The scoop: FreeAgent DockStar, by Seagate, about $US100
What it is: A small docking station for Seagate's FreeAgent Go portable hard drives, the DockStar connects via Ethernet to a home router to turn that hard drive into an instant network-attached storage (NAS) drive for the home network. Additional USB ports on the DockStar also let you attach non-Free Agent hard drives to the device, or to create additional storage capacity. The system includes software from Pogoplug that lets you access files from the DockStar from any Web browser via the Internet.
Why it's cool: This is a quick and relatively inexpensive way to turn your portable hard drive into a NAS box. Installation was very easy - just power up, connect an Ethernet cable, attach the drive and then activate the service via a Web browser. The Pogoplug site and service is also very cool -- in addition to providing access to the DockStar, the service lets you share files and folders with others. For example, if you have a bunch of photos that you want to show to Mom, you can just create a folder on the DockStar drive, enable sharing and then invite Mom via e-mail to let her see the pictures. Advanced features let you set up folders for a Twitter, Facebook or RSS feed, among others.
Two additional software downloads are available from Pogoplug that make the DockStar even more valuable. First, there's PC client software that lets you mount the drive on your PC a lot easier than the standard Windows method. This gives you easy access to drag-and-drop files to and from the drive (a lot easier than doing it through the Pogoplug Web application). Second, Pogoplug offers a very handy iPhone/iPod Touch application, providing mobile access to files stored on the DockStar. The iPhone app lets you stream music files to the mobile device, as well as view and download photos. Furthermore, you can upload photos from the iPhone to the DockStar, making this an easy way to get photos off the iPhone and into your central network.
Some caveats: While the hardware installation and activation was easy, it would have been nicer to have the software (the Pogoplug client software and the iPhone app) bundled along with the device (instead of downloads available on the Web site). It would also be easier to transfer files to the portable hard drive directly via USB from all your computers first, rather than doing transfers after you've connected it to the DockStar. I'd also like to see a multiple file upload available for the Pogoplug Web application.
Bottom line: The DockStar could soon become my preferred method for sharing digital media (especially photos), playing music from anywhere, and inexpensively adding network storage to your system.
Grade: 4.5 stars (out of five)