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Preview: Pogoplug Series 4 With Local and Cloud Storage

On Wednesday San Francisco-based Cloud Engines Inc. launched the fourth generation of its "build your own cloud" hardware platform, the Pogoplug Series 4. This new revision arrives after the company launched its Pogoplug Cloud service a few weeks ago that provides 5 GB of free cloud-based storage. This Series 4 device essentially allows the user to add additional storage to the virtual locker by plugging in an SD card, USB drives and/or a 2.5-inch hard drive.

To do this, the Pogoplug Series 4 drive hub connects directly to a local network via a Gigabit Ethernet port. Once connected, users can then add their own storage devices via ports for two USB 3.0 drives on the back, an SD card slot on the side, and one USB 2.0 port and a SATA/USM port on top, residing underneath a removable hood.

For this hands-on test, we added an 8 GB USB 2.0 stick and 500 GB Seagate FreeAgent GoFlex external drive. The latter device comes with a USB 3.0 adapter, but we chose to insert the unit into the SATA/USM port instead. With those two installed, the next step was to enter "my.pogoplug.com/activate" in a browser to register the device with Pogoplug and set up a free account.

Registering the Series 4 unit is essential, as anything stored on the attached drives can be streamed and shared on social networks. Once the device is activated, users download a desktop client so they can access their drives -- these cannot be accessed using the standard My Computer method. This is probably Pogoplug's biggest drawback: the need to use 3rd-party software to actually use the network drives.

Nevertheless, the desktop client brings all your connected drives together under one virtual booth, and even includes the user's free 5 GB cloud drive. Files can be imported to these drives in two ways: when syncing or dragging files into Photos, Music and Movies libraries, only photos, videos and music will be synced -- all other files and folders are ignored. But if the user syncs into the Files library, all of the files and folders are synced exactly the way they are stored on the computer. All files cannot be dragged back out of Pogoplug's software, but rather must be "downloaded" to a specific destination on the PC.

Users also have the option of sharing files stored on the connected drives without having to upload them on 3rd-party host websites. For example, a Halloween picture stored on the Seagate drive shows up under the software's Photos library section which has seemingly thumbnailed every picture stored across all drives. To share, you simply select the picture and press "share" in the toolbar lined across the top. It then appears in a web browser along with a Send Link form for emailing a specific URL to anyone listed in the Pogoplug address book.

Don't want to email the image? Simply close the Send Link form and click on the picture while it's still in the browser. Along the top users have access to the usual batch of social media buttons including Twitter, Google+ and Facebook. The Twitter button will only send a shortened link to the image, but both Google+ and Facebook will publish a thumbnail on the user's wall along with a link to the larger version. The thing to remember is that the image is never uploaded -- it's merely accessed and shared using a local file and a desktop client.

The Halloween image used in this Pogoplug test actually derived from a smartphone's SD card. For accessing network files on the go, Pogoplug offers an Android and iOS app. Once installed on the device, there's a setting users can toggle that automatically uploads photos and videos to the networked Pogoplug device. In this case, the images were crammed onto the Seagate drive while leaving the USB drive alone, but there's an option to change the destination drive under the app's Settings menu.

Both apps provide two functions: accessing local videos, music and photos, and accessing content on the networked drives via the Files section. The latter aspect allows the user to stream videos and music from their home network rather than downloading it directly to the smartphone or tablet's internal flash memory. For those who use Amazon MP3 or Google Music as a virtual locker, this aspect may not be worth your time, but then again, this method saves upload time when yanking tracks off a CD.

Both the mobile apps and the desktop client offer users a means to collaborate as well. Say there's a specific document -- a store list or the monthly budget -- that you and someone else are currently working on, and it's stored on a USB drive connected to the Series 4 hub. To share only this one file, simply right-click on the folder containing the file and fill out the Invite Collaborators form in the launched internet browser. Users can also set permissions to the folder using two access settings: Editor (upload, preview, download, edit, delete) and User (preview, download). The resulting email sends the potential collaborator a link back to the folder, but the collaborator must have a free Pogoplug account to gain access.

The Pogoplug Series 4 Ethernet hub retails for $99 USD, offering the two USB 3.0 ports, a Gigabit Ethernet port, an SD card slot, a USB 2.0 port, and a SATA/USM port. Users also receive a free 5 GB virtual locker after setting up a Pogoplug account, with an option to purchase additional capacity coming soon. Pogoplug is compatible with Internet Explorer 8 & 9, Firefox 5 and above, Safari 5 and above, and Google Chrome 12 and above. It's also compatible with Windows XP and Windows 7, and Apple Mac OS 10.6.6 and above. On the mobile front, users can access the Pogoplug device via iOS, Android, the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3.

All in all, the Pogoplug Series 4 seems to be the ideal solution for setting up an inexpensive yet expandable personal cloud that can be accessed outside the home and easily shared on social networks. The only real drawback to the device is that it's not wireless, requiring consumers to plug directly into an Ethernet port on their router. In addition, the required desktop client only seems necessary for dragging files from My Computer into one of the connected drives. In the examples above, initiating the sharing and collaborating features only pulled up the browser-based version anyway.

For more information about the Pogoplug Series 4 drive hub, check out the video below.