GNARBOX 2.0 SSD - The last backup solution you'll ever need

The original Gnarbox was truly fascinating. On the one hand it was a portable rugged drive. On the other hand it was a non-display mini PC. You can connect to the device wirelessly via the companion app, and edit 4 K video and high-resolution pictures. Gnarbox 2.0 is ready for prime time today and it's a totally different proposition.

What remains is that the Gnarbox 2.0 is practically only a screenless PC. This also has an Intel quad-core (now 2.4GHz) processor to wrangle images and video with. It still allows you to directly connect media to it, and it still has a rugged outdoor design.

Gnarbox 2.0 comes in three storage capacities: 256 GB, 512 GB and 1 TB, $499, $599, and $899, respectively. This isn't cheap, particularly when you can buy a 1 TB SSD for about $100 — or a Western Digital wireless drive with SD backup for $450 (also 1 TB). Yet the tiny California-based business obviously hopes that the amount of time you save can just make it pay for itself.

This is where things start to change from here on out. For instance, the original has three USB-A slots, and full-size and miniSD cards. Version 2.0 is slightly more streamlined, with just two USB-C ports and a full-size memory card slot to load media directly onto it (there's a SD card adapter in the box). You can still attach the same items in the end, but you may need a couple of dongles. The name of the game here probably is streamlining the hardware.

This time around, there's also a replaceable 3,000 mAh battery, the clear advantage here being the ability to pack a few spare parts ($50 each). It is worth noting that I have struggled with a variety of power supplies to charge the Gnarbox 2.0. The company has since told me that you're going to want something to work with the latest drive that can provide 30W for it. The power brick in the box is working fine, of course, but the first time I tried charging it out in the field with a portable battery pack, I was surprised that it didn't work. Portable batteries enabled by PD should all work, but those also tend to be the more priced ones.

There are plenty of other features that professionals would find attractive. Together with H.264/H.265 and ProRes, RAW support is here and the transfer speeds of 350 MB / s over USB-C will make file management relatively breeze. The promised battery life of three to six hours seems accurate, and more-intense users will be pleased with the option to carry spares.

The problem it is trying to solve is what's really different here. The first Gnarbox was quite polyvalent. You could directly back up media to it, and change video and images for sharing. This time around the focus is plainly on media management, and that is much better. The original Gnarbox app doesn't work with the new version anymore; you will spend most of your time in one (or perhaps both) of two new apps: Selects and Safekeep.

Gnarbox 2.0 is ideal for photographers who want a quick, portable way to sort, edit metadata and tag photos from their SD card before exporting to other locations (be it Dropbox, your phone or anywhere else). This plays out extremely well for this.

Connecting to the Gnarbox 2.0 with my phone was as easy as getting into any other wireless network. From there, your computer is recognized by the Selects app (powered by Photo Mechanic) and displays the built-in storage or any other storage you have connected to on one screen. From here, you can easily drill down to a particular folder, select images for which you want to edit the data and send them to a "workspace" (a kind of temporary folder with only the images you want to work on). You may add a star rating or tags from here, or export them to another place.

What you can't do is pinch-to-zoom your selected images, which is a shame if your image has smaller details you would like to check before tagging or exporting them. There are also no simple adjustment choices such as color or brightness, so you can work with the Lightroom CC on iOS that Gnarbox explicitly integrates with.I have found that thumbnails for files quickly load on the built-in storage, but if you are browsing files from a SD card inserted in the Gnarbox, they can take a while to show up. Sometimes as long as 20 seconds, giving a bit of a break to the flow. Backing them up to the internal storage of the box will solve this, of course, but it is something to keep in mind.

What I can see is it speeding up the whole cycle from field fit to mobile work. I still have to go out to take photos of products, for example. I'm not a qualified photographer, but I like to take a blanket approach: shoot too many pictures to increase my chances of using something. It then includes finding a dongle (curse you, USB-C only MacBook) and either choosing images from Preview on the memory card or dragging them all to a folder on the laptop.

Operating with memory card files is less than desirable since I tend to keep an initial and leave filenames intact (so they remain in order, etc.). I can continue this process with the Gnarbox when I'm on the means home. First, by getting everything backed up to the internal SSD, and so plucking the ones I like to work on into a "workspace." Then they're all ready for me to get home once I get there. Because Gnarbox is really USB-C, I can simply connect it directly to my desktop and then go. It also serves for a card reader (a very expensive one).

The integration with the Lightroom CC and LumaFusion (iOS only) is possibly one of the most appealing features for smartphone photographers. If you've already been using these tools, the Gnarbox 2.0 will fit straight into your workflow and potentially remove your dependency on your laptop — for some hard work at least. Unfortunately, if you're on Android this doesn't help much.

SafeKeep, the second companion app, is a little straighter. The goal here is to mainly push screen around, rename files and folders and preview videos before you leave a location. There's also the option to set up templates so that Gnarbox can arrange files in some way automatically, ignore source folders or back up stuff based on their extension. Safekeep is the primary tool for backup, but you can do a simple backup to the internal SSD without the need for an app.

It's handy to be able to preview video, particularly without running the laptop out. There are two ways for that to be done. The basic preview moves across your footage in steps giving you an also image, or you can "stream" the full-motion video directly from the box. For tiny files, this works pretty well but I tried it with a larger file (3GB) and buffering takes a while. It does work, but not instantly. This is where the HDMI port comes in, because that way you can also connect the Gnarbox to a TV or monitor and show your media.

Gnarbox has 2 communication modes: Field and Home. For the names suggest, depending upon where you are, which one you want. Essentially, Field is for operating directly from the Gnarbox to your phone, while Home mode allows easier uploading from your office or home internet connection to cloud storage like Dropbox. You can also export to several locations at once, so, for instance, you can back up to your desktop while connecting with a client through the cloud.

One thing's for sure, Gnarbox 2.0 is a very different experience compared to the original. The lack of an opportunity to directly access files makes sense because there are current features out there. Focusing on getting the media "edit-ready" in the shortest potential period gives it a more precise focus. It does work pretty well for this. I also like the basic ability to back up a memory card to durable storage instantly (Gnarbox is water-resistant to continuous heavy rain for up to 30 minutes).

Integrating with key iOS apps still ensures that those who want to edit on fly can do so, but the company's Gnarbox no longer seeks to compete with its own application. The primary goal here seems to be either removing the laptop completely for basic file management, or more when it comes to selecting media that you want to work with after a shoot.

May the one sticking point be the price. As a young company seeking to compete against Western Digital's likes, it's understandable that a small team with less amount of production cannot keep costs as low as they wish. And there are other apps that you won't find on certain things here. My sense is the company has a lot more in store, and the functionality is going to grow. However, for willing early adopters, it is up to you to cover the costs by possible time savings.

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