One of my goals for this year is to figure out how to stop taking a laptop on trips with me. Literally the only reason I carry one — unless I’m doing my job while traveling — is so I have something I can load the day’s SD cards onto to review and back up. I simply haven’t found a tablet-centric workflow that I’ve been willing to adopt and use.

So, when Nicolesy wrote a piece about doing exactly that, using an iPad Pro, Lightroom CC, and the WD My Passport Wireless Pro drive, I was thrilled. She seems to have more or less solved the problem I was facing, I was thrilled.

I was about to take my Morro Bay trip, so I did what any rational tech person would do. I bought the drive (2TB, $140), stuffed the unopened box into my suitcase and drove to Morro Bay.

A really good product hidden inside a hot mess of an interface

After arriving in Morro Bay, I went out and did some shooting, came back to the room, sat down with the iPad and the Wireless Pro drive and set out to set it up, configure it and ingest the day’s photos to see how well the thing worked.

An hour later, I had it set up properly and talking to the iPad — and was completely unable to figure out how to get it to suck in the images. After declaring defeat in figuring it out without reading a manual, I found the documentation on the drive: a how to set up document that’s completely useless unless you already have the drive set up and so don’t actually need it any more, and usage documents for the device — for Windows and MacOS X.

No real documentation for working with it via tablets, and the interface in the IOS app was not the same as the desktop PC interface.

At that point, I did what any rational person would do; decide I’d wasted enough of this trip on the device, power it off, and stuff it back in the suitcase to deal with later.

Back at home…

When I got back home where I had a MacOS X system available, I tried again. Getting it set up to talk to the Mac was fairly easy, and using the Mac OS X interface, I was able to find the setting to tell it to automatically ingest a card when plugged in. I did later find the location in the IOS interface where that setting was well hidden, too.

Once I got it set up via the Mac the way I wanted, and spent some time sorting out how it wanted to work, I started liking this thing a lot more. The hardware impresses me a lot, actually: the build quality is high and it feels solid and well engineered.

The software interfaces don’t live up to the quality of the hardware, and most specifically, the mobile/tablet software feels like an afterthought and a lot less mature than the desktop interfaces are.

This thing should be easy to use

To me, ease of use should be a key priority for building a device like this, and my view is that it falls short there. I think ease of use is okay on the MacOS X desktop interface, but on the IOS interface it’s fairly poor. Their marketing and documentation make it clear WD sees using it with desktop computers is the primary purpose — the only time it mentions or shows a tablet is to promote that you can recharge one from this. Given this device is clearly intended to be used when traveling, I think they missed just how important a tablet/phone centric use of this device would be for many of us.

It wants to do everything

WD seems to have decided that the primary use of this device is “everything”. It not only allows you to copy your SD cards to its drive, it lets you charge your phone and tablet with a 6,400 mAh power bank. It will act as a Wifi hotspot. It will act as a wireless file server. It even has a Plex server on board, so you can load movies or music onto it and play them over wifi to your devices.

Which is all well and good, but honestly, this would be a better product if it tried to do fewer things, but do them well with a really refined interface. As it is, it feels to me like it’s trying to serve as many solutions all at once, but they didn’t put the time in to any of the solutions to make them easy and intuitive to use.

So this is a really nice piece of hardware that does a bunch of stuff, some of which you’ll never use, and it doesn’t have the polish to the software that the hardware has. It also has a distinct desktop computer bias — it feels like they assume we’ll watch Plex movies on our iPad, but do our real work on our laptop with it and increasingly, I think that design mentality is going out of sync with how we are doing our work on the road. That may have been the right product design five years ago, but not today.

It feels like a “that’s good enough, lets ship it” product, not a great product.

My bottom line.

I’ve been grumping about this thing through the entire review, so let me balance that a bit. This product is going to be in my suitcase in future trips. Once I figured out how to get it to do what I want, it seems to do it fine. I hope I’ll see improvements in the IOS app down the road, but I’m not depending on it.

It’s a well built piece of hardware. It’s a good product, and I intend to keep using it.

My complaints about it is that WD really needed to do more work on the interfaces and make it really easy to use, and they didn’t. The tablet software needs work to make this device work well in a mobile-first set of workflows.

This is a product that’s likely to be used intermittently. If I were to travel once a month, that means that half the time or more it’s in a drawer. When I pull it out and stick it in a suitcase and then get to the hotel room and pull it out, will I remember how to use it? I can pretty much guarantee that this product will leave me grumbling as I try to remember how to make things work every trip, until it finally sinks in.

My bottom line complaint is that this is a perfectly good product at a good price that has the potential to be a great product — and it isn’t. It should be as easy to use as the Eero products are, and it isn’t.

It’s good enough, but I just can’t muster up much enthusiasm for good enough any more. I expect better these days.