Apologies for the long read as I want to cover a lot in this article and there is a video at the end for those that wish to see the unit in use.
So what exactly is a FileHub? In short, this is a device that serves up the content from a USB drive or SD card via a personal Wifi hotspot. Included in the box is the unit itself, a micro usb charging cable and user guide. There is no charger included but since any USB charger or port can be used as a power source to charge the internal battery, this is no great hardship.
A quick comment on build quality. Initially when I saw this device advertised, I wasn't sure what to expect with regards to fit and finish but I was pleasantly surprised when I got my hands on it. It is well finished and feels very sturdy indeed, no doubt enhanced by the fact the majority of internal space is filled by the lithium polymer battery. While no case is included in the package, I can see this device standing up to regular careful use.
Physically this is a similar size & weight to a portable 2.5" drive; just marginally slimmer in all dimensions. On the top you have four LEDs providing information on the device's status including battery level, WiFi signal, Internet pass through & disk activity. On one side you have the power button and a micro USB port for charging or for connecting the FileHub as a card/USB reader to a computer. On the end you have the SD card slot and full sized USB port. The SD slot supports SD, SDHC & SDXC cards.
The FileHub is powered up by using the power button on the side and takes around 30 seconds to start up and be accessible via Wifi. Given it has to start up its internal router as well as scan the media source and advertise data, I find it to be more than acceptable. As soon as you see the little Wifi & Disk LEDs stop flashing then you are good to go.
When the device is ready, you should be able to find it's Wifi signal if you search on your client device. For this review, I am using an iPad but it should work with any Wifi enabled device including tablets, smart phones, laptops etc. When you first connect to this Wifi connection, you will be prompted for a password which is 11111111. Many people have complained that this information was not provided with their unit but I can confirm it was included in the user guide I received so I presume this was an issue with an earlier release which has since been rectified. Once you have entered this password, it will be stored on your device so subsequent connections should be automatic. Indeed, in my testing, this proved to be the case and no further user involvement was required other than switching between Wifi networks as required. While I would typically get more use of a device like this when travelling, you do have the option of a network pass through or bridge. This means if you are using it at home, you can connect the FileHub to your home Internet connection and connect your device to the FileHub. This way you have access to the content on the FileHub as well as still having full access to the Internet without the need to switch network connections. This would also work just the same in a hotel room if using the Hotel's Wifi Internet connection.
Now that you are connected to the FileHub, you need a way of interacting with it and you have a few options. There is a free dedicated app for IOS & Android which lets you browse connected media, playback supported formats, manage content and also some basic configuration of the FileHub. The Airstor app for IOS is universal and is handy depending on how you intend to use your FileHub but not a requirement. One of the primary uses for me is media playback, especially movies when travelling and my collection contains various formats that are not natively supported by IOS and therefore nor by the Airstor app. If you encounter such media, you can use the Airstor app to download it to your IOS device instead and then use the 'Open in' feature to open this with a media player that supports the format you are trying to playback. This means streaming of these formats using the Airstor app is not an option but there are other apps that will do the job. My personal favourite is the universal nPlayer app which can connect via the SMB protocol and either stream or download files from the FileHub. Searching for SMB shares using nPlayer did not show up the FileHub however so I had to add this manually. A quick look at the user guide showed the FileHub using its own IP address of 10.10.10.254 and it has a default admin account labelled 'Admin' with no password. I added a manual connection with these details but had no success but on changing the user to 'admin' without the leading capital, I could now connect to the FileHub directly using nPlayer. The next issue I faced however was receiving a connection refused error when trying to browse media. Knowing this was some form of authentication issue I went back to the user guide and saw I could pull up the FileHub's full admin applet using a connected browser. I entered the IP address into the iPad's browser and immediately connected to the admin web server running on the FileHub. From here I could set a password for the default admin account. This web configuration page actually gives you full control over the FileHub and I recommend using this for initial set up. I now went back to nPlayer and connected using this new password. From here on I had full access to the media on the FileHub and could stream and download without any issue. While this issue may be related to how nPlayer works with SMB I would bare this information in mind. If you have issues with a third party application accessing the FileHub over SMB, ensure you use 'admin' as the user and set a password using the web configuration.
So how does it perform? To be honest, very well indeed. The most taxing use of this would be to stream video content so I focused my testing on this. I loaded up a 2GB SD card formatted as FAT with a variety of movie files. I repeated the testing with a 16GB USB Drive formatted as FAT. In both instances, a listing of the drive contents was generated in a couple of seconds in the Airstor app and it only took a second or two from clicking on a file to the movie starting to stream. My next test involved a 2TB 2.5" portable USB drive formatted as exFAT. This drive contained over a terabyte of movie files in various folders and formats. The listing of this drives contents did take a little longer at around 15 seconds but still perfectly acceptable. I went straight for one of my 10GB 1080p MKV movie files expecting to encounter difficulties but this file starting streaming in nPlayer after a delay of around 10 seconds. I'll put this delay down to the app building a cache of this larger file but once streaming, playback was perfectly smooth with not a single hiccup in video or audio. I didn't expect a file of this size to play so well so I am very impressed with the performance of this FileHub.
I can see as convenient that streaming is however that often I would load up media when going away on vacation for example and only download content to the iPad when I was running out of things to watch - especially if storage space was tight on the client device. In testing this, I found the transfer speed to be a little slow at 1.7MB per second using nPlayer or 2.3MB per second using the Airstor app. This speed has proved consistent with repeated tests. I know the USB drive and SD cards are capable of faster speeds so I'm unsure if this is a limitation of the chipset used in the FileHub or the SMB protocol - at home SMB always transfers slower for me than uPNP or DLNA protocols which were typically 2 or 3 times faster. Either way, a 700MB movie file would take between 5 & 7 mins to download from the FileHub to the iPad for 'offline' playback depending on which app is used. This is a little bit of a wait but given it isn't one of the advertised features it is still a very nice to have and if you do need immediate access to that movie, you still have the streaming option. I don't know if a future firmware upgrade could provide other protocols for streaming such as uPNP and if this would improve the transfer speed but what we have now is certainly more than adequate for streaming and very usable for downloading content for 'offline' use.
Of course, you are not limited to movie files. You can use the FileHub to store and transfer all kinds of files such as music, photos and documents. You can also do things in reverse and copy files from your client device up to the FileHub. The Airstor app lets you manage the files in its own file system and upload anything to any of the connected drives. The app also gives you access to your camera roll so you can upload photos and videos directly from your IOS device without the need to import them into the Airstor app first. This can be a great tool when on vacation to back up images and video you have taken or to allow you to free up space on your device. This functionality also extends to managing the drives connected to the FileHub so you could copy files from an SD drive to a USB drive or vice versa when out in the field using the IOS device to control proceedings. You essentially have a two drive portable NAS in your pocket and that means others apps such as FileBrowser or GoodReader will also work just fine for retrieving content.
All this content delivery is great but the FileHub's uses don't stop there. While it runs off its own internal battery, it can share this power via the USB port to other devices if they need a top up when away from the mains. The battery capacity of this device is 3,000mAh which is good for around 5 hours of continuous use which would see you stream two or three standard length movies. Going down the download route instead could see you transfer up to around 50 movies between charges depending on media source and file size. I would imagine a 2.5" portable drive with its mechanical spindle would use up more power however meaning a reduced runtime. When not using the FileHub for media sharing, the battery can be used to charge other devices. The iPhone 5 for example has a 1,440mAh capacity battery so could be fully charged twice by the FileHub when out in the field. Unfortunately the much more power hungry retina iPads are a step too far for this emergency power - you would need a dedicated power bank for the larger screened slate.
So wireless card reader or portable NAS device? However you approach the FileHub, its usefulness cannot be denied. If you are a heavy media user that travels a lot, the RavPower FileHub seems like an essential purchase that would actually more than pay for itself if you upgrade your IOS device just once. I'm a big fan of IOS devices but one criticism I do have is the cost of upgrading from the base model to a higher capacity device; in the case of the iPad it is £60 for each storage jump! For a one off cost of around £30, you have a device that is only limited by the capacity of media connected to it. You can easily hot swap between different SD cards or USB drives and because the SD slot is full sized, you can insert a compatible card that will sit flush and offer a form of semi permanent storage if desired. If you have multiple IOS devices or other family members with similar products, this again seems like such a no brainer - did I mention up to five users can connect to this unit at the same time? The emergency backup battery is just the icing on an already well baked cake. I can find no genuine negatives to stop me whole heartedly recommending this device to road warriors and gadget lovers alike. This just made my next iPad purchase a whole lot cheaper!