Smart external hard drives have been around for a while, but none come close to the power and compatibility of the GNARBOX 2.0, with slick Adobe and LumaFusion integration.
Aimed at professional photographers and videographers, the GNARBOX is all about workflow, backing up and enabling you to work seamlessly with image and video files on the move.
In practice, the outwardly simple box packs in the punches and makes you wonder why any photographer still relies on dumb external drives.
The features are simple, like the workflow, but the effect on your working life will be massive.
Smart Hard Drive / gnarbox.com / from $499 at time of review
External hard drives are an essential part of any photographers or videographers kit bag. Let’s face it; you have to save your images and videos somewhere.
But then to access those files you need your computer, and then there’s the issue of backing up. Having just one set of data is never good practice, so what do you do?
This is where the formidable GNARBOX 2.0 comes in, the first version GNARBOX was impressive, but the 2.0 is something else.
The GNARBOX design has been updated and upgraded. Power and storage capacity has been extended, and with compatibility with the latest iPad, this smart drive is an ideal photographers companion.
But what more can it do than store your images and video?
Storage is a given and there are three different options for capacity, but it also has an SD card slot on the side, HDMI and two USB Type-C ports.
It can download all the files from your SD card to the internal storage without the need for a computer, it’s self-powered so can do a backup anywhere.
Connect through Wifi with the apps and you can organise, file, rate and delete your image and video files on the move.
Then when it comes to editing it has support for Lightroom, LumaFusion and others so you can edit on mobile devices, it really is clever.
But does all this smartness come at a cost, and I mean more than monitory, is it just another gadget and fad, or is it worthwhile?
GNARBOX 2.0 is an external hard drive with benefits. Starting with the core hard drive stats, it comes in a 256GB, 512GB or a 1TB option – for the record, I’m looking at the 1TB model.
As you’d expect this drive is an SSD of the latest superfast NVME type, which offers speeds far in excess of the older style SATA SSD.
Connectivity-wise you have USB Type-C as standard enabling ultra-fast transfer speeds of up to 350MB/s.
Finishing off the standard features of this hard drive are the exterior details, which are rugged with water and dust resistance. It’s not waterproof but will be protected from the odd rain shower if you’re sensible.
Those are the features that are common with standard external hard drives across the globe, but with the GNARBOX 2.0, there’s so much more.
GNARBOX 2.0 features at a glance
- Capacity: 256GB, 512GB or 1TB
- SD Transfer: Up to 75MB/s
- USB-C Transfer: Up to 350MB/s
- 3000mAh 7.4v removable lithium-ion battery
- One-touch SD Card Backup
- Automatic file organisation
- MIL-SPEC water-resistant design
- NVME SSD
- Intel® Quad-Core, 2.40GHZ CPU
- 4 Core Intel® HD Graphics GPU
- 350 MB/s transfer speeds
- 802.11ac WiFi
- RAW, ProRes, H264, H265 Support
- Photo Mechanic Image Engine
- App iOS and Android Compatible
- Lightroom, LumaFusion, Affinity Photo and more integration
- USB-C (x2), SD, and Micro HDMI ports
GNARBOX 2.0 smart drive features
Inside the GNARBOX 2.0 is a microcomputer which features the latest Intel Quad Core 2.40GHZ CPU and 4 Core Intel HD Graphics GPU alongside 4GB of RAM.
That processing heart is what powers the GNARBOX 2.0 and enables it to do what it does. It’s an exciting product, but without a screen, the GNARBOX 2.0 relies on external devices for the main interface.
However, it can be used in isolation and does have a basic LCD screen with four-button control that enables primary navigation and function. Through these direct controls, you can instigate SD back-ups, multi-destination copying, file integrity checks and smart backup.
The more advanced smart features are all powered through two Apps Safekeep and Select.
The 867mbps 802.11 ac WiFi enables wireless communication. There’s also a built-in SD card reader so files can be transferred directly from card to the HD.
If you want to review footage, then there’s also a Micro HDMI port.
Being wireless and having a computer hidden away inside the GNARBOX 2.0 needs power and this is supplied by a removable 3000mAh 7.4v lithium-ion battery that provides between 3-6 hours depending on what you’re doing. Additional batteries are available for an extra cost.
Size-wise all those additions to the internals do add to the bulk, but saying that it’s still compact at 6×3-inches and weighs in at 375g.
The hardware’s impressive, but that’s only part of the story, the rest is the software.
Developed for iOS, Android, Windows and macOS, the GNARBOX 2.0 has multi uses as a storage device.
It’s through the use of apps that the GNARBOX shows how different it is. There’s a range of compatible applications including Lightroom and LumaFusion, and that’s where things get clever.
Used in isolation, the onboard software enables you to transfer data from your SD cards directly to the SSD storage. Even this has an added element with the option for a full MD5 Checksum on the files as they transfer.
This feature essentially checks that the files on the card have fully copied across to the hard drive, that sounds like a given, but trust me it’s not.
There are also options to copy to multiple destinations, so you could be with a client who wants a copy of the image files on USB. Here all you need to do is pop in the card select multi-destination, and the SD card will download to the SSD and USB.
The real power comes when connected to mobile devices, and this alters a bit depending on the device you’re using.
For the majority of mobile devices, you load up one of the two apps Selects of SafeKeep, and off you go.
The apps show off some clever but hidden features, such as image preview which is powered by Photo Mechanic. This enables you to preview files such native camera raw which you wouldn’t get to see with other devices.
Equally, for video, there’s a bunch of built-in codec supports including H.264, H.265, ProRes, MXF and MTS. There’s also UDF file system support.
Many of these features are silent; you don’t see them work; they do their job to make your life easier.
Build and Handling
In function and design, the GNARBOX is like no other. The dark plastic casing is stylish and futuristic in design.
Ultimately it feels solid, and there are no worries about chucking it into a camera bag with the rest of the kit.
The GNARBOX is designed to be used in the field, and everything about the design from the tough rubberised plastic exterior to wrist strap has been optimised for field use.
One nice side effect of the exterior material and design is that it doesn’t slip. Pop it on a car bonnet, rock, and it stays put unlike the majority of other drives.
This finally gives a realistic alternative to the Lacie Tough, but obviously with a hell of a lot more features.
In the field, GNARBOX 2.0 is easy to use. Switch it on, and after a short boot sequence, it’s ready to go.
On the left-hand edge is a fold-down flap that protects the first USB Type-C, Micro HDMI and SD Card slot. To backup an SD Card all you do is pop the card in, then the and GNARBOX will automatically give you the option to backup the contents.
Not everyone is super organised so there’s always the possibility that some old footage or images will be left on the card from an earlier shoot.
To make sure time isn’t wasted by recopying contents over to the GNARBOX, there’s a Smart Backup option in the menu. This checks the GNARBOX contents and only copies across new data.
Another stand out feature is the MD5 Checksum. This checks the integrity of the copied files to make sure that the copied content is a 100% reflection.
These two features alone save time and heartache.
The primary backup feature is streamline and no fuss, but the drive is far more intelligent and enables greater flexibility still.
If you plugin another external SSD then you can select to copy the files across to that drive instead.
But there’s more. If you need even more backup security or you need to give a client or colleague the files to work on, then you can back up to multiple devices. Selecting both the plugged-in external drive and the GNARBOX itself.
Using the GNARBOX in the field offers far more than most other hard drives, but the real functionality comes when connected to the two apps and utilising the App integration.
Safekeep is a file management app. It enables you to copy, rename, create folders and organise your files on the move.
Files on the SD or once those files have copied to the GNARBOX can be browsed, and because of the Photo Mechanic integration, you get to see thumbnails and critical information about those files on your mobile device.
By each thumbnail, you have a selection of quick actions enabling you to carry out basic tasks such as copying, renaming or deleting.
You can even batch rename files, structure folders and do all those tasks you need to do to make sure your files are organised.
Another powerful feature is the ability to transcode video files ready for editing.
Through the Safekeep App, you can switch on MD5 Checksum, enable Smart Backup and Flatten folder structures automatically.
Safekeep is used for backing up and preparing your files. It’s streamlined and with most of the power hidden in the background, it enables you to get on with the job in hand.
The other App is Selects. This initially looks much like the safeKeep App, but whereas SafeKeep is about file management, Selects is about review.
It works by using workspaces, and PhotoMechanic powers these. Select the images you want and then tap Open Workspace, then you can tap the image thumbnail to review and rate the photos.
This review and rating can be done individually or as a batch and then filtered. You can even add keywords.
The two Apps enable you to take control of your images while out in the field and with an iPad Pro, it makes a compact and robust on the move solution.
The other significant feature is the App integration with Adobe and other mobile developers.
I’ve only used the App integration with an iPad Pro, and the process was again slick. Start by activating the GNARBOX 2.0 from within the Files App and once done; you can then import the files you want.
Each App varies on how it integrates, but essentially you only pull across the files you want to the iPad. Once edits are done, you can save them back to the GNARBOX 2.0.
The video Apps integrations are even more useful as the GNARBOX 2.0 can get started on some of the grunt work before you’ve even opened LumaFusion.
Once you’ve used Safekeep to download and backup the files you can then select the video files you want and start the transcoding processes.
This gets the files in a format that enables them to be easily edited on the move.
The other prominent feature is that you can connect an iPad Pro directly through USB to the device for tethered editing. This speeds up the editing experience and brings video editing to the iPad Pro that’s inline with editing on a computer.
The GNARBOX 2.0 build quality and handling are superb.
The first time you use a GNARBOX 2.0, the overall potential is apparent, but it takes a while to get used to the change in workflow. Not only that it’s quite a shock to find that you can do quite so much on your mobile phone or iPad Pro.
Getting started is easy, and as a simple backup device, the GNARBOX really couldn’t be easier to use. Pop in your SD card and let the GNARBOX do the rest.
Here the one feature that stood out, is the multi-destination backup. The feature is inspired and works flawlessly.
Once I’d got used to the simple backup, the next move was to start to use the two apps.
Safekeep is straight forward enough, and with a little guidance from the online getting started videos, the full depth of features became apparent.
It’s not that anything with the GNARBOX 2.0 is difficult, it’s just that it’s so different to anything that you’d usually use in the field. It feels like finding that missing bit of kit.
Safekeep is great for organising the files, both stills and video, and knowing that you’ve done a bit of housekeeping after the shoot can only be a good thing. It’s also nice not having to get the laptop out to do this essential grunt work.
Selects is also straight forward and enables you to review and cull the images you’ve shot. Again it’s easy to use and makes sense, although I do feel that Safekeep and Selects should be one application.
The performance of the GNARBOX can be divided into four areas; backup, file management, file review and working drive.
By far the best backup processes of any device I have ever come across. It’s easy, and with the file check, it just gives you peace of mind that your files are protected.
I also really liked the ability to copy files to external drives which just helped to give an added peace of mind.
As an on the move backup solution the GNARBOX 2.0 is unchallenged, it’s powerful, fast and exceptionally well thought out.
Transferring 40GB of data from a UHS-II SD card to the SSD takes around 12 minutes, which isn’t at all bad. Just enough time to take a break and have a coffee.
Although the process is streamlined, I found myself wanting an extra level of depth. What if in one move I could do a complete backup of all files to the GNARBOX 2.0 while at the same time only copy JPEGS across to an external drive for a client.
Take that a step further and only enable a lower res JPEG to transfer across, so the client had image previews but not the full resolution. Essentially a client backup feature.
GNARBOX file management
The basic structure of the backup for the GNARBOX 2.0 places new files in dated folders, and this is all easy enough to understand.
But using the Safekeep App, you can structure folder presets with your own naming structures and conventions, and that’s smart.
Through the Safekeep App, you have multiple options, and although it took me a while to find all the ins and outs, the depth of file and folder organisation is huge.
GNARBOX file review
Be it stills or video the integration of Photo Mechanic working in the background gives you access to all the familiar ratings and keywording features.
Any rating or updates that you do through the Select App will cross over to the mobile or desktop Apps. This means that you can start the work of sorting and reviewing your images instantly.
GNARBOX gets dumb
For all of the GNARBOX’s smart features, there’s also the ability to be a standard working drive.
The GNARBOX has three different modes; Field for when you’re out in the field using with the Apps, Home Mode which is used as you get home to connect to your local intranet and backup to dropbox, receive updates etc, and then Mass Storage.
Mass storage can be selected through the GNARBOX interface and essentially reboots the device into dumb drive mode. Once done, the GNARBOX becomes a standard hard drive.
A quick speed test shows write speeds of 290MB/s and read speeds of about the same. Not at all bad!
The GNARBOX is a truly unique device and one that fills a hole in a sector of the market. As photographers and videographers, we’re in the middle of a transitional period. The cameras we use have switched from DSLRs and Camcorders to mirrorless in the blink of an eye.
Desktop computers have also disappeared, and now we’re all using laptops plugged into a screen with external GPU’s providing the graphics boost.
Using laptops rather than desktops makes sense. However, I never feel good about lugging around a £3000 laptop on a photo or video shoot, it’s just not a great idea.
The GNARBOX offers a new solution and one that will revolutionise the way you work. Used in isolation or with your mobile phone, either ios or android, it becomes a powerful tool for backup, image organisation and review.
However, the new step is the use of the latest iPad Pro. This puts the full power of desktop image editing and video production into a small, lightweight device that can be carried anywhere.
From every angle, the GNARBOX 2.0 makes sense, and although more expensive than a traditional hard drive, it more than worth it. During my time with it, there have been two situations that have marked this as a must-have device.
Firstly a client wanted a copy of all the files from the shoot. As I packed away, I was able to back up the files to the GNARBOX 2.0 and a separate external drive which they were able to take with them.
The second was with video and a short turn around. Being able to transcode as I drove home without worrying about my laptop sliding around was a definite advantage.
Start Safekeep with the transcoding and then when I got home the files were ready to go. Ok, not a massive saving in time but nether the less handy.
I’m entirely sold on the GNARBOX 2.0; it’s now an essential part of my photography and video kit. But, like anything revolutionary, you realise that to gain the full potential you need more, namely the new iPad Pro.