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.
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:
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:
Once you tap “OK”, it offers you a relatively confusing interface, where you need to tap the source and destination devices:
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:
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:
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:
Here I have created the “Fuji Demo” folder and copied photos from SD into it:
When copies complete (which may take some time) you get standard operating system notifications – nice touch:
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:
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:
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):
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:
- Google Nexus 10 tablet
- Anker Uspeed USB 3.0 4-Port Hub with 2.1A Charging Port
- Nexus 10 Pogo Cable
- Samsung Media / peripheral Micro USB to USB Adapter
- Three short MicroUSB to A-Male USB 2.0 cables
- 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:
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.
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.
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