tl;dr – if you’re looking for a portable, battery powered, wireless card reader for use on holiday, this is an excellent gadget. It’s especially good if you use an iOS mobile.
I’ve just returned from a 3 week trip to Central Asia. Throughout this trip I knew that I and my travel partner would be taking lots of photographs on multiple devices, could have intermittent power supplies in the middle of nowhere, would have absolutely no 3G/4G mobile internet, would have limited wifi (hence eliminating any cloud-based solutions) and could also potentially lose or have devices stolen during the trip. I needed a way to backup photos throughout the trip that could deal with that combination of circumstances.
I was travelling with an iPhone 6S (running the latest version of iOS – version 9.3.x) and my Nikon D5300 SLR that uses regular size SD cards. My travel partner had a Fairphone 1 running Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean – the phone has a microSD slot, and a Panasonic Lumix FZ62 that takes regular SD cards.
My first thought was to go for a Lightning Connector / SD Card Reader solution – but both the official Apple and third party readers of this type have lousy reviews. Images have to be stored in specially named folders, and compatibility across devices is poor. So I needed to look for something else.
The solution was instead to go for a wireless card reader and backup solution – I went for a Kingston MobileLite MLW221, costing just €25.99. Kingston also makes larger and more robust MobileLite devices the G2 and G3.
I used the MLW221 on this trip together with a 128Gb SanDisk Ultra USB 3.0 USB stick (costs €26.20) – any USB stick (or even an external mobile hard disk if you needed extra capacity!) would do the job here. The SanDisk Ultra is a tiny USB stick, but does tend to get very hot – beware.
Anyway, back to the MobileLite. The MLW221 weighs 91g, is about the same size as an iPhone 6S (but a bit thicker), and has a USB port (for the USB stick), a SD card reader slot, and a micro USB port for charging the device. There is also a 1810 mAh battery inside the device – that allows it to work without power, and also allows the device to be used as an emergency power supply for a phone – it is enough to charge an iPhone fully once.
The MLW221 is administered via wifi from a iOS or an Android app – this app allows you to copy or move files from a SD card to the USB stick, and vice versa. If the app encounters duplicate files, it asks you what you want to do. The app is basic but simple to use, and has the functions you will need.
After a day out and about in Almaty or Tashkent we would take the two SD cards from the cameras, boot up the MLW221, copy the day’s photos across to the USB stick – taking a couple of minutes – and then our backup was complete.
When it came to backing up photos from the iPhone and Fairphone, the experience differed. The iOS version of the MobileLite app has an option to copy pictures from the phone camera direct into the MobileLite app, making backups very simple. This function did not exist in the Android app, meaning the only way to backup from the Fairphone was to copy images to the Fairphone’s microSD card, take that out of the phone, and use a microSD to SD converter to insert the card in the MobileLite – a bit more hassle. I do not know if the MobileLite app for Andoid 5.x (Lollipop) and 6.x (Marshmallow) versions has this additional function.
In addition, the MLW221 has a useful wifi bridge function – you can connect to the MLW221 wirelessly from your gadget, and then connect the MLW221 itself to a wireless network – meaning you can use the gadget for backups while also simultaneously going online.
There are a couple of shortcomings with the device – if it is on, and powered via USB, disconnecting the power reboots the device, rather than switching automatically to battery power (as a laptop or phone would). When changing from one SD card to another one, the app on iOS sometimes needed to be re-started (i.e. fully quit, then re-opened) before the newly inserted SD card would be recognised.
In conclusion: the MobileLite MLW221 exceeded my expectations. It performed the tasks I needed it to perform simply and reliably and – for just €25.99 – is very good value if you need a mobile, non-cloud-based photo backup system for when you are on the go.