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In an era of ever-smaller computing devices and the promise of cloud services descending from every direction, it can get a little numbing and confusing for the owner of an iPad, a smartphone, or even a laptop to figure out how to access and sync data such as photos, music, and documents. Devices like home NAS servers try to bridge the gap for home storage, but most of them require a long learning curve to set up and use.


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Pogoplug Series 4

That’s where the Pogoplug is trying to fit in. The product is basically a bring-your-own-storage version of the NAS (network-attached storage) –a “home cloud” that’s composed of whatever USB thumbdrives and hard drives you have lying around the house, plugged into the Pogoplug, which is in turn plugged into your router. It shares your media and music across mobile devices, computers, and the Web. It even supports DLNA, the Digital Living Network Alliance standard, which enables streaming playback of video and music on compatible TVs, Blu-ray players, media boxes, Xbox 360s, and PlayStation 3s.

This new $99 box is small, unassuming, and studded with useful ports: USB 2.0 and 3.0 (for portable hard drives and flash drives), an SD card slot, and even a topside slot for 2.5-inch SATA hard drives. It’s easily the best version of the Pogoplug yet, but there are two notable caveats. First: video nuts hoping this will be a perfect TV-friendly media box will be sorely disappointed. And secondly, you’ll want to determine if you even need a “home cloud” hardware product. For light users, it may well be redundant when there are so many free and inexpensive online file services out there (Amazon Cloud Drive, Dropbox, Box.net, SkyDrive, iCloud).

If, on the other hand, you’re craving a compact way to get the contents of your storage devices online and shareable, you’ll enjoy this simple, versatile little box.

Design
The new Pogoplug Series 4 is a device that aims to take the best of cloud computing and home network-attached storage and combine the two into a seamless experience. That’s been the goal of each Pogoplug released over the last few years, but this latest version dumps the weird boxy look of recent iterations and adopts a far more home-friendly and port-studded solution.

I’ve reviewed multiple Pogoplugs before, but none of them came close to what this new version offers: USB 2.0, 3.0, SATA, and an SD card slot vary the input options beyond mere USB 2.0, and while there are fewer USB ports than on earlier versions, they’re much more logically placed now.

Yes, it looks like an Apple TV or Roku box, but think network-attached hard drive instead: this device plugs into your router via Ethernet, and it comes studded with ports that accept a wide variety of storage devices. Two USB 3.0 ports are on the back and an SD card slot is on the side, and under the removable top are an additional vertical USB 2.0 port and a SATA port for 2.5-inch laptop hard drives, or for compatible devices like the Seagate FreeAgent GoFlex series of portable hard drives. It’s an expanded version of the Pogoplug Mobile, a nearly identical-looking $79 device that debuted a few months ago with only a single USB 2.0 port and an SD card slot. I’d gladly pay the extra $20 for what’s offered here, instead.

The top port lets you pop a hard drive right in and turn the device into a mini-NAS of sorts. USB flash drives, SD cards, additional USB hard drives, all can be plugged into the Pogoplug, in nearly any format. Pogoplug’s software comes in several versions: a Web portal guides newcomers through an easy first-time setup and can be used to view and share media, but Mac, Linux, and Windows users can also mount a remote Pogoplug like a regular hard drive for drag-and-drop use, just like you can with Dropbox, for instance. (In other words, a hard drive connected to your Pogoplug just shows up as the “F:” drive, for instance–pretty much indistinguishable from your other internal or plug-in hard drives.)

One issue is worth reporting: when we plugged a Kingston USB 3.0 flash memory stick into the Pogoplug’s USB 3.0 port, it eventually became quite hot to the touch. Usually, that’s something we’d overlook–lots of products heat up–but considering that the ill-fated Pogoplug Video product was recalled because of a fire hazard, heat from this product does give us pause.

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