Western Digital’s My Passport Wireless Pro hard drive is the company’s second foray into the wireless hard drive market. And with it come some improvements, as well as some stumbles.
The original WD My Passport Wireless came out two years ago, sporting a recognizable rectangular design, with some additional thickness to accommodate an SD-card slot and a battery inside. The new-for-2016 Wireless Pro ($229.99 for WD’s 2TB version, and $249.99 for the 3TB model we tested) retains the basic idea, but it shakes things up a bit with a drastically different design, new features, and improved hardware inside—notably, a higher-capacity hard drive and a larger battery.
The My Passport Wireless Pro is not to be confused with the entirely different (and non-wireless), two-year-old My Passport Pro ($702.19 at Amazon) , which is a RAID model with two drives inside the shell. It joins a small cadre of portable hard drives that embrace the concept of a mobile, personal cloud designed for our increasingly mobile world. Competitor Seagate was the early player in this connected portable hard drive space, but Seagate’s current Wireless Plus Mobile Storage drive tops out at 2TB for $180. Others that have dipped in—and some of these, already out—of this hard drive niche include Buffalo, Corsair, LaCie, and Toshiba.
Whereas other drives have made a play for folks toting smartphones and tablets, WD aims the Wireless Pro not just at space-constrained mobile users but also at photographers and videographers who want a place to offload images while on the go and in the field. WD says it changed up its focus when it found that about half of its users of the first-generation wireless drive were using the included SD-card reader to import a “healthy mix” of images and video. WD ran with that, and this time around, included features such as Adobe Creative Cloud connectivity, 802.11ac wireless, and FTP support for connecting to cameras wirelessly; an updated SD-card slot; and the ability to siphon power from the battery for charging other USB devices, such as a GoPro (which is notorious for its short battery life).
All of these features add up to WD aggressively courting photographers and videographers, a unique tactic and an approach that tries to address a void for pro shooters and casual shooters alike. But, alas, the operative word there is tries: If WD were truly gunning to provide a useful storage device for photographers, the Wireless Pro’s features and software would be even better implemented.
Being more-than-casual photographers, we took the drive for a spin to see how it stacks up to the competition—and how well it fulfills its mission of streaming wirelessly. As mentioned, we tested the 3TB version, which sells for $249.99. A 2TB version carries an MSRP of $229.99, about $50 more than the Seagate 2TB wireless drive. Let’s dig in.
Design and Features
Everything about the shell of the Wireless Pro is designed to stand out, except its color. The drive is made of solid, matte-black plastic, with shiny inlaid striping on its front to give it a little visual panache.
Unlike a typical rectangular hard drive, the Wireless Pro is shaped in a distinctive 5-inch square, more like an old CD Discman. In that same vein, it stands 0.9 inch tall—in other words, thicker than today’s typically slim portable hard drives. It’s large, but not unwieldy.
What is noticeably different is the drive’s weight. We’ve used most of the wireless hard drive competition, and noticed the Wireless Pro’s weight immediately. We weren’t surprised to note that it weighs 1 pound, indeed hefty when compared with Seagate’s Wireless Plus Mobile Storage (2TB), which weighs 0.6 pound. Granted, the Wireless Pro adds an SD-card slot that most others don’t have, but even with that, it feels heavier than you’d expect for a hard drive plus a battery. Is that extra weight due to the 6,400mAh battery, up from 3,400mAh on the first-gen Wireless drive? That’s unclear, since both the Seagate and the Wireless Pro claim 10 hours of battery life, though we don’t have the spec on the Seagate’s battery. (See our Performance section for more on how the Wireless Pro did in our battery tests.)
On the top edge of the drive sit two mechanical buttons, a USB Type-A 2.0 port, and the USB 3.0 port for direct-access connections to our laptop or desktop. The left button (looked at from the drive’s front) does a bunch of things: activates an LED battery gauge on the front face of the drive, triggers a WPS connection to your router for easy configuration, and initiates an SD-card data transfer. The button at right turns the drive on and off.
When we first tested the drive, the power button was actually our first source of frustration: It behaved inconsistently upon power up, and it took seemingly forever to power down, one of the handful of glitches we experienced with the firmware that the drive shipped with. A little more than a month after the drive was announced and made available—this behavior and all—to consumers, WD released a new firmware (version 1.01.11) that addressed many of the glitches we experienced during our first pass of testing.
The new firmware sped the shutdown to a count of one-two, with a blinking LED to indicate the drive was doing something before it shut down quickly. (Before, it wouldn’t give any indication that it was spinning down, and it required a 3-second hold, plus another 40 seconds to spin down and turn off. Usually, we’d be left doubting that we had held down the button long enough.) Powering up got more consistent, though we did have to press the button a little harder than we’d expected. But post-firmware-update, the difference was night and day.
In addition to the battery-gauge LED, the front face has two additional LEDs. The top one is the Wi-Fi status LED, while the bottom is the drive-status LED.
At the top left edge sits the SD-card slot, which this time around supports the SD 3.0 spec. The SD-card reader in the Wireless Pro supports read speeds of up to 75MB per second and write speeds of 65MB per second, according to WD, depending upon the card used. Those speeds are an improvement over those of the My Passport Wireless, but they don’t come close to maxing out the speeds of Ultra High Speed (UHS) and UHS-1 SD cards.
In addition, as we mentioned, the drive now has a USB 2.0 host port. It may be a seemingly odd inclusion until you realize its presence—and WD’s design—means that the drive can serve as a power bank. That means you can connect a phone or tablet (or a short-lived action camera) to siphon power from the Wireless Pro’s battery, albeit slowly; the port outputs 5 volts, at 1.5 amps.
Why USB 2.0 for the power-bank connection? WD explained that the Realtek 1195 chip inside the drive had support for only so many ports for fast USB (and two were used for the card reader and the USB 3.0 direct-attached connection).
The Wireless Pro boosts the wireless to 802.11ac, with the wireless connection at 5GHz via 802.11ac and 2.4GHz via 802.11n. We connected to our Apple iPhone 6S Plus using the 5GHz band. While the 802.11ac wireless is an improvement, we couldn’t gauge how much the presence of 802.11ac affected our experience during our usage. A more notable distinction: The Wireless Pro can function as a wireless access point for up to eight devices as well as a wireless drive, simultaneously. More on that in a bit.
Setup and Apps
WD markets this drive toward “professionals,” but that doesn’t mean every user will be tech-savvy enough to dope out how to get the most out of the drive. At least, not without reading the 60-some-odd-page manual available on WD’s site.
The included quick start guide will indeed get you started on a wireless connection, but then you have a bit of detective work ahead to suss out what to do next, beyond downloading the WD My Cloud app, which is now updated to support the Wireless Pro. On a Windows PC, we had to figure out where the software was on the drive. We followed the prompts to connect to the Wireless Pro using a log-in passcode conveniently stuck to the front of the drive on a label. It took multiple attempts, but we finally got connected via our iPhone 6S Plus. (There’s an Android app version of the app, as well.) WD says that this glitch is fixed in the latest firmware update, though we did have success connecting an iPhone 5, a Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge, and an Nvidia Shield Tablet without incident even pre-update on a second sample of this drive.
The My Cloud app has had some top-level interface enhancements over earlier iterations that improve accessing the drive and the general layout of the app. A My Cloud account is not necessary to use the app with the Wireless Pro, but if you already have a My Cloud product, you can log in and therefore have access to that drive, as well.
Some things about the app were rough around the edges. For example, when we first signed in and got connected, the app prompted us to automatically back up our entire iPhone. Great idea, or so we thought. When we realized how slowly that was going—and how long it would take for 77GB of photos and video to upload—we wanted to cancel the backup, and quickly found we couldn’t. It took deleting the app and reinstalling it to nix that action.
The app defaults to showing all files and folders. Along the bottom is a navigation bar with tabs for photos, music, and videos. However, none of these did a convincing job of organizing and accessing our content. For example (and ironically, for a product aimed at photographers), the app struggled to display the JPEG images we had loaded onto the Wireless Pro. These files ranged in size from to 2MB to 8MB.
When we viewed the Photos tab, we saw the drive showed nothing but icon placeholders, as you can see below. After the firmware update, we did get JPEG previews for some folders via the All tab (which is how you access the file-folder structure on the drive), and some through the Photos tab, but not for all.
Post-firmware update, loading images went faster, too, from 30 to 40 seconds to 20 to 25 seconds. Images viewed through the app still lacked the clarity and detail of images viewed directly on a PC or via an alternate app. WD says this is because of how the My Cloud app handles JPEG files. RAW shooters are out of luck, since the app doesn’t support this format.
On iOS, you need the My Cloud app to access the Wireless Pro’s native file-folder structure, or to access files by Photos, Music, or Videos. The topic-specific tabs we had more difficulty with, but as is typical for wireless drives in the iOS universe, we did everything via the app. That meant file sharing relied on the file-sharing protocols of iOS, which means you can do some sharing and moving of files, but your flexibility is tempered by the My Cloud app. Shown below is the interface for what you can do with a Photo.
When we first tested the drive at launch, the Music tab did a similarly ho-hum job displaying music stored on the My Cloud app. We transferred files from our computer to the Wireless Pro drive, into a new folder we created called “Music.” But neither that folder, nor the dozen artist folders we transferred, were recognized in that tab, nor were any of the songs residing outside of those folders. Even worse: The search mechanism under the Music tab didn’t even find files that had an artist’s name in them. We could access the music, but only directly from the All tab—which lets you access the pure file-folder structure on the drive. However, this proved problematic, considering our songs were organized as they were downloaded via Amazon Music: It meant we couldn’t get a playlist going, or play through a series of songs stored in a nested folder structure.
After talking with WD, the company managed to improve the experience with the first firmware update and a subsequent app topdeblogs.comit just barely improved. The folders of songs showed under the Music tab, but there was still no way to organize music into playlists, as the tracks were still trapped under individual folders, same as in the folder view. And the search bar still didn’t work.
When we did play music, it streamed without hiccups. Sadly, video streaming was less consistent. We tried a variety of video files, primarily formatted as .MP4 or .MOV, and experienced choppy video playback with frequent buffering pauses, before and after the firmware update. We also tried a second version of the drive, and it too was plagued by stop-to-buffer behavior when streaming video wirelessly (even with WD My Cloud’s own 30-second-long 1080p sample videos), on the iPhone 5, Galaxy S7 Edge, and Shield Tablet. Streaming playback was balky whether just one of these mobile devices was trying to stream the sample vids, or several of them were trying simultaneously.
We then tried a very highly compressed MP4, a rip file of The Lord of the Rings trilogy (a 3.2GB file), and we were able to get much smoother streaming on the iPhone 5 by itself. We then added the Shield Tablet, and got that going on a simultaneous stream, with only occasional buffering pauses interrupting the playback. (In both cases, it took the better part of a minute to start up the file.) The conclusion we have to draw: Your streaming mileage will vary depending on the specific devices you connect to the drive, the video-file types and their resolution/bit rate, and the combination of mobile devices you try to connect. Ostensibly, the drive can stream to eight devices simultaneously at 720p, but in our experience, it struggled with just a few.
As for accessing the drive via a PC? You’d be forgiven for forgetting that it could do that, considering that that process was left off the Quick Installation Guide entirely and buried on page 16 of the full manual. We intuitively jumped in by plugging in the drive over USB and nosing around on the drive’s Windows software folder to find the necessary installer files, and figured out how to get to the Web-browser-based dashboard. No question that this direct-attached setup process can (and should) be clearer. That’s especially so since the WD Access PC software has nothing to do with the basic Web-based dashboard for the topdeblogs.com that software isn’t even mentioned by name anywhere in the manual.
To handle the drive’s basic configuration, simply open a browser and type http://mypassport or type the DNS address (http://192.168.60.1) as found in the manual to get started on a PC. (Sometimes we found the former worked, sometimes we needed to use the DNS.) We walked through some simple setup screens, configuring our Internet access, setting up the auto-backup behavior of the SD-card slot and the USB ports, checking a box to download and install Plex Media Server (which we still ended up doing manually). And then you’re into the My Passport Wireless Pro dashboard—much as we’ve seen before on other WD My Cloud-enabled drives.
The main screen of the dashboard shows the capacity, battery status, and the Wi-Fi connections (that is, if it’s being used in a direct connection, sharing Wi-Fi as a hotspot, or if the drive and the device are both connected via the network). The last is the “standard” connection mode that gets configured via the Wi-Fi tab on the dashboard…
We moved through the options to see what was available to tweak. Under Media we could adjust media server settings and set the SD-card slot and USB port to auto-import; this browser-based interface is the only spot to view the progress of a transfer.
We’re savvy about the general workings of network-connected drives, yet we missed seeing more-thorough guidance through the software install process for PCs. Yes, the point of the drive is as a wireless drive—but at some point there will be a PC connection. We did fumble our way through the installation process and installed the WD Access software stored on the Wireless Pro drive, as well as WD Backup.
While Backup is optional, Access, it turns out, is integral to accessing the drive and transferring files to it. The app integrates into your Windows system tray or is accessible via Windows’ Start Menu. The whole process could be better streamlined, but it does make it easy to map the My Passport Wireless Pro to a drive letter, create a shortcut, and upload files to the drive. But again, hard to know where all this is without being your own sleuth.
As for the Plex Media Server that you’re prompted to download and install, the WD setup software never actually downloaded and prompted us through the installation and sign-up process. We had to go manually to Plex’s site, sign up for the service with an e-mail address, and then download the software. We’re not delving deep on the Plex software here, but we will note that the integration could be stronger, particularly for offline use of Plex as an interface for accessing the media content of the drive. Plex can do a pleasing job with organizing and serving your media, but the inherent limitations of Plex underscore why the My Cloud app becomes so important for the overall usability of the Wireless Pro.
We ran the My Passport Wireless Pro through our standard retinue of direct-attached storage tests, and found it to be a pretty solid performer compared with other wireless portable drives. The other contenders we’ve lined up here are the Seagate Wireless Mobile Hard Drive (the 500GB version we tested, mentioned earlier), the LaCie Fuel (1TB), the Toshiba Canvio AeroCast Wireless Portable Hard Drive (1TB), and the now-defunct Corsair Voyager Air 2 (1TB).
On Anvil’s Storage Utilities 1.1.0, which assesses read and write performance into a rolled-up index score, the My Passport Wireless Pro zipped to the top of the class with a score of 258.6. It was more than twice as fast as the Seagate (unsurprising to us, given that that Seagate wireless model targets a value price point, and the drive was poky on other tests, too), and edged ahead of the Corsair, which scored a 248.5.
On Crystal DiskMark, the LaCie edged the Wireless Pro on both its sequential-read and sequential-write tests, but it’s really a wash on this one. The LaCie scored 114.2MB per second on sequential read, and 113.1MB per second on sequential write, to the Wireless Pro’s 112.3MB read and 111.6MB write.
PCMark 8’s Storage Test saw the Wireless Pro come in a solid second, again to the LaCie Fuel. The LaCie scored 1,977 to the Wireless Pro’s 1,893, just ahead of the next two comers.
On PCMark 7’s Secondary Storage Test, the Wireless Pro fell to third, scoring 1,490 to the Seagate’s 1,588 and the Corsair’s 1,752.
Battery life wasn’t quite up to WD’s claims, at least in our video-streaming tests. The My Passport lasted 6 hours and 19 minutes playing our standard test file, a rip of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, streamed wirelessly to an Nvidia Shield Android tablet. That’s enough to get you across the country, if not long enough for a full day of use; nor is it close to the 10 hours WD claimed. Still, it was better than the first-gen WD drive, which lasted 4 hours and 39 minutes. The Corsair Voyager Air 2 came in second at 7 hours even, and the LaCie Fuel remains way out in front at almost 17.5 hours. That drive is a big hunk, though, with room for a beefy battery inside.
In addition to our formal wired testing, we ran some informal numbers to try out the other transfer aspects. Our 16 folders of 90 MP3 files (representing 670MB total data) required 6.5 minutes to transfer wirelessly via 802.11ac, for an average rate of about 1.7MB per second. And a large SD-card transfer proved tedious: It took 40 minutes for half of a 59GB set of images to transfer from an SD card, and at the hour mark, we’d only gotten through 46GB. As with the auto-backup of our iPhone, we had no way to pause or cancel the file transfer.
Almost as frustrating: While you can set an SD card to automatically transfer, you can’t get any confirmation of a successful transfer on the drive alone. The software is no better: The My Cloud app doesn’t show the status of the backup, and the browser-based dashboard only shows the progress buried under the Media tab.
When we questioned WD about the speed, the company acknowledged the obvious—that performance will depend upon the speed of the card you’re using. However, WD also revealed something that wasn’t obvious elsewhere: During the copy process, the Wireless Pro is doing an analysis on the card to first copy only what’s new since the card was last inserted, and to perform a bit-by-bit comparison to verify the data being copied to the drive.
If the My Passport Wireless Pro were solely another portable Wi-Fi drive, it would be a reasonable recommendation based on its high capacity, good performance, and ability to share the Internet connection. Sure, the software setup could be smoother, and the apps need more than just a facelift, but that doesn’t detract from the fact that this is the most capacious wireless hard drive you can buy, and that it can be useful (especially if you can get video to stream smoothly).
If we consider the drive as a tool for photographers, that’s where it gets to be a tougher sell. Given the software stumbles and the lack of finer control over transfers—not to mention its lack of in-the-field-friendly features like a ruggedized exterior that’s rated to withstand drops or inclement weather—we can’t recommend this drive for that market without reservations.
That’s especially true considering how inexpensive flash media has become these days. Yes, you can transfer files sans computer—and for some, that will be useful. But what good is a file transfer if it takes too long, or you can’t easily view and confirm that everything successfully transferred? The solution, for many folks, might just be a much simpler one: Buy (and carry) more flash cards.