Samsung Optical Smart Hub Review: An Interesting Idea, Poorly Executed
At a Glance
Samsung Optical Smart Hub
The Optical Smart Hub is an odd duck, but it's suitable for the limited scenario where you want a Wi-Fi router, NAS-like storage, and media streaming for mobile devices on an independent wireless network.
It's a DVD burner! It's a Wi-Fi hotspot! It's a media streamer! Wrapping your mind around the Samsung Optical Smart Hub--a unique storage and streaming product with a singularly unintuitive name, a perplexing appearance, and several very specific uses--is rather challenging. Ultimately the Optical Smart Hub ($130 as of May 4, 2012) presents an intriguing concept for making use of optical discs in a mobile world, but it stumbles in its design and presentation.
The appearance of the Optical Smart Hub is confusing because it looks for all the world like a portable DVD burner. In fact, it is one. You can attach the Optical Smart Hub to a PC or laptop via its Mini-USB 2.0 port and the supplied cable, and it will function in precisely that manner. Samsung even includes Nero's OEM disc-burning suite.
However, when not attached to a computer or device, the Optical Smart Hub functions as a DLNA-certified, media streaming Wi-Fi hub. It offers no internal storage other than the DVD drive, but the unit does have a full-size USB port on the back for attaching hard drives and the like.
The catch is that, at the time of this writing, the Optical Smart Hub's storage, streaming, and settings were accessible only via its own integrated Wi-Fi network. You use the 10/100 ethernet jack on the back of the device solely for broadband connections. Put another way, you can't attach the Optical Smart Hub to a router and use it as a shared resource on an existing network. You could use the Optical Smart Hub as your primary router instead of your usual network; but since it has no secondary ethernet ports, you can't use it for wired devices or even attach a switch. And if you just said "Who needs wires?" remember that ethernet is faster and more secure, if not as convenient.
The Optical Smart Hub will function as an iSCSI target on its own network, making the unit appear like direct attached hardware. The setup and configuration utility even installs Microsoft's iSCSI Initiator for you on Windows devices.
The MobileHub client app that you use to access the Optical Smart Hub is available for both iOS and Android. Version 4.3 of iOS or better is required, so older devices such as the second-generation iPod Touch are out of luck. I had mixed success with MobileHub on a third-generation iPad: I was able to browse the files on attached USB drives, as well as CDs and DVDs placed in the internal DVD drive, but the MobileHub music and video players both came up with an 'unsupported device' error, so I couldn't stream media. Samsung is working on a fix as I write, and says that older iPads are not affected. Samsung also says that it's working on a Blu-ray version of this product, but the company hasn't yet offered a timeline.
With Android, everything worked as advertised, though the device took a while to catalog the multimedia files before I could play them.
For PCs and Macs, the Optical Smart Hub supports playback in whatever application serves as a DLNA client, such as Windows Media Player. However, although the Optical Smart Hub showed up in Windows Media Player initially, when I attempted to access music and video it disappeared or gave me an access error.
The Samsung Optical Smart Hub is an odd duck, suitable for the limited scenario where you want a Wi-Fi router, NAS-like storage, and media streaming for mobile devices on an independent wireless network. Or rather, it would be suitable if the software were up to snuff. Once Samsung fixes the software--and if the company gives the device the ability to act as a shared resource on an existing network--this gadget's appeal will broaden tremendously, giving you a way to enjoy your collection of movies and other disc-based media via your smartphone or tablet.