noting that I have run this unit on the latest firmware and is a wise practice to do whenever you buy these units to make sure they run the latest firmware.

It can work with the common network file protocols like FTP and SMB, but the Samba (SMB) server can’t handle credentials situations where you have the same username and password as one of the computers. As well, it isn’t easy to create a NAS share with a “public read-only” access condition where you have to log in to add or modify files on that share but anyone can read the files.

There is support for “cloud backup” and “cloud remote access” with WD’s MioNet cloud-based remote servers, but I haven’t tried this feature out yet.

The main function that I have appreciated in this NAS is the TwonkyMedia UPnP AV MediaServer function. This positions the NAS as a very capable network media library that provisions the media to standards-based media devices. It can also work as an external media drive for iTunes-based media setups.

This has allowed for PC-free media serving where I could play “ripped” audio files on any of the Internet radios that I have reviewed without needing to have the computer on. As well, it has improved the reliability of my UPnP-based media experience because the network hard disk is doing just that job of providing the media rather than a PC that does this amongst other activities. The UPnP functionality could be better supported by working with other shares that can be set up as “public read-only”, rather than just the “Public” share. It would then increase its validity as a media server in businesses where media collections are at risk of unauthorised alteration.

Points of Improvement

As I have outlined in the review, I would like to make it easier to provide “public read-only” shares which are able to be edited by authorised users but the files can be viewed by anyone without authentication and media files can simply be provided for playback by UPnP devices. This can make it easier to share media or other files across the network without fear of accidental or malicious alteration or deletion.

There could be some finer control on the status LED by providing for a static “bar-graph” display that indicates how much disk space has been used, or light-up only as a “distress signal” or if the hard disk is in active service. This is so you can know what is going on without that bright light staying on all the time.

Summary and Placement Notes

I would suggest using this hard disk as a “simple network backup” device or as a dedicated UPnP media server device for the home or small-business network. In the latter usage case, these businesses could easily relegate this unit as a secondary “media-server” NAS alongside their primary NAS that provides regular network file-service functions and establish UPnP AV / DLNA in their realms as I have talked about in a separate article.

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The rise of the “multimedia router”

Links

New multimedia router up before FCC – clock radio (FM+Internet), access to online video services, media playback from local storage – http://www.engadget.com/2009/12/09/qisda-sourced-multimedia-router-hits-the-fcc/

D-Link DIR-685 router with electronic picture frame – http://www.dlink.com.au/Products.aspx?Sec=1&Sub1=2&Sub2=5&PID=388

My comments on this new device class

What we are starting to see is the arrival of the “multimedia router” which is a device that is primarily targeted at the home and small-office user, the people whom this blog is written for.

What is this product class

This product class is a single-band Wireless-N broadband (Ethernet WAN) router with integrated multimedia playback functionality through an integrated screen and / or speakers. They have access to the popular online multimedia services and are able to play media held on local storage.

The screen in some of the devices also acts as a local “instrument panel” for these routers and if the device has a touchscreen, it could permit the device to have a local control panel.

They have come about because the cost of integrating these functions in the one shell has become very cheap and it has allowed manufacturers to differentiate their product range in a deeper manner.

Could this product class have a place in the broadband-router market

These devices may appeal initially as a novelty device but they could add an independent media playback device in the location where the Internet router would also go. This would typically be the home office or study or the back office of a small shop. In households where the phone is customarily installed in the kitchen or hallway, it could be feasible to make maximum benefit of these locations by locating these routers there alongside an Ethernet-ended DSL modem because these units could provide a picture display or “there-and-then” information display and, in the case of the proposed design, Internet radio in one box.

Similarly, even if another router like a VPN-endpoint router is on the network edge, these units can work as an integrated multifunction wireless access point that can be moved around the house.

What the device class needs

The first two iterations of this device class need to support DLNA-compliant LAN media playback so that media held on NAS boxes and media server devices that exist on the local network can be played through these devices. They could support DLNA MediaRenderer functionality as a controlled device so a PC or other device can become the control point.

They would also have to work well as an access point or as a router with a simple configuration routine for units that are connected to existing routers. They could support working as dual-band single-radio or dual-band dual-radio access points for those networks where a dual-band 802.11n segment exists.

These kind of features could be introduced in to this device class as more manufacturers introduce devices in to the class and the competition heats up. The previously-mentioned DLNA functionality could come in to play through a firmware update during the existing router’s service life.

Conclusion

Once this device class is developed further, it could be the arrival of a router that can acceptable be on show in that credenza in the home office.

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Product Review – Nokia N85 3G Multimedia Phone (Symbian S60 version 3)

Introduction

Nokia N85 smartphone I am reviewing the Nokia N85 3G Multimedia Phone, which is part of Nokia’s high-end “N-series” multimedia phones. It has been positioned as a second-tier model in their lineup and is one that can be easily missed in the crowded multipurpose mobile phone market, especially where this market is dominated by the Apple iPhone for personal use and the Blackberry phones for business use.

Software availability

This phone is part of the Symbian S60 Version 3 platform which has a wide availability of software from different places. This means that additional functions can be added “off the Web” by visiting Handango, software providers’ Web sites and S60-themed Web sites as well as the Ovi application store. This puts it as a decent alternative to the Apple iTunes App Store model that is being implemented by the “King Of Cool” with the iPhone.

As a multimedia phone terminal

High-contrast OLED 2

The N85's high-contrast OLED display

The display is based on OLED technology rather than the usual LCD technology which makes it easier to read in all light. The display is very bright and can be seen at extreme angles. Infact, I consider this display the “vacuum-fluorescent display for battery-operated devices” because it has the same brightness and consistency as the vacuum-fluorescent displays used on most home-installed consumer-electronics devices, especially Panasonic or Sony equipment. A disadvantage that this display may have is that this may lead to some pictures, especially some photographs, appearing too saturated and with a bit too much contrast but it may be how the OLED display reproduces the pictures. It may be a boon with text or diagrams such as the Ovi Maps.

The phone’s battery life is very good even when used as a music player as well as a phone. If you use 3G or WiFi data connectivity or the integrated navigation functionality for a significant amount of time, you can compromise the battery life. You can get around this problem while getting the most out of the phone while you are out and about but cannot readily use the supplied charger by investing in an external battery pack such as one of those “AA-battery”-powered mobile phone chargers. The phone’s MicroUSB socket is its power socket, which means that USB=based power devices used along with a micro-USB flylead can become the phone’s external power supply. The only problem with this is that some USB hubs may not be logically seen by the phone as a charger.

The phone as a GPS unit

The phone has integrated GPS but I am using this function with Ovi-based Maps 3.0 with City Guide subscription. For people who do a lot of walking, the subscription is very good value. One thing that I would like to see in the maps data is public paths for use by low-speed traffic like pedestrians, cyclists or horseback riders; but this is an issue with Navteq and the data they provide to Nokia. The GPS function can be used by other S60 3rd Edition location-driven applications like Nokia’s Sport Tracker GPS pedometer / workout diary or Google’s S60 siftware.

The phone as a Walkman

This phone beats the iPhone when it comes to personal-stereo functionality. This is demonstrable in the FM radio and the integrated music player, especially in how you can add music to the phone.

The phone has an integrated RDS FM radio which works only with wired headsets because the headset’s wire also is the radio’s aerial. There are a few discrepancies when it comes to working with RDS-enabled FM stations. If you preset an RDS radio station, the callsign details that are supplied through RDS aren’t used as a default station reference name. Instead, you have to manually copy the station’s name in to the station’s preset details. The phone doesn’t work with the so-called “dynamic RDS” features like TA/TP/EON traffic-information priority – a feature which can be a boon to public-transport users; PTY program-type functionality (including news priority) or RadioText dynamic text display. It does work with Visual Radio, which is an interactive radio service with 3G or WiFi as data backhaul.

The built-in music player is definitely flexible when it comes to handling music content because it works from music held on the microSDHC cards up to 16Gb / card in capacity. These can be exchanged at will in a similar manner to the classic cassette or MiniDisc formats. Similarly, you can enlarge the storage capacity by upgrading the memory card to a higher capacity. It is compatible with the SlotMusic “musicassette” idea that Sandisk put forward; and the MicroSDHC cards can be loaded with music through a “drag-drop” method via the file system and Nokia PC Suite or directly on to the microSDHC card in an SDHC card reader with the use of an SD card adaptor; or the phone can be synced through Nokia PC Suite or Windows Media Player.

As well, you can download content from a DLNA music server that you are connected to via the WiFi network. This yields a lot more flexibility than the Apple iPod / iPhone system when it comes to adding newer music to your portable collection  As far as codecs are concerned, the phone works with MP3, WMA and AAC codecs and can work with WMA up to 192kbps and MP3 up to 320kbps. The music player is operated in a manner similar to most MP3 players and if you make or take a call, the music pauses and resumes from where it left off. There is even the nice touch of the music fading up gracefully when you finish the call.

The integrated camera

The integrated camera is capable of high-resolution pictures and works well as an auxiliary camera if your main digital camera is out of action. It also works very well for video photography and will use the available memory on the microSD card for the footage rather a particular time limit.

One main problem with it is that if you intend to take pictures to send as MMS messages, it will prefer to send the high-resolution pictures which may not work with most mobile phones. To send an MMS, you would have to set the camera to work at a lower resolution before you take the picture. The picture you save would be a low-resolution picture. A point of improvement that could exist would be to have downscaling for MMS images when an image is sent as an MMS message.This is where a downscaled copy of the image is sent out as an MMS image.

Other than that, pictures and video that you take with the built-in camera can be transferred or printed out using PTP, Picthridge or Bluetooth or a PC can import pictures using Nokia PC Suite and any of the picture import functions that are part of Windows.

There is also a low-resolution camera on the front of the phone which comes in handy if you make a 3G videocall, but you can select to use the main camera during the videocall if you intend to show the other caller something rather than yourself.

Connectivity

As far as regular mobile-phone connectivity goes, this phone offers whatever is expected from a high-end mobile phone or smartphone.

The phone has a MicroUSB data and power socket and a 3.5” 4-conductor jack for headphones / AV lineout and headset / audio adaptor use. I use the phone with a Nokia-supplied headset audio adaptor with built-in microphone that is connected to a set of premium headphones so as to gain good-quality sound. The phone can connect to cassette adaptors for use with car cassette players or classic ghetto blasters; either directly or through an audio adaptor.

The main problem I have had with the audio adaptors is their flimsy tie-clips anchored to these adaptors that break under typical use. If this happens to you, I would suggest using either a metal “bobby-pin” or tie-clip; or a regular plastic clothes-peg from the laundry, attached to the audio adaptor with a rubber band. The only problem is that it may look a bit ugly especially in conjunction with formal wear or good headphones; and, for women, may be uncomfortable against the cleavage. To do this, wrap the rubber band around the audio adaptor making sure it isn’t pressing any of the buttons. Then open the clothes-peg, tie-clip or “bobby-pin” and pass one of the jaws of the clip through the rubber band. You then are able to clip the audio adaptor to your collar, lapel or tie with the tie clip, clothes peg or “bobby pin”.

The phone has a built-in PLL-controlled FM transmitter which you can use alongside an FM radio for music playback. If it was able to use this FM-based link for handsfree calling, I wouldn’t use that functionality at all because of having to set up the radio to handle the call every time a call comes in – one step too many.

The Bluetooth functionality is equally comprehensive in that is supports the Headset and Handsfree profiles for handsfree calling; A2DP / AVRCP audio playback profiles for music streaming functionality; and SIM Card Profile and Phone Book Profile for the increasing number of advanced in-car handsfree devices available with newer premium vehicles or on the aftermarket. This certainly means that the phone can partner with all of the good Bluetooth headsets and helmets as well as all of the good in-car handsfree setups.

Existence in the small network

WiFi Networks

The phone’s main method of connection to a small home or business network is through the built-in WiFi transceiver.

This transceiver works with 802.11g WPA networks that work purely to the WPA or WPA2 modes as well as to insecure WEP networks. This avoids routers or access points that are set up for WEP/WPA compatibility modes. For business and other high-security networks, the phone can work with most EAP-based enterprise security network setups; including SIM-based security. The phone can be programmed to work with wireless networks that have their SSID hidden, with use of a “hidden” option when you create an access point. The WiFi radio is very sensitive, which can come in handy whenever you use wireless hotspots.

The main gap the the phone has concerning WiFi-network connectivity is the lack of ability to support the WPS easy-enrolment setup that is becoming the norm for currently-issued wireless routers.

UPnP / DLNA Functionality

The phone works “out of the box” as a media player to the phone’s display and speakers or as a UPnP AV Control Point for pushing content held locally or on anther DLNA media server to another UPnP AV / DLNA Media Renderer device. It can also share content held on its memory card to a DLNA Media Network. Playlist management – can it push the contents of a container to a device?

Mail terminal

The built-in Symbian mail client supports IMAP4 and POP3/SMTP e-mail systems and uses a similar auto-setup routine to Windows Live Mail, where you just supply your fully-qualified e-mail address and password and the phone just works it out. The client is a similar standard to what is integrated in most smartphones but due to 12-key data entry, may be best used for reading e-mail and sending short replies or notes.

Web browsing

The web-browsing experience is similar to most other smartphones and is limited by the small screen. It can be viewed horizontally by selecting a mode to “view horizontal”. Password entry for social-networking and similar pages can be difficult due to the 12-key text-entry method primarily used in this class of phone.

Internet Radio

There is an integrated Internet Radio receiver function that can work with WiFi networks or 3G networks. If you want to use this function with a 3G network, it will need to work on an “all-you-can-eat” data plan if you want to do a lot of Internet-radio listening. The station directory is similar to that offered by Reciva or vTuner; which means having the stations sorted by country or genre. The phone can also “pipe” the Internet radio sound through the Bluetooth A2DP audio stream which allows you to play Internet radio broadcasts through Bluetooth speakers and similar audio accessories.

Conclusion, including the phone’s “cool factor”

This phone will appeal to the mature users who want a fully-functional yet flexible multimedia mobile phone but don’t intend to do a lot of text entry on it. As well, the phone “sets the cat amongst the pigeons” with the OLED display which is different from the LCD-display norm, thus can appeal to those who don’t have good eyesight.

What Nokia needs to do is to offer phones equipped with this OLED display and Symbian S60 to cut in to established smartphone markets like the QWERTY-keypad business phone (whether Blackberry-style or lengthways) or the touchscreen phone.

I have bought this phone on a published 24-month Telstra 3G “cap” contract under the regular terms and conditions for all customers who sign up to the contract. Therefore I am not writing this out of fear or favour.

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Thecus NAS server ( Network attached storage ) | Thecus® Unveils the N0204 miniNAS Device

My comments on the Thecus “midget” NAS server

I had posted comments on this blog in response to a “SmallNetBuilder” article regarding this “midget” NAS device and its relevance to the small network.

The main issue that I touched on is its small size and the use of the low-power 2.5” hard disk as part of a network-attached storage device. I had mentioned about the key advantages of this application being the small size and reduced power consumption and quieter operation that this class of device will offer.

A point of innovation that I had raised for further development of this device would be to have the device work from an automotive or marine power supply, thus supporting “office on wheels”, DLNA in the car and mobile video surveillance applications.

Actual Press Release from Thecus follows

Thecus® Unveils the N0204 miniNAS Device

Thecus N0204 NAS03/30/2009 – Big things are happening in the world of NAS devices. Today, Thecus® is proud to introduce the N0204 miniNAS device – the world’s smallest fully-featured NAS device.

Measuring a tiny 132 x 88 x 63 mm exterior, one could easily mistake the N0204 as a regular external hard drive. But look closer and you will see a very capable two-bay NAS device that fits right in the palm of your hand. The N0204 houses two 2.5” SATA hard disks, providing up to 1TB of storage. You can manage this storage with your choice of RAID 0, 1, and JBOD, making the N0204 the most robust pocketable storage device in existence. And because its drive bays are hot-swappable and feature auto-rebuild, you can change a hard disk without powering down the unit. The N0204 even comes with Thecus®’ Nsync for remote replication as well as the Thecus® Backup Utility for total data security. With huge storage, RAID functionality, and advanced data safeguards packed into a tiny device, the N0204 miniNAS is in a class all its own.

Tiny but mighty, the N0204 comes with many of the features and functionality possessed by its much larger cousins. For starters, the N0204 can function as a complete media hub with its built-in iTunes server, photo web server, and media server. With the built-in media server, you can enjoy your videos, pictures, and music with the N0204 by using any DLNA compliant media players. Plug in a USB web cam, and the N0204 turns into the world’s tiniest home surveillance server, allowing you to preview, capture and schedule image snapshots up to 640 x 480. Add to that support for both Windows and MAC OS operating systems and a whole new user friendly Windows Utility to easily set up and link the N0204 with your PC, and you’ve got some serious storage that you can whip out of your pocket and plug into virtually any network.

The N0204 miniNAS is a marvel of engineering. With advanced energy-saving capabilities, the N0204 only uses between 25~30% of the power compared to traditional two-bay NAS devices. You can even schedule power on/off for better power management. The N0204 also features whisper-quiet cooling, which means low temperatures and even lower noise during daily operation. A convenient USB 2.0 port in the front and the one-touch copy allow you to copy the contents of a USB storage device to the N0204 with a single button press. You can also copy data from the N0204 to any USB disk for data exchange. The N0204 supports USB printers, external hard disks, USB web cam, and even works with USB WLAN adaptors, allowing you to give this tiny NAS device wireless capability.

A complete NAS device in a form factor smaller than a paperback book, the N0204 miniNAS proves that great things do indeed come in tiny packages.

“When we tell people what the N0204 miniNAS can do, the most common reaction is disbelief followed by awe,” notes Thecus General Manager Florence Shih.  “We’ve essentially created a fully-functional NAS device in a package that you can take anywhere. With the N0204, you can enjoy the power and convenience of NAS storage anywhere life takes you.”

For more information on the N0204, check out:
http://www.thecus.com/products_over.php?cid=12&pid=137&set_language=english

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