We’ve already established that network-attached storage devices don’t have to be intimidating; they can actually be easy to use. And now, thanks to Netgear’s Stora, NAS might actually be fun, too. This $230 device turns the idea of geeky, networked storage into something entertaining by offering an easy way to watch your video files remotely.
The Stora looks almost like an old-fashioned safe, with its small, squat design. Only the flashing lights on the front (indicating power and connectivity) give it away as a high-tech alternative. And high-tech it is: The Stora packs in a 1TB drive, and has a bay for adding another, should you need more space. It supports gigabit Ethernet, offers a USB 2.0 port, features a built-in iTunes server, and is DLNA certified, so it can stream media to compatible gear. It’s also remotely accessible from the web, allowing you to access multimedia files from within its web-based interface.
Setup is pretty simple: You connect the included Ethernet cord to the drive and your router, plug in the AC adapter, and turn it on. Netgear includes a CD with the Stora Desktop software; installing this was a bit time-consuming — the CD took awhile to run — but not complicated.
And the included software was worth the wait, as the Flash-based application is slick. Netgear says the Stora is designed for “first-time users who don’t want to learn server administration as a hobby,” and the software’s interface goes a long way toward that end. It features an attractive black and purple design, with appealing, easy-to-identify icons. Folders are automatically created for family sharing, as are a private set of folders for each user. Each of these libraries contains folders for documents, music, photos and videos, though these can be renamed or deleted and new folders can be added.
My only complaint about the application is that its graphic-heavy interface means uploading files takes a few more clicks than it might otherwise. If you were accessing the Stora through the plain-old Windows Explorer interface, you could just drag a file right to the desired folder on the Stora and transfer it with one click (and you can access the Stora via Windows Explorer, if you’d rather). To transfer the same file in the Stora Desktop app, you have to click on the folder, select “upload” from the drop-down menu, and then a new pop-up window appears. Here, you can either navigate to the file you want to add, or you can select the “Drag and Drop” option, which allows you to drag your file to the new window.
This is a minor annoyance, though, and it’s one that I quickly forgot about when I began exploring the rest of the app’s features. You can easily create a slide show of the photos you’ve uploaded, or create an album and upload it to a site like Facebook.
But where things get more interesting is when you begin exploring the embedded media player. Stora’s software has its own multimedia player, so you can play back music and video files from within the app. Just click on the file you want to view, or the playlist you want to listen to, and a new pop-up window with the player appears. It’s remarkably simple, and you don’t need to launch any external applications…unless your file format isn’t supported by the player. And the file format support could be better. Right now, the Stora player supports just a handful of formats (MP3 audio files, and MPEG-4, MOV, and FLV video files).
Sharing content is another strong point for the Stora. To access your content remotely, you just point your browser to mystora.com, and you can quickly navigate to your device. The web-based interface is nearly identical to the Stora Desktop app, so right away, you’re in familiar territory. You can set up shares to send to family and friends who might want to view your content, too.
Netgear offers a premium Stora service that, for $20 a year (after a free 30-day trial), offers some added remote access features. For one, you can play your media files over the web, using the same embedded media player. In my tests, performance was very good; video looked great when accessed remotely. The Stora premium service allows you to download files remotely, too, so you can access them from the computer itself if your file format isn’t supported by the embedded player.
We all know that we should be backing up our files for safe keeping. Thanks to Stora, securing your files doesn’t have to feel like work.