What's small and pink, incorporates a Linux kernel and an embedded ARM compatible processor, and let's you set up your own personal cloud? The answer is the latest Pogoplug device from Cloud Engines Inc. Combine this insanely easy to set up bit of kit with a free iPhone app and you have a secure environment for privately viewing and sharing content anywhere on the Internet - and all without changing your network configuration, firewall settings or fiddling with anything more complicated than plugging a box into your router, a USB drive or four into the box and activating it all through a web browser interface.
Forget the original Pogoplug of old, a brick-shaped plug device, because Cloud Engines has got funky with the version two design. Very funky indeed, with a clever neon pink perspex wrap-around cable holder surrounding an otherwise understated small white box measuring just 4 x 10.1 x 7.1 inches all in. Seriously, if Apple had designed this nobody would have been surprised. Well, apart from that neon pink bit of course. Personally I like the funky desktop design, and if you don't it can easily be hidden away with your router out of sight. After all, this is very much a fit and forget device. The hardware itself is just the gateway to your own personal cloud.
But before I move away from the form factor, it is worth mentioning that the front of the thing is nice and clean with just a Pogoplug logo that illuminates a soft glowing green colour to let you know that it has powered up (it runs as quietly as a mouse which has taken a vow of silence) and that your attached drive(s) are recognised. The only other front of house feature is a USB slot into which you can connect a thumb drive for easy access, while round the back there are a further three USB slots to accommodate your other thumb drives and external USB hard drives if you really want to load this baby up. And, of course, there's the power and Ethernet cables.
Getting started is truly simple, and simply speedy: Cloud Engines claim you can go from zero to personal cloud hero in less than 60 seconds and they are not exaggerating much. If you include setting up the free my.pogoplug.com account in the installation equation, as I did for this review, then you can get the whole thing done from unboxing to browsing your content remotely in around two minutes. Now that's pretty damn impressive for what can traditionally be a complicated and often frustrating network configuration nightmare, especially for the less technically minded user. Absolutely no configuring of ports, routers, IP addresses, firewalls, or anything else.
Installation is a four step process:
Power up the hardware
Connect it to your router with an Ethernet cable
Attach your USB drive(s)
Go online to my.pogoplug.com and activate it
That is it, unless you want to use the accompanying iPhone app in which case you'll need to download and install that and enter your login details. I did that as well, and it added precisely two more minutes onto the installation clock. I can't say this too much or too loudly, you can get your own personal cloud up and running and doing what it says on the box in less than five minutes including installing an iPhone application. That's just awesome.
So, you've gone and done it and patted yourself on your back for being so awesome but what does this personal pink Linux cloud of yours actually do? Well how about what it doesn't do first? It doesn't expose your data to anyone that you don't want your data exposed to. It doesn't ask you to upload your data to some server in the ether, all your data remains right there on your USB drives connected to your Pogoplug on your desk. And it doesn't expect you to either only want to share less than 2Gb of media or otherwise pay a monthly fee for your cloud. If you do only want to dabble in cloud data sharing, and don't expect to need more than 2Gb of space, then there are plenty of software alternatives such as Dropbox which also has an iPhone front end. But to be honest, I'd rather pay up front for the Pogoplug and get unlimited data storage capability without any further fees and be satisfied that my data always remains firmly under my control and solidly on my desk.
What it is, then, is a simple way of instantly sharing unlimited amounts of content (including full resolution images and video, and audio for that matter) without first having to upload it anywhere. Connect any external USB drive, be it a 1Tb hard drive or a 1Gb thumb drive, and then access the data stored on them wherever you are from either a web browser or iPhone, BlackBerry or Android mobile. That content can also be selectively and securely shared with family and friends in the same way, just initiate sharing via a link in an email message and away they go. Those you share with can be automatically notified when new content is available, and Pogoplug will happily integrate with your favoured social network to keep people in the content loop.
Adding content is easy, just unplug your USB drive and attach it your PC and move content that way. Or upload it from your desktop to the remote drive using Windows Explorer or Mac Finder at home, or from within a browser on the Internet. Or how about using the totally free iPhone app to upload that photo you've just this minute taken and then automatically share it with your family? Oh, and you cane also very easily set user permissions to enable family and friends to securely contribute content to selected folders on your USB drives via Pogoplug as well.
Here's what Cloud Engines have to say about security and privacy by the way: "Ultimately none of your personal data is stored in our servers other than your email address. All of the data on your drives attached to your Pogoplug enabled device remain only on your Pogoplug enabled device in your house unless being actively accessed by yourself or someone else you shared content with. While it is being accessed, the data may be forwarded through our servers, but no copies are retained during this process. Removing any or all of the content from access is as simple as unplugging the Pogoplug enabled device, the drive, or deleting the file off the drive. Pogoplug offers optional fully encrypted access to your files through the HTTPS protocol. This protocol is the same encryption security that your online banking system uses to protect your account access. A link to the secure website is available on the login page by clicking the secure sign-in link. This method of access is optional because it can significantly reduce the performance of your access to your files when you are on the same network as your Pogoplug enabled device".
Needless to say, because this is your own personal cloud it is always on and therefore your computer doesn't need to be. It's really a cut down Network Attached Storage (NAS) device without all the bells and whistles that most people who just want to access and share media content don't actually need. The only big question that remains to be answered is how much? In the UK the Pogoplug retails for £99 while in the US it is $129. While that might seem a lot compared to a 'free' service such as Dropbox, in reality you are getting an awful lot of bang for your buck with the Pogoplug. It's a mini-Linux computer after all, complete with a 1.2GHz ARM processor and 256MB RAm which you can use for all means of open-source installations if you so wish (a healthy online community of Pogopluggers is emerging already).
If you want to share a lot of content it's a truly excellent choice, something of a no brainer in fact. Our rating? That's almost as easy as setting this thing up, a very positive nine out of ten!