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Review: Compact, Cost-Effective Media Wrangling Tools

In this article, I'll take a look at three cost-effective and compact mobile media wrangling tools on the market today: the RAVpower RP-WD01 portable media device, as well as the WinBook TW800 and WinBook TW100, which are Windows 8 tablets featuring a full-size USB 3.0 port on the edge.

When it comes to managing your media on location shoots, the tool of choice is typically a laptop. However, laptops can get very expensive quickly, and require big external power supplies and bags. For simple media management (copying files to a client's drive) they’re overkill.

Today's laptops are also powerful enough do basic grading, editing, and even media conversion and uploading while in the field. But what if you don't need all of that capability? What if you just need to copy your camera files to an external hard drive for the client to take with them? 

A new solution in the market is a budget tablet with USB 3.0. Today, USB 3.0 ports enable you to copy your media cards to external hard drives much faster than USB 2.0.

In this article, I'll take a look at three cost-effective and compact mobile media wrangling tools on the market today: the RAVpower RP-WD01 portable media device, as well as the WinBook TW800 and WinBook TW100, which are Windows 8 tablets featuring a full-size USB 3.0 port on the edge. 

The RAVpower RP-WD01

The RP–WD01 from RAVpower (Figure 1, below) is a very small handheld device designed primarily as a power pack to charge external devices, such as cell phones. It has a full-size USB port you can plug in your camera's charging cable. But the makers didn't stop there. They added an SD card slot and Wi-Fi so that the media on the SD card could be shared wirelessly with multiple local devices. Then they also enabled the USB port to access media, like a USB stick or external HDD you plug in. On top of that, there's a mobile control app that offers, among other things, to manage your media--including copying your SD card to a connected USB hard drive that is powered by the RAVpower. 

Figure 1. The RAVpower is smaller than an external USB HDD. Click the image to see it at full size.

In theory, this sounds perfect, like an awesome little “swiss army knife” of mobile media management. But in use (Figure 2, below) it’s hampered by several issues. First is that the copy speed is terribly slow. In my tests it took 3 hours to copy 5 GB of data off of a fast SD card onto a USB 3.0 hard drive. I am not able to test the read speeds exclusively, but it seems that the USB port may not even be "high-speed" USB 2.0--it may even be slower than that. 

Figure 2. The RAVpower in use. Click the image to see it at full size.

I also found it difficult to manage the capabilities of the RAVpower through the app itself. You can connect to the RAVpower via WiFi, with the RAVpower acting as its own access point. Sometimes I couldn't get an IP address from the RAVpower. The app was very finicky and many times would just stop responding to me. In researching the problem, I found out that it can also be accessed directly through a smartphone's web browser by typing in a specific URL for the device. I found that this actually works better in most cases, but it doesn't have the same features as the dedicated app. 

In the end, as much as I wanted this little device to be the solution, it just clearly was a cheap little power pack with some additional features grafted on. 

WinBook To The Rescue?

The next tool I’ll take a look at is a very affordable WinBook tablet (Figure 3, below) that features a full-size USB 3.0 port. This is unique among tablets because most tablets are built as media consumption devices and don't need full-size USB ports, just micro-ports for charging. Another advantage with a full-size USB 3.0 port is that no tiny adapters are needed to try and get regular USB devices to fit. You don't have to worry about losing an adapter and thus losing the ability to use the USB port. 

Figure 3. The WinBook tablet. 
When I decided to evaluate these tablets, I purchased both the 8" and 10" models because, despite the same general specifications for both tablets, I felt it might be better for a client to view their footage on a 10" screen versus an 8" screen. So that becomes a question of compact and more affordable, versus something that is more useful in showing your footage to a client.  Also, the 8" model I picked has half the memory and half the storage space of the 10" model, and I wanted to see if the lower-end specifications would hurt the performance or not. 

As of this mid-January writing, the 8" model is just $100, and the 10" model sells for $200. Now, CES 2015 has just ended as I write this, so there will be a whole slew of new tablets and mobile devices available for consumers in the coming months.  The key features of these tablets are that they both have the USB 3.0 port on the edge, and they both feature a high-quality IPS display for very good color, wide viewing angles, and great clarity for the video that you're presenting.  The resolution is limited to 1280x800, which is good enough for 720p HD video, but it is certainly not a super-high resolution “retina-like” display. Unfortunately, tablets with higher-resolution displays tend not to have USB 3.0 ports on them, and their price tags are 3x the price of these tablets, or more, depending on configuration. 

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