Dockstar01 thumb Review of Seagate FreeAgent DockStar

When I first came across the FreeAgent DockStar at last year’s Pepcom show I thought it was a unique device with lots of potential. Now after testing it out and playing with it I am even more impressed. This device uses the Pogoplug technology to allow any USB drive to become an Internet connected storage device.

So how does it work and what the heck is Pogoplug? It is a technology from a company called Cloud Engine that created a plug computer designed to allow users to access to their files at home over the Internet without the need for a PC. A microPC running a form of Linux is the engine that drives the Pogoplug, In plain English, the Free Agent Dockstar allows the Free Agent Go External Hard Drive or ANY USB hard drive connected to it to become an Network/Internet connected storage device.

It is easy to use and simple to set up. You don’t need any technical background to get this device up and running, it is as plug-and-play as you can get. The FreeAgent DockStar is designed to use the FreeAgent Go drive but can be used with any USB hard drives or flash-based product. It supports up to four USB drives if one of these is a FreeAgent Go.

Files can be viewed and managed viewed via a web-based interface using either Windows or OS X file managers and even through a free iPhone app. The FreeAgent DockStar can also stream media such as music or video and view photos. It also works with popular social media sites such as Facebook, MySpace and Twitter. All this can be done without having to set up any special protocols or settings.

Pogoplug sells their own device which offers the same functionality, however their version only connects to one USB drive directly unless using a hub which is an additional purchase. Seagate licenses the Pogoplug technology from Cloud Engines.


In my reviews of previous Seagate FreeAgent products one of my frequent complaints was about the lack of “green” packaging. In the past Seagate would use plastic clamshells for their drive and docks. Thankfully they addressed this issue with the FreeAgent DockStar and are now using fully recycled packaging. On the outside of the cardboard box we find the Seagate mascot for the Dockstar – an alien cruising around in its spaceship. Seagate lists the features and requirements and the back and sides of the package.

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Opening up the package reveals the Dockstar, a LAN cable, AC adapter and a quick start guide. The FreeAgent DockStar is composed of white plastic and looks pretty much like its sibling the FreeAgent Go Dock. While there are no other available colors this still better than the latest incarnation of the PogoPlug line which only comes in pink. Ugh.

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In the front is a central area for docking a FreeAgent Go drive with an indicator light that sits below this area. On the back there are two USB ports, an AC connector and an Ethernet port. On one side we see an additional USB port and the reset button. You’ll also notice around the periphery of the device are numerous slot vent openings to provide cooling.

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Although Seagate lists only Windows XP or higher and OS X 10.4.9 or higher as system requirements, you can also use the FreeAgent DockStar with Linux as it supports these file systems. Since underneath the hood, the FreeAgent DockStar runs Linux naturally it would support that OS. Supported files systems include: NTFS, FAT32, Mac OS Extended Journaled, Mac OS non-Journaled (HFS+), ext2, and ext3.

The Pogoplug has a underground hacking community for its version; unfortunately when trying to log into the FreeAgent DockStar version via ssh you will need to enter the password which is unknown at the moment, so hacking will have to wait.

Specifications:

Seagate FreeAgent DockStar

Easily access and share your files from anywhere. Turn any external USB drive into an Internet-connected storage device.

-Gives you access to your digital files from any computer on your home network—PC or Mac— and from anywhere in the world
-Makes it easy to share your photos, music, and movies over the Internet
-Lets you create a private virtual space for sharing files with friends and family

Access your content anytime, anywhere

The FreeAgent DockStar makes it easy to access files on your external USB hard drives from anywhere on your home network, and from anywhere in the world.*
-Lets you access files on any USB drive that’s connected to your FreeAgent DockStar from any computer on your local network, and from anywhere in the world via the internet
-Appears on your desktop as a local drive for one-step drag-and-drop functionality
-Ensures fast file transfers within your home network via a single Gigabit Ethernet cable connection
-Delivers built-in Pogoplug® functionality so you can access and share files anywhere in the world. Simply log in from any web browser for easy access to your files at home. No special software is needed.
-Includes a web-based interface for easy navigation
-Allows you to send pictures straight from your iPhone® to a folder on the FreeAgent DockStar network adapter
-Gives you the choice of thumbnail or list view, search by file name and then filter the results by type of media—music, movies, photos or files

More storage space for all of your important files

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could easily add more storage to your home network so you have room for all of your favorite files? Now you can with the FreeAgent DockStar. This compact, feature-packed network adapter lets you connect your FreeAgent Go™ and three additional external USB drives to your home network in seconds.
-Connects your external USB hard drives to your home network in a few simple steps. Simply plug in two cables (Ethernet and power) and visits the web activation page to activate and automatically configure the network adapter.
-Adds up to three USB storage devices to your network—in addition to your FreeAgent Go—for virtually unlimited storage
-Reduces clutter–just slide your FreeAgent Go into your FreeAgent DockStar. No cables to fumble with and no clutter.

Sharing files has never been easier
-Makes sharing effortless—just enter your friends’ email addresses to send a link that gives them access to the files or folders you choose to share (and only those you choose to share)
-Allows your friends and family to upload and download content on the shared space
-Works with your favorite social media sites, including Facebook and MySpace, to automatically share your pictures and files. So there’s no need to waste time uploading your pictures to the internet. Simply copy and paste the RSS link from the FreeAgent DockStar folder containing the pictures you want to share and they will automatically appear on your social media page.

Designed for your digital lifestyle
-Makes it easy for your family and friends to access the files you want to share—on a shared drive, or even on Facebook, MySpace and Twitter
-Ensures you’ll never be without your files again—at work, at play or just out and about
-Access your digital content while on-the-go with a free iPhone app
-Eliminates the need to store your important files and digital media on your laptop or iPhone when you travel—simply access them from a web browser when you need them, wherever you may be
-Gives you virtually unlimited space for all of your movies, music and more
-Creates slide shows in a snap that you can share with your friends and family, across town or around the world

Price: $71.32 (At Amazon at time of review)

Set up is quick and easy process and involves powering up the Dockstar, connecting it to an available Ethernet line (usually off one’s router) and docking a Seagate FreeAgent Go portable hard drive or another USB drive to the device. After a few seconds the LED light in the front of the dock will turn green; this means that the dock is connected to the web.

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When you first use the Dockstar you’ll need to go to the Seagate activation website to set up a Pogoplug account and enable the Internet functionality; once this is done you can access your device from these addresses: http://dockstar.pogoplug.com or http://my.pogoplug.com. The web interface is the same except for the Seagate versus Pogoplug branding.

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From within the web application you can explore the contents of any attached hard drive, transfer, create shares for other users, play videos and music or look at your photos via a built-in slideshow program. You can explore files via detailed or icons view; for photo viewing there is a photostrip type interface also.

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There are numerous ways to browse the contents of the Dockstar attached drive(s). Besides this web application you can also interact with your storage using a free Seagate iPhone app or by downloading the desktop program from the Pogoplug website. This program allows any connected drive to appear on the Mac or Windows machine as a drive in OS X’s Finder or Windows Explorer making the network drive look and feel like it is directly attached to that particular machine.

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From the Account Settings screen the user can change General, Payment, Media and Social Settings.

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You can also create Windows Workgroup share by heading to the Settings section on the web interface and going to the WFS (Windows File Sharing) section. Here you can rename the Workgroup of the device and check the sharing option to turn it on. Just be aware that this share is not password protected so if you leave it with Read/Write privileges you can have anyone on your network access it and make changes on the connected drives.

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Besides acting as an Internet-based file server, the Dockstar is capable of transcoding video, stream audio and video as well as view photos remotely. For instance one can use the iPhone app to stream music while on their 3G networks.

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Sharing files involves selecting a folder to share and then emailing the person you wish to provide access to. You can allow read only or read/write access to this person. Not to be left out of the social networking party, Seagate implemented Facebook, Twitter and MySpace sharing. This is done through the settings menu and once enabled shared folders will appear on your profile page and will change with update to the folder; a really simple way of posting photos for family and friends.

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The beauty of the FreeAgent DockStar is the ability to have unlimited cloud storage. As opposed to online services such as DropBox and MobileMe, which becomes cost prohibitive, as you require more storage capacity. For example if you run out of room on your attached Seagate FreeAgent Go drive then you could easily add an external USB hard drive with additional capacity to the FreeAgent DockStar.

My main issue with the FreeAgent DockStar is that Seagate charges a $30 yearly subscription fee after the first year of use. This model differs from the Pogo plug version where they include the service for the lifetime of the product. Other packaging there is a Pogo plugged sticker describing the service with the final line stating a "additional fees may be required after initial subscription period." Hopefully Seagate will eliminate this fee if they get enough complaints.

Now if you are looking for a lightning quick NAS experience than the Seagate FreeAgent DockStar may disappoint as it certainly is slower than a dedicated NAS box such as the Synology DS209II+. When transferring a 1.5 GB file over my home network, the Dockstar was running around 4 MB/s while the Synology went to around 11 MB/s. The overall speed and functionality of the Dockstar is fine for everyday use, but definitely slower than dedicated NAS boxes.


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Conclusion:

The FreeAgent DockStar is the perfect solution for those not wanting to deal with online storage sites or the hassle of setting up a a dedicated NAS box. Transfer speeds are definitely slower than other networking solutions, but this is a trade off for ease of use. The Pogoplug function makes using the FreeAgent DockStar idiot proof as the system can be easily managed via the web application or directly on one’s home computer.

For the person wanting to set up their first NAS device, the DockStar is a great entry device. If you have an external USB hard drive or two on hand then the Dockstar is inexpensive NAS solution. It is simple to setup and use and lets you share files with friends and family just by clicking a button.

Its advantage over other cloud storage solutions is the ability to expand your overall storage as you go. Theortetically you could have four two terabyte external drives, let’s see MobileMe or Dropbox provide that! This subscription fee is one of the main differences between the Pogo plugged branded version and a Seagate one. Pogoplug owners have remote access for free for the lifetime of the device. I don’t know if Seagate implemented the subscription fee for additional revenue or it was mandated by Cloud Engines for licensing the technology and to keep the docs are from cannibalizing the market for their device. So keep this cost in mind when deciding whether to get the Seagate FreeAgent DockStar.

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Pros:
+Simple setup
+Expandable storage (up to four USB drives)
+Affordable
+Easy to use

Cons:
-Requires yearly subscription for Pogoplug service after first year
-No printer support

Grades:  
Overall score 9 10 thumb1 Review of Seagate FreeAgent DockStar
Design score 9 10 thumb1 Review of Seagate FreeAgent DockStar
Performance score 9 10 thumb1 Review of Seagate FreeAgent DockStar

This product was given to TestFreaks for review by the company for review purposes only, and is not considered by us as payment for the review, we do not, and never will, accept payment from companies to review their products. To learn more about our review policy please visit this page HERE.