The scoop: MyCloud Mini personal cloud server, by Akitio, about $104
What is it? The MyCloud Mini is a network-attached storage device (without the actual storage - you have to install either a 2.5-inch internal HDD or attach a USB external storage drive) that connects to a router to provide file storage that can be accessed via the cloud, either through a browser or mobile device. Once connected, the browser-based software includes the ability to share content to friends (or via social networks), as well as stream content (photos, music, videos) from across the Internet (aka the "cloud").
Why it's cool: If you plan to use this as a centralized storage unit for your personal content that can be accessed by multiple devices within a home network, the MyCloud Mini can handle this task. Connecting to the device is quite easy through a browser - just login to myakitio.com and type in the name of your server (initially, you type in the media access control address, but then you can change it) in order to connect. The interface via the browser is very Mac-like, with colorful icons and easy-to-understand locations for accessing content stored on the drive.
You can also connect to the MyCloud Mini via mobile app - I tried the iOS app on the iPhone, but there's also an Android app available. The app makes accessing the unit easier - you don't have to remember the Web address, and once you login initially, you can have the device remember your password and have it go right to the file area. The app also adds some additional functionality - for example, a camera app lets you take photos with the iPhone and store the images directly to the MyCloud Mini - saving space on the iPhone.
Likewise, a Voice Memo app lets you record audio with the phone and save the audio file (.AIF format) to the cloud server. In addition, you can also easily download files from the server to the mobile phone at the push of a button. Akitio has done a really good job with the mobile app.
Some caveats: With network-attached storage (NAS) functionality built directly into new wireless home routers, it might be easier to attach an external drive to the router in order to access the same functionality. I found it annoying that I needed to attach my own storage to the unit - there are home NAS units that already have storage built in. Streaming media content from the MyCloud Mini, even over the local wireless network, was tedious - I never got videos to play correctly (it would start and then just stop), and even streaming music had lag and burps. While I didn't attach other devices to the network, such as a TV or Xbox, I'd be afraid that those devices would have similar problems.
The instruction guide and setup manual are also very sparse - casual users are likely to be frustrated quickly, although IT pros might be able to get through all of the features without too much pain. There's some really good potential here - the software and mobile apps shine, but the streaming speed over a local network and the cloud needs to be improved. If Akitio can bundle this with a hard drive and make those performance improvements, consumers might be impressed with a device that can provide them with centralized storage for their media content.
Grade: 2.5 stars (out of five)
The scoop: MovieNite streaming media player, by D-Link, about $80.
What is it? Like similar units from Roku and Western Digital, the D-Link MovieNite box connects to your TV and Internet connection, providing you with access to Internet movies, music and TV services, including Netflix, Pandora, YouTube and Vudu.
Why it's cool: The unit is very easy to set up and get connected to those services (provided you already subscribe to them); quality via HDMI to a HDTV is quite nice. The unit provides an AV cable to connect to older TV sets as well.
Some caveats: An HDMI cable is not provided, so you have to purchase it separately for your HDTV. Also, no wireless connection, which means you'll need to connect via Ethernet through a wireless bridge or powerline adapter. There's also a lack of services compared with Roku and Western Digital (which could change as D-Link signs deals with additional providers).
Grade: 3.5 stars
Shaw can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @shawkeith
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