How do you store data from video and camera cards while on the road, without the use of a laptop?
For anyone touring on two wheels and looking to travel light this is a really big question. It’s all very well shooting video of your ride but that HD video chews through memory cards quicker than a fat film fan munches popcorn.
The traditional way is to back up the cards to a laptop, but that’s a slow and laborious process that itself needs external power and is at the mercy of the hard drive space and ruggedness of your laptop.
While we have mobile phones that in themselves are powerful computers, taking a laptop seems a bit, well, excessive really.
So what are your options?
- Take loads of memory cards with you. Not a bad suggestion because memory cards are, small, light, solid state and thus fairly rugged. They also cost a fortune per MB of storage. 2TB (Terabyte) of storage in high-spec 64GB SD cards will set you back over £1000.
- Buy a mobile hard drive with a built in card reader. Something like the Western Digital 2TB Wi-Fi HDD (Hard Disk Drive) has a card reader built in and allows you to back up to the hard drive from a phone using an app. But this costs over £180 and what happens if you fill it up? You’ll need another one at the same price.
The way I found to do the job involves a clever bit of lightweight tech called a Kingston MobileLite (now £13.97) which allows you to load any SD card (or MicroSD via an adaptor card) and dump the data to any hard drive connected to the built in USB port. You can buy portable 2TB hard drives for around £60 which makes this by far the cheapest option.
I’ve used this method on the road and if you have a secondary source of USB power (from your bike battery or an external source) then this will work anywhere.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
The MobileLite was really designed as a Wi-Fi media server, allowing you to stream data from drives to several connected devices. It contains a small built-in battery allowing it to operate autonomously. However the MobileLite app also allows you to view the folders on the SD card and to dump them to the drive connected to the USB port. Best of all, you can start this process on your phone and then wander off out of range and the process will carry on until it is completed. Brilliant.
How do you know that the transfer is complete? If your portable hard drive has a data LED it should stop flashing once the transfer is complete.
Once you reconnect your phone to the MobileLite’s own Wi-Fi network (which you can ‘piggy back’ to another Wi-Fi network so you can maintain internet connection where available) you can view images or movies on either the card or USB device and stream or copy to your phone.
The first issue is that the inbuilt battery in the MobileLite is pretty small and spinning the drive inside a portable HDD soon sucks up the juice. The good news is that you can separately power the MobileLite (via a microUSB recharge port) while it is working, and/or you can use an HDD cable with a split cable allowing the hard drive to be powered externally. Both together will allow you to keep everything powered long enough for the biggest file transfer.
The second issue is a failing of the Kingston app and the slow pace of Wi-Fi connections in that it is difficult to tell which incomplete SD card folders have been backed up. For instance within my Canon SD card I’ll get folders called Canon_100, Canon_101 etc.
If you’ve already backed up a half-full folder to HDD then when you next connect the app you might have Canon_101 showing in both SD and USB folders on your phone, however there may be new data on the camera card if you’ve shot more photos. The app makes it difficult to select only the new photos to transfer to HDD for back-up. The solution is simply to copy the whole of the Canon_101 to the HDD again, which is easy enough to do. This overwrites the old data on the HDD - so be careful if you've edited anything and not renamed it.
DOES IT WORK?
Yes, like a charm. I used this system in while riding a vintage scooter around Eastern Europe and Turkey (see my Frankenstein Scooters... book) to back up both camera (SD) and helmet cam (microSD) cards to a 1TB portable HDD. These drives are still mechanical so need to be treated with some care, but they are reasonably rugged too.
Kingston has recently updated their device to the new Kingston G2 MobileLite Wireless Reader (available for £25) which I have not tested but I presume will do the same trick. Alternatively the older and smaller MobileLite for £14 is a bargain.
Review by StickyFeatures.co.uk