LaCie’s Fuel Adds a Terabyte of Storage to iPad/iPhone

| In-Depth Review

The LaCie Fuel is a small, battery powered, good looking terabyte drive that augments the storage of iOS devices and is focused on the Apple customer. It acts as a Wi-Fi source, and can transmit HD video to up to three devices simultaneously. Its storage is easily accessed with the Seagate Media iOS app.

Operational Concept

This is a new product, anounced on January 7, and is a sister product to the existing Seagate Wireless Plus, It's been tuned up a little to be more friendly to Apple customers. Basically, the Fuel is a battery powered, 2.5-inch 5,400 RPM terabyte drive in an enclosure about the size of two Apple Magic Mice side by side.

So that an iPad or other devices can see the files and connect, it generates its own Wi-Fi signal. Key to understanding this product is that it doesn't act like the iOS device's internal storage. Instead, it's an external file system that is restricted to iOS supported file types and can be accessed with a special app on the iPad or even with mobile Safari. It works that way because access to the iOS internal file system is not available to the user.

Typical users include: outdoor photographers, scientists working in the field, remote data collection, hiking and camping, surveyors, amateur astronomers, attorneys (with massive archive documents), families on vacation (a media server for the car's back seat), and travelers wanting broad selection of inflight movies or music. It can also act like a local router in the sense that it can pick up on a local Wi-Fi signal, say, in a hotel, and provide a local connection for up to five of your devices.

For the sake of simplicity, I'll refer to using the LaCie Fuel with an iPad, but everything also applies equally to an iPhone and iPod touch. Also, the device is compatible with Windows and Android products, but that's outside the scope of this review.

Quick start guide and printed warranty.

Out of The Box

Out of the box, this is an exceptionally easy device to set up. That's as much due to the simple quick start guide as it is to the design. Everything is open for starters so that the device is immediately visible and accessible to an iPad and Mac.

  1. Plug the power adapter into 120 VAC.
  2. Connect the USB 3 plug and cord from the Fuel to the adapter.
  3. Charge it. When the Power LED glows green, it's fully charged.
  4. While charging, download the Seagate Media app from the Apple App Store.
  5. Press the power button to turn the Fuel on.
  6. Connect your iOS device via Wi-Fi.
  7. Manage your files from the iPad or a Mac.

The Seagate Media app initially walks you through some examples to make sure you can view content from the Fuel. The quick start guide lists every URL you might need.

While the set up is clean and easy, the fun is in the details and the flexibility of the Fuel. For example, you can connect from an iPad with the Media App or the mobile Safari browser. You can also mount the drive from a Mac with Apple File sharing and drag files to and from it. You can use it an an AirPlay source through the iPad.

If you need to be connected to the Internet in addition to the Fuel, you first connect to the Fuel's IP address, 172.25.0.1 in the iPad's Settings. Then, in the Media app, you tell the Fuel to connect to a local Wi-Fi network, entering the password if necessary. This pass-through technique is generally a blessing, but one must be aware that under some circumstances, if, say, the Fuel's battery is depleted, you may have to go back into the iPad's Settings and directly connect to a Wi-Fi network.

I must note that if all your power strips are on the floor, the short 24-inch (60 cm) cable won't allow you to rest the Fuel on your desk as it charges from the power adapter. You could plug the cord into a computer's USB 2/3 port, but it will charge more slowly than from the power adapter. (See below.) LaCie mentioned to me that the cord may be, in fact, shorter than it could have been.

Features

Here's the nominal list of features from LaCie with some annotations of mine.

  • Store your movies, songs, photos, and documents. The 1 TB hard drive can store over 300 high-definition movies (Assuming 1.5 GB MP4 H.264), 125,000 songs, or 100,000 photos.)
  • Load your media quickly. Your LaCie Fuel includes a USB 3.0 port for fast transfers, up to 5 Gb/s. To take advantage of the faster transfer rates available to USB 3.0, plug your device into a Windows or Mac computer with a USB 3.0 port. The LaCie Fuel can be connected to a USB 2.0 port but transfer rates will be slower, up to 480 Mb/s.
  • The LaCie device can stream HD video to three devices and maintain a Wi-Fi connection to a total of five devices at the same time.
  • The LaCie Fuel provides up to 8 hours of continuous video streaming. Charge time is 4 hours from the power adapter. (Battery life for multiple streaming not stated.)
  • While you’re listening to music or viewing movies or photos on your mobile device, you can also browse the internet from your home network or your favorite Wi-Fi hotspot. (Protected movies and music, copied to the Fuel, will play on the iPad.)
  • Manage your digital media files. Use the Seagate Media app to play your music in the background, personalize your photo slide shows, add movie bookmarks, and more.
  • Synchronize your media files. Automatically synchronize all your media files with your LaCie Fuel using the free Seagate Media Sync software. This is separate software for Mac or PC.

Design Principle

The Fuel, according to LaCie, is designed to mimic a Jerry Can (gas can), hence the name "Fuel." That's the reason for the small gutters on the top and the stylish orange trimmed faux-carry handle. And so, that opening isn't really designed as a carry loop, but it could be used with care with a cord to keep it from falling out of a backpack.

The 2.5-inch drive will sense a sudden motion and stows the read/write head if dropped or banged, something Apple customers are familiar with in the form of Sudden Motion Sensor.

Specifications

LaCie has a really good specifications page. Here is a summary.

  • Storage: 1.0 terabyte hard disk, formatted as exFAT
  • Hard disk: 2.5-inch, 5,400 RPM, Sudden Motion Sensor equivalent
  • Port: USB 3
  • Battery: Non-user-replaceable Lithium-ion. 4 hours to charge from adapter, 30 hours stand-by.
  • Wi-Fi range: 147 ft (45 meters). Password protection optional.
  • 4.5 x 4.5 x 0.75 inches. (11.4 x 11.4 x 1.9 cm) 9.66 oz. (274 g)
  • 802.11 b/g/n

Documentation

The 43 page PDF manual is really good, exceptional in fact. It earns high marks except for the failure to properly align some of the icons with the text. Also, there is no index, something that's getting to be a lost art. A search with Preview app on a Mac helps. Currently, the manual is not included on the Fuel itself, but LaCie says they'll fix that soon. For now, go to the product support page, documents tab.

There is a two year limited warranty.

Using the Fuel

Perhaps the easiest way to access the Fuel is with the Seagate Media app, a Universal app, that allows the user to see the folders and files on the Fuel and manage the device.

Seagate Media app showing sample photos folder.

In this iOS app, you can move content from and to the Fuel from your iPad, manage the fuels power utilization profile, set up its connection to the Internet, check the Fuel's battery status, monitor and update the firmware version, and access/view content. While the media app can play MP4 and M4V video files and view various image files such as JPG and PNG, you'll need a helper app, like iBooks or GoodReader to view PDFs. Pay lots of attention to all those icons on the upper right to exploit various capabilities.

The manual points the user to iOS supported media formats.

In my testing, I found that movies and music purchased from Apple via iTunes will play just fine. The music player is well designed, movies are played in Safari, and, I found, everything tends to just work on my iPad Air.

Another way to acces content, from either a mobile Safari on iPad (or Chrome) or from a Mac (Safari, Firefox or Chrome) is to enter http://172.25.0.1 or http://www.laciefuel.com after you've connected with it on Wi-Fi. You can do the same kinds of things with Safari as with the Seagate Media app on the iPad. By the way, LaCie say that the 172.16.0.0 ... 172.3.255.2551 private domain was chosen because it's least likely to conflict with home or business Wi-Fi networks.

Note that when you're exploring the file system, don't confuse the icon of the sample folder with the document itself. The text "Sample" in the icon is an indicator that this is a sample folder that can be drilled into. It uses, as its icon, the first file in the folder.

After you've connected with a Mac in Wi-Fi, it's easy to mount the Fuel as an external drive and drag files to and from it with Apple File Sharing.

The Finder view of Fuel from my iMac. Drag and drop.

LaCie strongly recommends that the Fuel not be used as a Time Machine volume because it's formatted as exFAT rather than as HFS+. exFAT is not a recommended volume format to use with Time Machine.

AirPlay is supported in the sense that anything that can be pulled off the Fuel drive can be sent along, via AirPlay to an Apple TV. I didn't have time to test this feature, but basically, if your iPad is on the same network as the Apple TV (pulling content from the Fuel), you're good to go.

Final Observations

iOS Limitations. Like all devices of this kind, the hurdles that Apple creates such as the absence of visibility of the iPad's file system means that the user of this product should have a long-term, dedicated usage in mind so that the advantages of the additional storage outweigh the minutiae of the connection and file management process. In other words, the Fuel should be viewed as an elegant workaround that solves a storage problem for the customer rather than as something that's full of limitations.

Execution. I rate it as excellent. LaCie could have stopped short and been satisfied, but the users wouldn't be. Instead, the company went all out in flexibility, ease of use and documentation and added special features for the Apple customer: exFAT file system, complementary physical design, and Dropbox support that the Seagate Wireless Plus does not have. What could have been a me-too toy for the nerdy ends up being a very usable product for the average user -- assuming one is keen on a consistent, long term exploitation.

Thanks to the physical design, interface design decisions, the manual, the quick start guide on paper and the nifty Seagate Media app, the flexibility of access, the help files, the USB 3 support for a direct to Mac connection, and the overal product execution, this a great product.

Product: Fuel

Company: LaCie

List Price: US$199.99

Pros:

Massive terabyte storage, portable and battery powered with 10 hour life, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi base station with 150 ft range, five simulaneous connections, great integration with iOS using Seagate Media app, reasonable price, multiple ways to access, uses USB 3, Wi-Fi pass through to keep your device on the Internet.

Cons:

USB cable is too short. PDF manual should be on the drive.  However, no serious cons or issues.

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1 Comments

Paul Goodwin

Sounds like a potentially great device. Some of the reviews of the Seagate media app weren’t so great, but it sounds like some of the issues could be resolved with some app updates. There aren’t that many reviews to read through. (32 total as of today)

One major con would be the non-user-replaceable battery. Too bad about that. Once the battery is close to gone, the drive is no longer mobile (would have to be plugged into a charger forever). When the battery actually fails, it potentially could damage the thing and make it completely un-useable. It’d be interesting to know if you actually could replace the battery, even though it doesn’t have a quick release battery door. Maybe iFixit will cover this (if they haven’t already).

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