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Mobile Apps

Like its competition, ASUSTOR has a suite of remote apps for iOS and Android. The apps perform the same way on both platforms, but there are exceptions based on differences in the mobile device. I'll highlight several of the apps below and include a slide show to give you a look and feel for the apps.

AiData - AiData, similar to QNAP's QFile, is ASUSTOR's remote file manager that lets you browse the files on your NAS and share them with others. You can access the NAS either on your local network or remotely using the ASUSTOR Cloud. Additionally, for some file types, you can play them on your mobile device using the app.

For iOS, the video formats supported are .mov, .m4v and mp4. For .avi files, if its codec is not supported by iOS then it will not play. According to ASUSTOR, they plan to add additional file format support. On Android devices, clicking on a media file takes you to a screen that prompts you to select your media player. Whether or not it plays depends on the installed player.

AiData provides the ability to move, copy, rename, upload/download files and create new folders. You can also select a file and the ASUSTOR NAS will generate a link that you can email to your friends. Several caveats about the link generation:

  • If you generate a link while on your local network, the link will include your private IP address.
  • You can only select one file at a time to generate a link.
  • You can't create a link for an entire directory.

AiData also supports copying files to other cloud services. Supported services include Dropbox, Box.net, Google Drive and FTP. Noticeably missing is support for iCloud or OneDrive. I selected multiple image files and transferred them to a new directory on DropBox.

AiDownload - This app interfaces directly with the Download Center application that runs on the ASUSTOR NAS. You can search and download while on the go and monitor all download tasks.

AiMaster - AiMaster, similar to QNAP's QManager, lets you mange, configure, control and monitor many of the features on your NAS. For the iOS platform, the app is for the iPhone, but runs in the iPad. Three's not an iPad version of AiMaster. The slideshow details most of the features of AiMaster.

AiMusic - Similar to QNAP's QMusic, AiMusic lets you stream or download music from your NAS to your mobile device. The apps supports Genre, Artist, Album, folders, recently played and playlists. In addition, you can select "Random songs" for a fresh music each session. a "Party mode" lets you select a random playlist, random album, random artist or random genre. A search feature lets you easily find artists or tracks - a handy feature since there's not a view that shows all songs.

I was able to play songs both locally and remotely on both iOS and Android platforms. I did note that some songs didn't play when connected remotely. I checked those same songs when connected on a local network and they didn't play either. It turns out that the tracks that wouldn't play were ones that I recently purchased from the iTunes store. Apparently there's a problem with playback of the .m4a file format.

Updated 7/8/2014:

ASUSTOR contacted us and said that have no problems with playback of the .m4a file format and that perhaps what I was seeing was that SoundsGood transcoding hadn't finished.  In fact, they were right.  I only let the "pinwheel" spin for about 45 seconds or so before concluding that there was a problem with the file type.

The problem did, in fact, turn out to be related to transcoding.  Under the SoundsGood settings, I had set transcoding to MP3 format, which uses more resources but also provides an MP3 format likely to be supported by most browsers.  Unfortunately, that translates to significantly more time for transcoding.  

ASUSTOR SoundsGood Transcoding Settings

ASUSTOR SoundsGood Transcoding Settings

I tried playing the same tracks that I had previously tested, but this time, I waited for the tracks to start playing.  I used AiMusic on my local network for testing.  I measured the time it took from clicking on play until the time that the music started to play. Here's what I found:

Format Track # Track Length Music Starts
(Minutes:Seconds) (Minutes:Seconds)
MP3 Track 1 5:14 2:23
MP3 Track 2 4:54 2:23
MP3 Track 3 4:18 2:12
WAV Track 4 5:14 0:12
WAV Track 5 10:56 0:23

So while technically you could transcode to MP3 for improved browser support, practically speaking, you probably wouldn't really want to.  Even the 23 seconds that it took to transcode a 10:56 track to WAV seems like a long time when you're used to typical track to track gaps of only a couple of seconds.

AiRemote - This is a remote control app that lets you control and navigate through content when it's displayed on your TV that is connected to the NAS' HDMI port. On one screen there are navigation keys. On the second screen, there's a track pad that allows you to position the cursor accurately on the TV screen. Screenshots from this app look very similar to QNAP's QRemote.

AiRemote Navigation arrows and trackpad

AiRemote Navigation arrows and trackpad

Transcoding

Transcoding is handled by the UPnP v2 Server app. According to ASUSTOR, transcoding is done automatically for DLNA devices, converting the source audio to .wav format and video to .mpeg on the fly. While this sounds good, reality is different, particularly for mobile devices.

As noted above, the AiData app did not play .wmv, .avi and .3gp files I tried. And the Android version of AiData launched a prompt to select a video player. In both cases, the problem was native format support on the target devices. But isn't what automatic transcoding is supposed to solve?

A new app to be launched in August, LooksGood, will support hardware transcoding for AS-3 Series NASes only. A new AiVideo mobile app will also be released that will work with LooksGood to provide an improved remote streaming experience.

In the Future

ASUSTOR was in beta test for the ADM 2.2 while I was preparing this review and released it after I finished the review. Their website has a press release that highlights the new features. I'll briefly summarize the new features here:

  • Night mode scheduling - This feature can now be scheduled rather than having to manually enable/disable it.
  • Hard disk hibernation indicators
  • Enhanced UPS functionality for AS-6 series NASes.
  • MiniDLNA - a new "Nimble" mulitmedia server app supporting DLNA and UPnP-AV. It claims to be compatible with a wide range of file types and features low CPU usage.
  • Photo Gallery - This app adds photo gallery features to the ASUSTOR NASes that appear to be similar to those found in Synology's Photo Station.
  • Google Drive support
  • New Chrome/FireFox Download Helper will integrate the browsers with the Download Center and Takeasy apps.

Closing Thoughts

Most NASes today provide far more features than most of us will ever use. But having the particular features that each potential buyer might want can make the difference in a sale. That's why NAS makers have turned to installable packages, frequently open-sourced, to expand product features and increase the chance of ticking all of a purchaser's boxes.

I can't judge whether ASUSTOR's basic product differentiation premise—moving less commonly-used functions out of the core firmware and into apps improves performance—really works because there is no althernative ASUSTOR OS to compare it to. But I can compare ADM 2.1's features against those of other NASes.

Compared to QNAP's QTS 4.0, which I reviewed last July, I'd say both are equal for remote file management, music playing and remote access, with the exception that ADM 2.1 doesn't support AirPlay. QNAP is ahead however by offering folder sync (QSync) and AirPlay support (QAirPlay).

Updated 7/9/14

ASUSTOR pointed out that its Takeasy video download app, available from App Central, is similar to QNAP's HappyGet. ASUSTOR also offers download helper plug-ins for Firefox and Chrome.  The screenshot below shows a few YouTube downloads in the Takeasy app.  

ASUSTOR Take Easy Downloads

ASUSTOR Take Easy Downloads

I have not reviewed Synology's DSM 5.0, but it seems to have the lead in multimedia support, both for local and mobile playback. And both QNAP and Synology are ahead on photo playback and management, although ASUSTOR has AiPhoto currently pending approval for Apple's App Store and Google Play.

In the end, ASUSTOR's ADM 2.1 is a modern NAS OS with an attractive tablet and mobile-friendly user interface supporting a range of features that should satisfy the needs of the majority of NAS buyers. And what it doesn't have today, its app-based architecture should be able to support in the future.

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