Gadling Gear Review: Western Digital My Book Live

The biggest buzz word in technology over the past year or two has been “cloud services” with a number of companies, including Apple, Microsoft and Google, all announcing options that allow us to store files onto a virtual drive that is available whenever and where ever we have an Internet connection. We even told you how cloud services will change the way that you travel in our recent “Travel Smarter” series, in which we took a look at some of the best cloud storage options available today. But if you don’t like the idea of your personal files being hosed on a server owned by a corporate tech giant or you simply need more storage than those companies are currently offering, you may be interested in Western Digital’s line of My Book Live hard drives. These nifty pieces of technology connect to your home network and provide personal cloud services while you’re at home and on the road.

Available in capacities ranging from 1 to 6 Terabytes, Western Digital has a My Book Live for all budgets and storage needs. These drives look like most others on the market although they do include an Ethernet port which allows you to connect it to your home network via a router. Configuration is a breeze, and Western Digital provides software for both Windows and Mac computers to walk you through the process. The only hiccup I experienced during the initial set-up was that in order to complete the installation I first needed to connect my laptop to the network via Ethernet as well. That allowed the two devices to more easily locate one another for the first time. After that, the full functionality of the My Drive Live was available whether I was connected by cable or wirelessly.

Once successfully configured, the drive will appear on your network and will be available for any computer to access. An easy-to-use suite of administrative tools allows you to control just who can gain access to the drive however and it is even possible to create unique folders for each individual. Western Digital has streamlined the whole process and within minutes you’ll have a fully functional network storage solution for backing up and storing your most important files.Of course, network storage isn’t really a new concept and what really sets the My Drive Live series apart from competitors is its ability to exist “in the cloud” as well. That means that even when you’re not at home you’ll still be able to access your files over the Internet. This is a great option for business travelers looking for a way to get to their important documents while on the road, but it can also be a lifesaver for other travelers as well. For instance, I’d recommend keeping a copy of your passport on the drive while traveling abroad and should something happen to your physical passport, you can get to the digital version quickly and easily. That same approach holds true for other travel documents, such as itineraries, invoices, airline tickets, insurance and so on.

As you would expect from a drive built by Western Digital, the hardware is solid, fast and responsive. But it is the software that comes with the drive that makes the “personal cloud” work so effectively. The included WD Quick View utility facilitates access from any computer and the WD 2go apps give you limited access to your files on an iPhone, iPad or Android device. Once installed, those free apps do allow you to browse photos, documents and music from your My Book Live, but you aren’t able to edit those files in any way, which can be a bit frustrating at times. At the very least I would have appreciated the ability to email those files to someone in a pinch, but in its current state the mobile apps are simply glorified file viewers.

I tested the 1 Terabyte version of the My Book Live, which provided more than enough storage for my needs. Multi-computer families may want to consider one of the larger versions of the of the device however, as multimedia files such as music, photos and video can eat up a lot of space very quickly. Additionally, the My Book can serve as a back-up drive for Windows PC’s and a Time Machine drive for Macs. When the computer and drive are on the same network, the back-up process is seamless and transparent, taking place in the background while you work.

I’ve had the opportunity to test the My Drive Live on multiple occasions while traveling lately and it has never failed to deliver. Whether accessing files from my laptop or iPad, it has worked as expected and advertised every time. Internet speed plays a big part in performance however, so be warned. If you try to connect to the drive over a slow connection, it may take awhile for it to respond.

As a traveler who happens to love his technology and gadgets, I’ve found the My Book Live drive to be a fantastic edition to my home network. Not only does it provide plenty of great benefits while I’m at home, it also gives full access to my files while traveling. It provides great piece of mind knowing that not only are my files securely backed-up, but that they’re also available to me anytime and anywhere. If Western Digital puts some more time and effort in developing their mobile apps, that functionality will be extended even further.

Prices vary depending on the amount of storage on the drive. The 1 TB My Book Live that I tested carries an MSRP of $159, but it can be found online at substantially lower prices than that, making it a bargain for those looking to launch their own cloud.