Polkast Reviewed

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Tim Higgins

At a glance
Product Polkast Polkast () [Website]
Summary Easy to use one-way remote file access from your Windows PC to iOS and Android devices
Pros • Easy to set up
• Free
• Transfers locally vs. Internet if it can
Cons • File transfer is one-way only
• Limited file types
• Very basic documentation and support
• Android app is somewhat buggy

There are three basic ways to access your files remotely. You can copy or sync them to the cloud via Dropbox, SugarSync or a host of other cloud storage options and grab them from there. You can put them on local storage devices that provide secure remote access automatically like Pogoplug or Iomega Cloud Edition NASes. Or you can remotely access files directly on your computer via as secure link or VPN.

Polkast‘s pitch is that it creates a "direct cloud" between your PC and iOS or Android device. But what it’s really doing is creating a VPN connection that’s easy to use and limits access to only selected files sitting on your computer. Access is one way only, from the PC to the mobile device.

Polkast's basic idea

Pricing and Features/Accounts

Account Types
Free Trial
Monthly Billed
Yearly Billed

Polkast is another cloud company hoping to build a user base and buzz first and figuring out how to make money later. That means that for now, it’s completely free.

This GigaOm article says that Polkast eventually has plans to offer a "premium paid version with extra features targeted at corporate users".

This announcement from ZyXEL indicates that Polkast may have discovered another revenue source in partnering with companies that want to enhance their cloudiness without any heavy lifting. A check with ZyXEL found that it is collaborating with Polkast for a "more portable and feature-rich version of the one currently available" to be released in the near future.

Installation and Setup

Mac OS
Windows Mobile

Installation consists of downloading and installing an app (the "HomeBase") on your Windows PC (XP, Vista, 7) and the other (the "RoamBase") on an iOS or Android device. Yes, that’s Windows only at this point, although this FAQ says "Development for supporting Mac OS X is currently underway and will be available soon".

You need iOS 3.1 or higher to run the iPhone or iPad apps and iPodTouch is also supported. Anything running Android 2.0 or higher should be able to run the Android app, which has only one version.

Download and installation of the Windows app went without a hitch on a Windows 7 Home Premium system. Note that the installer will automatically add.NET Framework 4 Extended to your system if you don’t already have it.

The screenshot below shows the first thing you see when launching the Windows HomeBase app. All you need to create an account is an email address and password. The account was available immediately and didn’t require email address verification in the welcome email I received.

Polkast account creation

I installed the iPad app on a first-generation iPad and the Android app on an ASUS Transformer with no problems. Even though not specifically designed for Android tablets, the Android app was perfectly usable, opening automatically in Stretch to fill screen mode.

In Use

Once you have an account, the main Polkast screen shown below comes up. Exploring the menu items didn’t yield much—the settings weren’t that interesting and the Help menu didn’t hold anything helpful at all.

Polkast account creation

The Documents, Music, Pictures and Videos categories are drawn from the standard Windows folders. So the first thing you’ll want to do is add other folders. You do this by clicking the little + to the right of the Group by: items or right-click a catetory name in the left column to bring up the window shown below.

Polkast account creation

Note that you can add networked and mapped folders in addition to those on your local machine.

While there is no Windows "RoamBase" app, it is possible to use Polkast to remotely access files from another Windows machine. That machine would need to be running the Polkast HomeBase app and you would need to share each file you wanted to access from the other Windows machine.

The Gallery has selected screenshots and descriptions from the HomeBase, iPad and Android apps.

First Screen

What you see when you first launch the Windows app

Account Create

Just enter an email address and password and your account is set up

Setup done

All ready to go

Home Screen

Home screen for the Windows app. The usual Windows folders are scanned to populate the categories.

iPad library build

First thing the iPad app does on connect is create a local index of the files the Windows app found.

iPad browse

Clicking into a folder opens another column

iPad recent

You get a list of recently added files, but can’t control what ‘recent’ means

iPad sharing

Sharing a file looks like you’re sending an email. But you have to be running the Polkast app to receive a shared file.

iPad Shared

This automatically generated shared file notification for newbies shows what a shared file looks like.

  • iPad Pictures

    The iPad Pictures function was more well-behaved than Android. Thumbnails were not generated until you scrolled down to them.

    iPad Video

    The desktop app picked up a few standard Windows demo video files, neither of which could be played.

    Android Home

    Here’s what the Android home screen looks like

    Android Docs

    Clicking the Documents icon brings you to this view. Clicking each folder changes the view to list that folder. No multiple panes like the iOS app.

    Android options

    Press and holding on a file brings up these options

    Android Sharing

    Sharing a file in Android looks like this.

    Android Pictures

    Selecting Pictures auto-generates thumbnails. But tapping on a picture to download and view locked up the tablet.

    One thing I noticed is that when I added folders to the Polkast HomeBase, the Android RoamBase didn’t automatically update. I tried closing and opening the app to see if that forced a refresh, but it didn’t. Once I did touch the refresh icon in the particular category I was viewing, the new folder appeared.

    Polkast appears to have its own image viewer in the Android app, which I was able to lock up a few times merely by tapping on a thumbnail to download and view the image. The iPad app was much more well-behaved with no lockups.

    I also tried playing a few music files and found that the Android app has its own player for MP3 files, but not for non-DMA’d iTunes M4A files. The iPad app, however, played both without a problem.

    A final note on file types is that ZIP and RAR archives are not supported in Polkast, although "native support for ZIP files is currently planned".

    Access, Support, Security, Closing Thoughts

    Online Ticket
    IM / Chat
    Knowledge Base

    Polkast is supposed to automatically use a LAN connection to transfer files if both Home and Roam Bases are connected to it instead of running through Polkast’s cloud servers. My first experiments has both Home and Roam Bases on my LAN and everything worked peachy with fast transfers.

    I then added a router to my LAN, creating a new wireless network that I then associated the ASUS Transformer to, while leaving Polkast running. But Polkast kept insisting that it was connected locally, as indicated by the Polkast icon in the Android notification area.

    Long story short, I had to force-close the Polkast Android app and restart and re-log into the HomeBase app to get things connected again. Curiously, the Polkast Android app still showed a Local connection, but the HomeBase app showed both Local and relayed connections opened. The relay address shown indicates that at least some part of Polkast is running on Amazon Web Services.

    As we’ve found with many cloud startups with no revenue streams, documentation and support are not strong suits. Support is via an online Forum powered by ZenDesk, where you can also submit questions. The FAQ has only 19 entries, some of which are repeats of information available other places on the site. If posting a question fails, I suppose you could try the feedback and info email addresses. As noted earlier, none of the apps have useful online help.

    Polkast dodges most security concerns by serving only as a transport mechanism for moving files and indexes between your devices. This page isn’t specific about the methods used, saying only "Polkast employs the same strong secure methods as banks and the military" and referring to "encrypted channels".

    Bottom line is that Polkast can give you quick and easy access to files in any folder on your network from either iOS or Android devices as long as you are willing to keep a Windows machine on 24 / 7 and be patient as Polkast irons out the bugs in its Android app.

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