Using A Nexus 10 As A Photo Store Hub For Travel

When packing for a long-haul trip I did not want to take a computer along – both because of carrying weight and extra information across borders. I have a HyperDrive UDMA-2 device, but I do not like it. Small screen and very slow and clumsy interface kill it for me.

Naturally I thought to use the Nexus 10 tablet – it is light, has gorgeous screen, and reasonable storage. After cleaning all family videos off of it, it has a reasonable 27 Gb. More importantly, you can connect a hard drive to it – so the tablet becomes an in-field viewer and a transition device, dumping photos to multiple backup drives.

Using A Nexus 10 As A Photo Store Hub For Travel

I have to tell upfront that it did not turn out simple and so purpose of this is post to make it simpler for others. Unfortunately, much of the success depends on just right software versions working together. Since I got this setup working, I disabled app auto-updates until return from the trip. This setup uses the Android version 4.2.2. Turns out there are some application compatibility issues introduced by Android 4.3 yet to be resolved as of July 2013.

Here is the hardware setup which worked for me:

Using A Nexus 10 As A Photo Store Hub For Travel

After trying other OTG cables which failed, Samsung Micro USB to USB Adapter worked well.  I also had to buy it twice, as a third-party Amazon affiliate sent me the wrong cable first time. Amazon sent me the right – and working – cable. Make sure you choose a reputable vendor when shopping on Amazon.

The Lexar SD adapter is a free one I received with one of their cards. I have also tested this setup working with the PixelFlash CF adapter.

The biggest confusion turned out to be around the software. Some applications required rooting the tablet – a no-go for me. Others did not work despite the claims. What works is the Nexus Media Importer by Homesoft - I ended up using the paid version. This is an excellent application, enabling the whole setup to work. It is a must have for any heavy multimedia user for multiple reasons beyond this article.

The first time you connect a media controller to the tablet, it prompts your permission:

Using A Nexus 10 As A Photo Store Hub For Travel

Once you tap “OK”, it offers you a relatively confusing interface, where you need to tap the source and destination devices:

Using A Nexus 10 As A Photo Store Hub For Travel

Indicator light on an adapter is a great help. The light was not ON when connecting via faulty OTG cables. When selecting devices, I first tap on the “Internal storage” as Destination – and sometimes need to do it twice before it says “Connected”. After that tap on the USB Media as a Source.

Here is how the Photo browser interface looks like:

Using A Nexus 10 As A Photo Store Hub For Travel

This new version 6.0 of the Nexus Media Importer also previews raw images – in this case it recognizes and shows the RAF example off of my Fujifilm X-E1:

Using A Nexus 10 As A Photo Store Hub For Travel

Fuji RAF files preview is a bonus, as not every viewer recognizes them. For example, Chromebook Pixel treats them as binary files, without a preview.

After switching into the “ADVANCED” tab on the top of the interface you can manipulate files in the internal storage:

Using A Nexus 10 As A Photo Store Hub For Travel

Here I have created the “Fuji Demo” folder and copied photos from SD into it:

Using A Nexus 10 As A Photo Store Hub For Travel

When copies complete (which may take some time) you get standard operating system notifications – nice touch:

Using A Nexus 10 As A Photo Store Hub For Travel

Finally, I quit the software, disconnect the media and OTG cable and start the Nexus Media Importer again. This time selecting “Internal Storage” as both Source and Destination – which allows to browse and manage files on the device:

Using A Nexus 10 As A Photo Store Hub For Travel
Notice, that the browser is in the “Fuji Demo” folder on the tablet storage

When it comes to storing images on larger external hard drives there are a few more nuances to be aware of. First, you need to have your drives partitioned with MBR (Master Boot Record) and formatted with FAT16 or FAT32 file systems. Which basically means you should use FAT32. NTFS is a no-go as the application cannot write to it, and ExFAT is not supported at all. Surprisingly in Windows 8 x64 I did not find an option to format the disk with FAT32. On a Mac there is such an option. You have to choose the MBR option in the Disk Utility Advanced settings. Here are how my disk partitioning looked like: 

Using A Nexus 10 As A Photo Store Hub For TravelUsing A Nexus 10 As A Photo Store Hub For Travel

Secondly, you need to enable the Nexus Image Importer application’s ability to write data to external storage. In its preferences, enable the feature (which is experimental at the time of this writing if I understand correctly):

Using A Nexus 10 As A Photo Store Hub For Travel

Also note, that I ended up disabling the download manager. Although it is a convenient feature to copy in the background, I wanted copy happen in the foreground, “in my  face” given some flaky physical connectivity encountered and the importance of knowing that images transferred fine.

So, here is the hardware setup which works for me:

Using A Nexus 10 As A Photo Store Hub For Travel

  1. Google Nexus 10 tablet
  2. Anker Uspeed USB 3.0 4-Port Hub with 2.1A Charging Port 
  3. Nexus 10 Pogo Cable
  4. Samsung Media / peripheral Micro USB to USB Adapter
  5. Three short MicroUSB to A-Male  USB 2.0 cables
  6. Storage – in this case mSATA SSD (in MyDigitalSSD USB 3.0 mSATA enclosure) and an old 5400 RPM HDD in a spare WD passport enclosure.

If there are any tips I found critical which you want to know, below are the two:

  • All cables must be USB 2.0. Even though there are two USB 3.0 devices in this setup, using a USB 3.0 cable makes its path to fail. That does include the input cable to the hub.
  • Plugging OTG cable into the tablet should always be the last thing to do with hardware in this setup. Make sure that everything what you want to communicate with each other is plugged in, powered, and turned ON before plugging OTG cable into the tablet.

If you do everything right – and with a bit of luck – Nexus Media Importer will present you already familiar Source/Destination selector screen. In this case it double-listed the SSD device – a bug, but nothing more than a nuisance. I did not find any difference or fault in selecting any of the two instances of it.

From here on it seems to be business as usual – you can manage folders and files, copy and move then freely between devices or to and from the tablet internal storage. Be careful performing moves/deletes. The application does not use filesystem volume names, so it is not always obvious, where the destructive operation happens. Here are the examples of showing properties of each drive:

Using A Nexus 10 As A Photo Store Hub For TravelUsing A Nexus 10 As A Photo Store Hub For Travel

Going back to the hardware, the Pogo charging cable in combination with the charging port on the USB hub allows powering the tablet during long data transfers (!) and avoiding carrying an extra power adapter. Which is a bonus, as the Anker Uspeed hub’s power adapter is unusually large. It may be understandable, given its international voltage and 3A rating. What is embarrassing is that Anker did not make power prongs foldable. A very odd way to save a few cents, while inconveniencing customers.

Finally, be aware, that even though mini-USB 3.0 ports are compatible with mini-USB 2.0 connectors, they do not hold USB 2.0 well in place. The hub’s USB input port is especially loose in that regard. If I would have more time before that trip, I would be looking for another USB hub model.

If you do not care about copying files between two external devices, you can avoid the hub altogether by using a powered external drive, like I did using the Oyen Digital MiniPro 2.5-in FireWire 800, USB 3.0 powered enclosure populated with a 500 GB SSD (not shown in the photos above). Keep in mind, that all USB 2.0 concerns from above still apply to it.

Light travels!

About The Author

Vlad Didenko is an IT Architect and a tech junkie from Chicago. You can follow is slightly geeky, yet uber informative blog here.

  • Mike Carson

    It just goes to show that trying to find a workaround to an already reasonable option (a laptop) you end up with something dumb and cumbersome.

    • http://www.observingtime.com/ agour

      It depends really. If I was to go out and buy a solution for transferring photos, I would buy a laptop.

      If I already had a tablet lying around, I would just use that. It might be slightly clunky, but hey, at least it works

    • http://vlad.didenko.com/ Vlad Didenko

      I totally agree this is a dumb and cumbersome solution in a perfect world without resource or other constraints. There are a couple considerations, though which make me accept the kludgy complexity on this setup.

      My MacBook Pro (early 2011) comes in at about 5 lbs with power supply. Nexus 10 with the hub, cable, and power supply is under 2lbs. The 3 lbs difference is equivalent of carrying about 1.4 quart bottle of water unnecessarily.

      To go ahead and buy a MacBook Air or a similar slim laptop just for a couple trips is not financially reasonable, given that I already have, need, and appreciate the power of MacBook Pro. Even with a laptop, one will carry extra drives for image backup anyhow – so disks are out of the comparison.

      Another concern is crossing borders while carrying much personal information. Both Asian and US (especially) customs are more and more nosy regarding the electronic storage. The tablet will be much easier to wipe upon return and re-populate, with little hesitation and tension created at the border.

      There are other upcoming solutions which may simplify things greatly, like integrated-wireless NAS drives. Trust me, I am in a front row to use those, once they work out reliability and useability issues. I did not see one which satisfied me yet.

      Hope that clarifies the reasoning in addition to the article.

    • Dustin

      The thing that makes this so messy is that Nexus series has only one USB port and no card reader. The hardware setup is pretty messy, but the actually workflow should be very straight forward once this web of cables is connected.

      Saying you can do it easier with other hardware, does not seem fair. The Transformer series has a dock with SD Cards support and full size USB support. I believe the Toshiba Excite 10″ has an SD Card reader. …but there are always trade-offs.

  • BK553

    I did a very similar setup on my trip to China, using OTG-Helper and ES File Manager. I’m buying an Eye-Fi for my next trip.

  • Renato Murakami

    Awesome share, thanks for posting!
    I considered buying a Nexus 7 or 10 several times for something like that, but decided to do something different.
    After a long research, I was able to do something (but far more cumbersome) with an iPad 2 for a short weekend trip – experimental thing.
    Still planning to write a full post about it, but here’s the short version:
    You need the camera connection adaptors, one powered USB hub, jailbreak, a Cydia app called iFile and lots of patience. That’s all to be able to transfer files to a USB device other than a camera (pendrives, external HDDs, etc).
    The patience side is because there’s a tendency for the device to suddenly disconnect (with a message like, “this device demands too much power”), so be aware of that. It happened to me several times during transfer, I was lucky enough not to have corrupted devices and files in the end.
    Most important thing that lots of people don’t realize is that you absolutely need a POWERED USB hub, which can be hard to find since most of the times manufacturers don’t properly point that out.
    Anyways, it was only a minor experience of devices and gear, and I had tons of troubles with other things, but I wrote a bit about it and uploaded a pic of the setup… the only problem is that it’s in brazilian portuguese, but I guess people who are curious can at least take a look of the setup (use a translator perhaps…):
    http://www.cultmeme.com/2013/07/29/animefriends-2013/

  • willdmo

    To Copy and see files in big size is one thing and easily done like you did.
    To rename, reedit, manipulate pictures is far another. My Setup should be an Ativ Q when it is possible to get one. I really played much with the thought of an similar solution but with an Galaxy Note 10.1 because of the pen in manipulation. Because there is no lightroom or close to lightroom software I still run on PC

  • tat2jr

    Really??? That is a mess.

    My Acer Iconia A500 and Nikon D70 are really simple. If I’m shooting in JPG I don’t need anything but a USB cord (test cord before leaving). Files are easy to move over using the app: ES File Explorer. Copy and paste from the USB to your internal or external sdcard. If I’m shooting in RAW and want to view the photos than I use the free android app called RawDroid. It lets you view your RAW photos and lets you share the pictures with other apps. Or as before, just move the RAW files from the camera to the tablet with ES File Explorer.

    Then just download them when you get home.

  • pingu666

    Wouldn’t a surface pro be a good solution?

  • dervish candela

    excellent research!
    nexus 10 is a perfect review tool with that awesome high-dpi screen, and doubles as a brilliant portfolio to showcase your photos; so getting around its connectivity limitation is quite worth it.
    samsung p[romises to finally make us serious 2560×1600 tablets with proper OTG and expandable storage, but those will no doubt retail at twice the nexus 10′s price, or more.

  • http://vlad.didenko.com/ Vlad Didenko

    OK, I am back from another trip, where I used this setup. It worked well as far as this contraption can work well. Saved me from one SD card going bad and one accidental deletion of day’s worth of photos (400 files, about 150 images when adjusted for multiple exposures).

    In the article I forgot to mention, that powering the tablet is essential during long data copies. For whatever the reason copying from external SSD to external HDD drains power like a firehose.

    I also found that while powering the tablet off of the Anker hub is OK during data transfers, it is not good to recharge a powered-off tablet. When the tablet is powered off, the hub turns the power port off as well, so stopping the charge. Do not know how I did not notice it before.

    To contribute to the conversation on how manufacturers may make this setup simpler:

    Google (or whatever tablet OS/hardware manufacturer) may do two things: provide USB host port(s) in hardware and a clean way for third party software vendors to mount multiple file systems over WiFi to avoid backup storage data cables altogether.

    Storage vendors – make properly working wireless enclosures.

    USB hub makers – integrate the power supply into a hub enclosure. Make your hub look like this: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00BFQ9R0W , travelling folk will thank you!

    Attached is one of the photos from the SD card which failed after backup.