Portable hard drives have become something of an essential for anyone with a lot of data. If you're a bit old, like us, then you'll remember the days when moving lots of data was an utter pain. From an Iomega Zip drive with 100mb of storage, to early portable hard drives that were really ropey and slow. There has always been the need to move files from computer to computer, and there has increasingly been the need to do so quickly.
The Corsair Voyager Air intends to solve pretty much all your data transfer problems, and it does so in a tiny package that you can take with you anywhere you want, and can hold up to 1TB of data. That's a lot of data, and it's a fantastic idea for people who have music, movies and documents they want to backup, or keep with them when they travel.
What does it do
The Voyager Air has several strings to it's bow. Firstly, it's a USB 3.0 hard drive. That's important, because moving 1TB of data from computer to hard drive is a slow and tedious task. USB 3.0 does its best to alleviate this tedium by making transfers as quick as possible.
Then it's an Ethernet drive. What this means is that you can plug it into your home network router, and your computers will see it as a network drive. When we did this, it showed up straight away, after just a few seconds of waiting. This basically gives you basic NAS functionality, and means that you can store files on the drive from any computer, and they can also be read from a wide range of devices. For example, most digital radios or media players can read from network attached storage, and it makes this drive ideal for storing your home media, like photos, video and music.
The final mode is wireless, using Wi-Fi, the drive will show up as a hotspot in any Wi-Fi device, and you can connect to it to read - or in some cases write - files. It's a system we've seen more and more on portable drives, because it gives iPad and Android users a way to stream video or music that doesn't involve filling up their devices with bulky files, but also allows multiple users to access files at the same time.
To back-up the Wi-Fi, there's a built in battery that can power the drive for "up to seven hours" of media streaming. You can also stream to four devices at the same time.
The first problem you might spot with using Wi-Fi is that the drive will replace your wireless network. While that will mean you can read files on the drive, it will also mean you will lose internet access. Happily, Corsair has thought about that, and there's a pass-through mode. Simply give the drive the password for the Wi-Fi, and it will act as a bridge, allowing you to access both the files stored on its drive, and the internet.
This functionality works well, but it's likely it will drain the battery more quickly, and it could slow down your connection to the internet - at least in theory - we had no problems with it. It will, however, only connect to 2.4GHz wireless networks, not the less congested 5GHz ones, which might be a problem for some.
There are apps for both Android and iOS that will allow you to connect your phone, tablet or MP3 player to the drive. Once you've loaded this app, you can stream media to your device easily. You phone does the decoding though, so any files stored on the drive will need to be supported by your handset, or you won't be able to play or access them.
When moving files from computer to the drive, via USB 3.0, we got a sustained transfer rate of 60MB/s. What that means in real world terms, is that we were able to move a 1GB file in around 20 seconds or so. Not bad at all.
Transferring via Ethernet to the drive was simple, but a bit slower. We hit a sustained rate of 20MB/s on our Gigabit Ethernet network. This is a slower way to transfer files, but if you don't have USB 3.0 on your computer, then it's probably not going to make all that much difference. This method also means that you can connect to the drive from pretty much any computer in your home, which is a pretty cool thing to be able to do.
Via Wi-Fi, things are slower again, and copying files from the drive to computer seemed to fluctuate quite a bit. We got transfer speeds as high as 4.5MB/s, and as low as almost nothing. Early in the copy, things seemed to fluctuate more, later on they stabilised and we got a more solid transfer going. We could easily play 720p video, and with bitrates like this we'd think compressed 1080p would be manageable too.
So through the three modes of data transfer, there are no major problems here. The Wi-Fi is really handy if you want to progressively stream, but for big file copies, there's really no point trying to do it wirelessly unless you have left your USB cable at home.
Having a high-capacity battery built -in does mean that the Voyager Air is a little bit heavy. It's now a show stopper, but it's a bit of extra weight to lug about with you. It's at least twice, as heavy as most 1TB drives by our estimate, but probably more than that.
It's a solid device though, incredibly well built and quite nice to look at. The only design aspect that worries us slightly is the switches on the front of the device, they feel like they could get broken. There are two, on either side, one turns the power on and off, and the other switches the Wi-Fi on and off. Despite their possible fragility, it's really great to have a hardware Wi-Fi button, so you can turn the wireless off when you're not using it, or if you're on a plane where using it would be prohibited.
On the back there's a small power socket which allows you to both charge the drive and keep it running if you're going to install it as a sort of NAS on your home network. There is also a USB 3.0 socket, which can also be used to power the device, and an Ethernet jack, for wiring into your fixed network.
There are lights on the front to give you an idea of what's going on. One tells you if the drive is on, the other tells you the status of the battery, and the third tells you if the drive is charging. The rightmost light is to indicate if Wi-Fi is turned on or not.
You can either get the drive in the red colour we've reviewed, or it's also available in a more conservative black tone. In the box, you get a soft carry case, a USB 3.0 cable, a USB style mains power adaptor, and a cable that charges the device. There is also, rather brilliantly, a 12v car adaptor included too.
At £160, the Voyager Air is hardly "cheap". The thing is, it does so much that we can see it giving lots of use to everyone who buys it, and that makes its relative cost much more tolerable. If you're looking to get one for about £30 less, you can opt for the 500GB model, but honestly we think you're kidding yourself - always get the maximum size you can!
By way of comparison, if you don't need the wireless, ethernet and battery, you can get a USB 3.0 portable 1TB drive for about £50, so you do need to want those extra features. Even so, we think for all it does, it's worth the outlay. If you're heading off on holiday with the kids and there's a long car journey, imagine how much more peaceful it will be if you've got access to 1TB of Disney movies for them to play on their tablets - all kids have tablets now, right?
The Corsair Voyager Air is a nice little device. It has clearly been designed to be the most useful thing it can possibly be. It's a portable hard drive, it's a wireless drive, it's a mini-NAS. Honestly, the only way Corsair could have made it more useful is if it was able to make tea too.
It is expensive, but given that it offers a massive amount more than almost any other portable drive, we honestly do think it's worth it. You could use it as a NAS on your network for all your media, then when you're heading off on holiday, disconnect it and you've got a portable media server for when the Spanish sun gets too much, and you want to chillax with a beer and some movies.
It won't be for everyone, but it performs brilliantly and those who need access to lots of their files everywhere they go will love it. It's also miles more practical than relying on the cloud, which is what many companies suggest these days, something that's mostly impractical for normal people.
UPDATE: As we published this Corsair put out a pretty clever update that adds DLNA and Airplay support. We're going to install the update and we'll add something to this review when we've tested the functionality.