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Air Sharing HD Review (iPad File Management App)

 
Air Sharing HD for the iPad

Like a brilliant novel with a disappointing finish, the iPad’s outstanding user experience is marred by pitiful file management. For what I’m sure are magical and revolutionary reasons, top dogs at Apple decided a basic file viewer and simple drag-and-drop transfer support weren’t things a typical user might want, to say nothing of power users. And to make matters worse, Apple’s current restrictions prevent many of the iPad’s file management foibles from being corrected by third-party apps.

Fortunately for us, though, some developers have worked within the OS constraints to design apps that give us at least some power over iPad files. One of the more popular of these is Air Sharing HD [iTunes Link]. The app doesn’t address every file problem the iPad has, but it does take important steps toward making them more tolerable. And if you’ve ever wanted to do something as simple as copy a PDF to your iPad, it’s worth your attention.

 

 

Product Brief: Air Sharing HD

Avatron’s Air Sharing and Air Sharing Pro have been available for the iPhone and iPod touch for some time; Air Sharing HD is the iPad version of the latter. The application allows you to copy files to and from the iPad over a wireless network, and even mount (or map) its internal storage as a drive on a PC or Mac over Wi-Fi. Built-in file viewing allows the user to view otherwise unreadable files on the iPad once transferred.

Files copied to the app are contained within its own section of the iPad's internal storage. Sadly – and here’s where those Apple restrictions come in – Air Sharing HD isn’t a file manager in the traditional sense; you cannot, for example, view the iPad’s entire file structure. What you do get is a Finder-like screen with the files and folders the app controls. New folders can be created, files can be moved or copied from location to location (within the app), files and folders can be renamed, etc. And the Open In… feature – made possible by iPhone OS 3.2 - allows you to direct files within Air Sharing HD to open in compatible programs (opening .DOC files in Pages, for example).   

Other features include direct file download, Add from Photos, FTP/SFTP, MobileMe iDisk and WebDAV support, Mail Server connectivity (for downloading files from a mail server, where supported), archive file handing (zip & unzip), and printing (Mac OS and Linux only).

Viewable file types include iWork (Pages, Numbers & Keynote), Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint), HTML, PDF, RTF, TXT, MP3, AAC, and a range of video files.

If you’ll be storing sensitive files within Air Sharing HD, you can lock the application with a four digit PIN.

Example Use Case

While finishing this review on my laptop, I decided to transfer its Word file to my iPad for a little on-the-go editing. I opened Air Sharing HD on the iPad, opened the I:\ drive (which I’d mapped to Air Sharing HD) on the laptop, and copied the .DOC file onto the iPad in a matter of seconds; no USB cable, no waiting for the iPad to backup in iTunes, no iffy iTunes-powered file transfers.

While reading the file via the in-app viewer, I found an error, and directed the file to be opened in Pages for editing. I made the changes I wanted and then saved the updated file for completion on the laptop.

Of course, once I was finished editing, the only way to get the file back to the laptop was to email it, and Air Sharing HD can’t see the new Pages file because it’s sequestered in the iPad’s locked-down file system.

Subjective Analysis

In my two weeks of testing, I used Air Sharing HD daily to move files to and from the iPad. Viewing Word and text files in the app is quick and easy, but larger PDF files can slow the app down considerably; I’m not sure if this is a function of the iPad’s speed, PDF bloat, or the app’s PDF renderer. Listening to transferred music is satisfactory, but of course doesn’t compare with the iPod interface.

Transferring files requires either pointing a web browser on your computer to a Bonjour or IP address and selecting files to upload file by file, or mapping the iPad as a drive for drag-and-drop. You can only transfer files from a system that’s connected to the same wireless network as the iPad. Transfers are relatively fast, but the speed will depend on the type of wireless network you’re using (802.11b would be slower than 802.11n, for example).

I connected the app to an FTP server used to copy files offsite and easily downloaded files from the server to the iPad. Getting files from the iPad to the server was less snappy, however, and uploading large files sometimes locked up the app.

You can also connect to Windows and Mac systems from Air Sharing HD to access their files from the iPad. Connecting to a Mac is simple with the built-in Remote Access settings of the Mac OS; connecting to a Windows machine requires installing third-party SFTP software. Avatron recommends Core FTP.

Moving files around the app is slightly awkward. Say, for example, you want to move a PDF in the main directory to a folder. To move the file, you tap-and-hold your finger on the icon, wait for it to be highlighted, select Move or Copy, navigate to the desired folder, and select paste. Multiple files can be selected and moved/copied with the Edit feature.

If you leave Air Sharing HD open and put the iPad to sleep, the app remains active for file transfers. This is good in that its server remains available for file transfers, but bad in that it can drain the tablet’s battery.

Missing Features

I would have liked a Dropbox preset for the app, though it includes support for some Cloud-based file syncing services like iDisk, icloud and FilesAnywhere. Being able to send files to Dropbox – or download files from the service easily – would be nice. Along the same line, I would also love to see Mac OS and Windows applications that automatically synced files with Air Sharing HD on the iPad. A utility that automatically synced files between computer(s) and the iPad whenever Air Sharing was active would be great, and would make optional the browser/drive mapping tasks currently required.

Conclusion

Many have commented on the iPad’s lack of adequate file management, and although some have defended it, it seems crazy to me that the iPad makes something as simple as viewing and managing files a headache at best, and an impossibility at worst. Luckily, Air Sharing HD renders some of the more egregious limitations moot, and mitigates others. And while it’s relatively expensive at $10, it’s worth each cent if your iPad serves as more than a dedicated media device.

That said, I cannot give the app more than a 3.5 star rating. I don't know if it's because of the OS restrictions, Apple's App Store approval requirements, or the hurdles its developers had to jump to get the job done, but Air Sharing HD, even with its undeniable utility, still suffers from one-hoop-too-many complexity at times. I feel there's more simplicity to be squeezed out of Avatron's creation, and I hope to see that in future releases.

Air Sharing HD [iTunes Link]

 

 

    
 
Air Sharing HD
 
 
3.5 Stars 
 
iPad File Management App
 
       
 
 
 
 
         
 
Adds Basic File Management
Print Support Limited to Mac OS
 
 
Well Designed Interface
Some FTP Transfer Stumbles
 
 
Multiple Connectivity Options
Intermittent Large File Lockups
 
 
Built-in File Viewer
 
 
Send Files to Compatible Apps
 

 

 

 

Editor's Note: This app was provided by the developer for review. The May 7th update of this review added new links and some style changes.

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