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Drag and drop

Using a computer on a different network, I attempted to create a new directory and then drag-and-drop images into the Web UI. I used the Chrome browser for this test. I was unable to create a directory, so I dragged the individual files to the top level Photos directory.

Space Monkey Web UI for drag and drop file uploads
Space Monkey Web UI for drag and drop file uploads

The files all listed, but all failed to upload as shown below. I re-ran the same test using the Windows client that was on the same IP subnet as the Space Monkey and was successful both in creating a new folder and uploading all of the files.

Space onkey Drag and Drop

Space Monkey Drag and Drop

Space Monkey Offline

I disconnected the Ethernet cable on the Space Monkey to see what would happen. First, the steadily blinking blue front panel LED switched to a rapidly pulsing red LED. That made it easy to see that there was a problem. I refreshed my browser and Space Monkey displayed the message shown below.

Space Monkey offline

Space Monkey offline

Space Monkey went into an "offline reader mode". I was able to see and download any of the files that had already been uploaded to the Space Monkey cloud. The recently uploaded photos hadn't been uploaded yet, so they weren't available yet.

On my test computer with the Windows client installed, drive Z was still available for read, and I could drop files onto drive Z which undoubtedly went into the local cache pending the Space Monkey coming back online.

Finally, I plugged the Ethernet cable back into the Space Monkey. The LED switched to rapidly blinking blue for about 45 seconds before it returned to its normal online state.

Mobile Apps

In addition to Windows and MacOS desktop applications, Space Monkey also has apps for the iOS and Android platforms. For the iOS app, be sure to search for iPhone apps - there isn't a dedicated iPad application.

The application for both platforms supports automatic uploading of photos directly to Space Monkey. You can specify Wi-Fi only connections for photo uploads or allow photos uploads over your cellular network, as well. Both applications allow you to generate a link and share a file from Space Monkey. In addition, on the Android platform, you can add a file from your Android file system - not just photos. Unfortunately, you don't appear to have access to the root of the file system or the ability to change from internal memory to the external SD card.

Both applications were able to upload photos in the background. The iOS interface operated more smoothly and seemed more polished than the Android application. The Android app stopped several times and I sent error reporting data back to Space Monkey. On Android, even though screenshots aren't stored in the normal camera directory, the application found the screenshots and uploaded them to the Space Monkey device. If you accept the application default download location, your images are automatically uploaded to the "Camera Uploads" folder, which is automatically created by the application. Subdirectories with individual device names are also automatically created for those of you who upload from multiple platforms. As files are uploaded, monthly date subdirectories are created, and photos are placed in those folders for you automatically.

While the applications for each mobile platform share most functionality, obviously there are differences - mostly related to the platforms. Currently, in addition to the Windows and MacOS desktop clients, you can use your iOS device for the initial device setup. According to the latest Space Monkey Kickstarter update, this functionality is coming soon for Android devices.

To give you a feel of how the apps work, I've created short photo galleries for both the iOS...

iOS gallery

...and Android Space Monkey apps.

Android gallery

Closing Thoughts

Space Monkey has come a long way since completing its Kickstarter funding in May of this year, but there's still a lot of development to do. In fact, the login page still says https://alpha.spacemonkey.com. Space Monkey is continuing to communicate with its current user base through the updates section of their Kickstarter page and emails to original backers. If you're interested in the direction they are headed, I urge you to read the most recent posts.

The initial waves of product have already been shipped, with the remaining two waves in transit to their warehouse. Where Space Monkey goes from here depends on how many more people buy into the SM concept and trust a startup in a business that has questionable economics for much more experienced and deeper-pocketed competitors.

Note that Space Monkey's pricing scheme has changed multiple times since its initial offering. For Kickstarter backers, their initial investment rewarded them with a device and a 1 year subscription. Thereafter, the ongoing subscription was $10/month for 1 TB of storage. In that model, however, backers didn't actually own the Space Monkey device. (Ed note: I did not realize this. Wonder how they are going to reclaim the appliance when I don't renew service?)

Many Kickstarter backers wanted to own their own device, so Space Monkey is offering an upgrade path. For $79, Kickstarter backers can upgrade to own their Space Monkey device and get an additional 6 months of free service. Thereafter, the subscription drops to $49/year. If they don't upgrade, they can continue to use the device and pay $10/month, but the $79 upgrade pays for itself pretty quickly. New subscribers can join Space Monkey for $199 which includes 1 year of service and ownership of the device. Thereafter, the subscription costs $49/year. Got all that?

As I said, there is still plenty of work to do. On the desktop clients, you can't currently see how many files are pending upload to the cloud, nor is there an estimate of the remaining time that the uploads will take. The mobile applications, barring the occasional hangs I experienced with the Android app, seem somewhat more finished and polished than the Windows desktop app. I like that you can automatically upload photos on either platform. In fact, that feature alone saved me quite a bit of time when I generated screen shots for the two mobile device galleries.

While Kickstarter backers might be more technically adept, Space Monkey will need to provide better documentation or possibly phone-based support in order to appeal to a broader audience. However, I will note that during the review period, multiple queries to support were answered within a few hours. We didn't get or ask for special treatment as a reviewer (we bought our Space Monkey as a Kickstarter backer), so this is encouraging.

My most serious technical concern relates to the speed of the Space Monkey network. The default upstream throttle of 300 Kbps resulted in about 24 hours to upload 1.3 GB. At that rate, it would take about a month to upload 40 GB and would take years to reach your 1 TB limit. This sort of reminds me of an all-you-can eat buffet: It's not really a good deal if you can't eat very much...

Even with the upstream limit completely removed, the maximum upload speed was only ~ 1.6 Mbps and that often dropped back to about the 300 Kbps level. In this regard, Space Monkey suffers from the same problem as larger, more established cloud storage / backup companies—the miserly uplink throughput that many of us have. But that's only half the SM throughput battle, since SM data still has to traverse many unpredictable downlink paths before they are safely ensconced in the SM crowd-sourced cloud.

I like the idea of crowd-based cloud storage. It eliminates the need for data centers. And its built-in redundancy and encryption, along with the distributed data model, provides a high level of security. Of course, ISPs won't be thrilled if this model takes off - utilization could increase dramatically.

But because the current upload speeds limit your ability to quickly backup large amounts of data and because of the initial $199 cost, some potential Space Monkey customers will find it more time and cost efficient to back up static data to a portable USB drive for off-site storage and use a low cost conventional cloud service to back up their dynamic data. For now, that includes me. Besides, I already use Symform and it doesn't cost me a dime.

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