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Thoughts on Transporter Sync

I've been eyeing Connected Data's Transporter for a while now, but I have plenty of external storage at this time, and quite honestly the unique benefits of the product were never very clear to me. It seem like very interesting technology, but I get nervous when the marketing message is as muddled as their is. (Is it like Dropbox? Is it like CrashPlan? Is it for "mobile devices?" It's all of the above!)

But the introduction of the $99 bring-your-own-hard-drive Transporter Sync pushed me over the edge and I ordered one for day-one availability. I haven't lived with it long enough to form a conclusion, but here are some observations:

  • The Transporter Sync is bigger than I thought it would be, and runs hotter than it seems like it should, but the design is very well executed. A nice touch is that you have quite a bit of control over it's Cylon-like status lights. Out-of-the-box, it gives a good impression. As an instructional designer, I appreciated that you can't hook it up without peeling off a warning label that states any hard drive you connect will be immediately reformatted.
  • I was pleasantly surprised to see that it supports SMB/CIFS, so it is possible to access the device without installing the special software. It's not easy to find the option for setting this up, but it's there. (Hint, it's under "Advanced Options" in the device pane of the web-based management site.)
  • I was unhappy to discover that Transporter Sync doesn't support the "Transporter Library" ability. This poorly named feature allows you to have files that exist only on the Transporter itself, not on each of your local computers. It's the big selling feature for this device if you have a limited capacity SSD in your computer. If this feature is what you like about this product, you'll need to buy the Transporter (with a built-in drive) not the Transporter Sync. This is an unfortunate limitation that is clearly driven by marketing concerns and policy.Update: Connected Data added this feature in the latest version! Thanks!
  • Unfortunately, the Transporter iOS app shows the Transporter Library as if it's available. It's not, and the app should know all I have is a Sync, so that option should be hidden from me. I expected a lot more polish than I'm getting.
  • An unexpected bonus is that the status lights on the Sync make a nice "is the Internet connection working?" sanity check. The Sync's software seems to check in wit the mothership quite frequently so if you see a red light, your connection is probably down. I'm training all my family members to look for this light before asking me if something is wrong.
  • The documentation is a bit sloppy. Some of the help buttons in the desktop app open your web browser to a 404 page. When you do get to the documentation, it refers to "Transporter Desktop" but the actual name of the app is "Connected Desktop."
  • The overall UI of the Connected Desktop is also sloppy and not very Mac-like. For example, it uses a menu item to display activity status which results in the very confusing "No items are syncing with this computer" menu title, when what it really means is "All synced items are up-to-date." Also, there are items in the menu that you double-click to activate! Double-clicking a menu item?! Has the programmer who created this beast ever used a Mac?
  • I'd heard that Connected Data was, well, connected to Data Robotics, the people who make Drobo. That's clearly true as after you order from Connected Data you start getting shipping notifications and invoices from Drobo, not Connected Data. The mailing label on the package is from Drobo, too. Emails from tech support comes from "Drobo Technical Support." To fully use your device you'll end up creating three different accounts: A Connected Data/Drobo store account when you order it. A device management account when you install it. A Connected Data Support account when you contact support for questions.What a mess. Additionally, when you open a support request, you're required to provide the serial number, firmware version number, purchase date, and PDF of the receipt. Even though Connected Data clearly already has this information, even more so when you buy directly from them.
  • When you share a file with someone, they have to sign up for a Connected Data account and install the Connected Desktop software. That's an awful lot of hoop-jumping compared to just sending a public link as you can with Dropbox. But, to Transporter's credit, at least you can privately share an item without making it available to anyone else. I just don't think I'll ever do it as it's not very humane to expect someone to load the software and sign up just to get to whatever it is I'm sharing.

Wow, I know that seems like a litany of whines, but the fact is there hasn't been anything about this product that has delighted me. There are things I can live with, and a few things I like, so I'll keep using it. Perhaps I'll even find that it's a great addition to my workflow. I truly hope so, but out of the gate it's not something I can fully endorse until Connected Data cleans up a few of the rough edges.;

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