USB Devices Offer Easy Remote Access

We've become a mobile society -- but very often, the majority of our data remains at home. If you want to access your data when you're away from your desk, you can use remote access software like LogMeIn Pro, pcAnywhere or GoToMyPC. However, there's now a new generation of USB devices whose purpose is to help you easily work with your home-based files from any connected computer.

Actually, the two USB remote access devices reviewed here couldn't be more different. The $100 Pogoplug acts like a mini remote file server that hooks into your home network and gives access to the contents of an external USB-connected hard drive or memory key. On the other hand, the I'm InTouch SecureKey ($130 annually) is a USB memory stick that goes where you go, plugs into a computer and makes it easy to remotely use your home or office PC.

Pogoplug

If all you're looking for is access to your data while you're on the road, you can't do much better than the $100 Pogoplug. The small (4 x 2.5 x 2-inch), white Pogoplug box is actually a mini file server that uses Linux software to allow remote connections, dole out files and save material remotely. It plugs into your network router and works with a variety of USB storage devices, such as external hard drives or USB keys.

On the downside, Pogoplug works only with external drives and can't connect with your computer's native hard drive. This means that it won't be connected to all the data on your PC's hard drive, something that SecureKey can do. As a result, if you want to have access to all your favorite files, you need to back them up to an external hard drive or memory key and connect that to Pogoplug on your way out the door -- hardly an efficient solution.

Getting Pogoplug started took about 5 minutes; it was much quicker and easier than setting up the SecureKey. In fact, the hardest part was typing in the product's 26-digit license code; I was glad when a recent upgrade to the product did away with that process by adding an auto-discovery feature. Now, all you have to do is plug the Pogoplug into your router, power it up and connect an external USB drive to its USB port. After a minute, it's ready for mobile access.

Once it's connected, Pogoplug can read from and write to drives that have been formatted using NTFS and FAT for PCs, EXT2 and EXT3 for Linux systems and HFS+ for Apple Macs (although you'll have to disable the journaling feature of the last). If you connect it to a USB hub, the device can work with several drives at once; for example, I was able to use it with both a 2GB memory key and a 60GB external hard drive.

You can access Pogoplug remotely from either a PC or a Mac, and there's a simplified interface available for iPhones. The connection is password-protected and uses Secure Sockets Layer technology.

Using Internet Explorer and an AT&T 3G connection, it took only 15 seconds for me to connect to a 2GB memory key plugged into the Pogoplug device in my home. All the drive's images, music and documents were available and showed up on the system's simple, well-designed interface.

You can configure your drive for public or private access. To give access to private materials, you specify which e-mail addresses you want to allow to see the material. The recipients then get an e-mail with a link to the material. In my tests, it worked like a charm.

Anything can be downloaded, but don't be in a hurry -- using a 3G connection, the Pogoplug's speed averaged 42Kbit/sec. Using a public Wi-Fi connection at a public library, I was able to boost that to 100Kbit/sec., which is better but still entails a long wait for larger files.

In the final analysis, if economy and ease count for more than the ability to take control of your PC, Pogoplug can deliver your favorite files anywhere in the world.

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