Modern smartphones like the Samsung Galaxy S9 take stunning video and images, but if your life is frequently capture-worthy, you’ll find yourself running out of space on your phone to store all of your photos and clips. That’s where a portable hard drive like the Western Digital My Passport Wireless SSD ($499) comes in, allowing you to wirelessly transfer files from your phone. Because it uses an SSD instead of a spinning drive, it’s very expensive (we tested the 1TB model), but it’s compact, rugged, fast, and does double-duty as a power bank and a media server once you return home from your hang-gliding session or night out on the town.
Sturdy, Not Stylish
The advent of external SSD-based storage has manufacturers cramming a ton of gigabytes into tiny packages. To wit, the 512GB Adata SD700 measures just 0.5 by 3.3 by 3.3 inches (HWD) and weighs less than 3 ounces, and it’s far from the lightest or tiniest drive we’ve reviewed. This miniaturization trend does not apply to wireless external drives, however, even ones that use SSDs like the My Passport. In part because of its ruggedization and in part because it has to fit a Wi-Fi antenna and the associated hardware, this square drive measures 0.95 by 4.97 by 4.97 inches and weighs 15.6 ounces.
By itself, the drive feels sturdy, like it’s able to withstand a few drops or spills, and indeed Western Digital claims that it can withstand shocks, vibrations, and drops of up to 1 meter (3.28 feet). That’s assuming you’re using the included rubber bumper, which adds a few millimeters of girth in each direction. This type of protection should be more than adequate for the types of everyday abuse that the drive will likely suffer, from passing in and out of a bag several times per day to occasionally being dropped from a desk or coffee table.
Whether you’d want to be seen putting it in your bag or on your coffee table is a different question. The drive’s aesthetic is more functional than stylish, with the huge gray and orange rubber bumper sharing pretty much no design cues with the plastic enclosure, which has an entirely different shade of gray and a top that’s covered in horizontal stripes.
The port selection on the back edge includes a USB 2.0 port for charging phones and other devices as well as ingesting data from a USB stick, and the data-out port for connecting to a computer or charging the My Passport Wireless SSD using the included USB 3.0 cable. A power button and a second button that controls multiple functions, including initiating SD card transfers and checking the battery level while the unit is off, is also on the back edge, while you’ll find a full-sized SD card slot on the right.
The top of the drive contains a few indicator lights. A row of four in the upper right corner can display the battery level or the status of a data transfer, while two lights at the center display the Wi-Fi status and whether or not the drive is importing data. Yes, this last light is redundant and probably not necessary.
In addition to the 1TB capacity of my review unit, you can also choose 256GB ($229), 512GB ($299), or 2TB ($799) versions. Western Digital offers a standard two-year warranty.
When you first take the My Passport Wireless SSD out of the box, you’ll notice a pictorial-filled paper card that explains how to set it up using an Android or iOS device. I used an LG V30$799.99 at AT&T to test it, since the Android version of the app has a few capabilities that the iOS version does not, including support for Google Cast.
First, you turn the drive on by holding down the power button for at least 2 seconds. Next, you download Western Digital’s My Cloud app from the Google Play or App Store onto your mobile device. Then, connect your device to the drive’s Wi-Fi network and type in the password printed on the card. Finally, open the MyCloud app, tap through a few prompts, and it will eventually find the drive.
The process is easy enough, but you can’t perform it out of order, since the app won’t recognize the drive unless your phone or tablet is connected to its Wi-Fi network first. Once you’re done, there is a comprehensive, even dizzying array of options for interacting with the drive. The first thing you’ll want to do is set up Wi-Fi passthrough so your device can still access the internet; you do that by tapping on the gear icon next to the My Passport entry in the app’s menu. In addition to changing Wi-Fi settings, you can also see how much space is occupied on the drive, how much battery life is remaining, and options to start imports from a connected SD card or USB thumb drive.
There’s an entirely separate app settings menu, where you can set up automatic syncing, determine cache size, upgrade the firmware, and set a password for the drive’s Wi-Fi network, among other tasks. It’s confusing at first, but it makes more sense when you consider that the same MyCloud app is also used to control Western Digital’s other wireless storage products, such as the MyCloud Home.
Finally, you can use the MyCloud app to view everything that’s stored on your My Passport Wireless SSD. Files are conveniently grouped into categories, such as Music, Videos, and Movies. In the Android version of the app, you’ll be prompted to select which viewer you want to use to open each file. You can also download individual files to your mobile device’s internal storage for access when you’re not connected to the drive. Conversely, you can use the backup feature to automatically offload files from your phone or tablet to the drive whenever it’s connected.
If you don’t have enough time to pull out your smartphone to use the app to initiate a data transfer from an SD card to your drive, you can use the physical button instead. Press it for 2 seconds to initiate the transfer, and watch the battery LEDs “count up” to display the progress.
Most of the app’s functions are available in the desktop web interface, which you can access on a Mac or PC. First, make sure your computer is connected to the drive’s Wi-Fi network, and then type http://mypassport.local (on a Mac) or http://mypassport (on a PC) into your web browser. If you plan to connect your drive to your home network, you can also use the web interface to configure it as a Plex media server. Popular among enthusiasts, Plex servers can beam local video files and more to other compatible devices on your network, including some smart TVs.
The web interface’s glaring weakness is that there’s no easy file access like there is on the mobile app. To access files on your computer, you’ll have to mount your My Passport Wireless SSD as a network drive in Windows Explorer or in Finder on the Mac.
During an hour or so of playing with the settings and viewing files on both the LG V30 and a Windows 10 laptop, the My Passport Wireless SSD’s 6,700mAh battery depleted by about 25 percent. Expect it to deplete much faster if you’re also charging your phone or camera battery by connecting them to the USB 2.0 port.
A Wired Bottleneck
While the My Passport Wireless SSD is clearly designed for wireless access, the fastest way to retrieve or send files is via a wired connection to your Mac or PC. In this respect, it’s unfortunate that Western Digital limits the drive to the USB 3.0 interface instead of including Thunderbolt 3. As a result, I measured read speeds of 370MBps and write speeds of 350MBps on the Blackmagic benchmark test. That’s fine for transferring a few gigabytes at a time; I was able to transfer the contents of our 1.2GB test folder in less than 4 seconds. But for larger transfer jobs, you’ll be longing for Thunderbolt speed.
The upshot is that the speed advantage of the SSD is lost when it hits the bottleneck of the USB 3.0 transfer cable, which means you’re paying for a pricy SSD without getting all of the speed benefits. Fortunately, Western Digital offers a conventional spinning disk version of the My Passport Wireless. The spinning platters mean it’s not as rugged, but if you’re planning on using it mostly at home, this is a much better option considering that a 1TB capacity has a list price of $149, compared with $499 for the same-capacity SSD version.
How Much Speed Do You Need?
There’s a lot of functionality packed into the Western Digital My Passport Wireless SSD. Its most obvious use is as a readily accessible repository for freeing up space on your smartphone, tablet, digital camera, or USB stick when you’re away from your computer. An SD card slot, Wi-Fi, and a USB port can ingest data pretty much any way you want to send it, and the robust functionality of the software is a plus if you like to tinker with settings menus. You can even use the My Passport Wireless SSD to charge your phone, and when you bring it back home and connect it to your home network, it can beam media files to any Plex-enabled device.
Just make sure all those features are appealing to you. As a plain old hard drive, the My Passport Wireless SSD not a very good value. $499 for 1TB of storage is extraordinarily expensive if you don’t need the speed of an SSD (and if you’re mostly transferring data over Wi-Fi, you don’t). So if you’re frequently uploading and downloading terabytes of data from your external drive, you should probably buy an SSD equipped with Thunderbolt instead, such as the Samsung Portable SSD T5.