The Gnarbox: Incredible Tech, But Who Needs It?

The Gnarbox was the most popular new product at this year's Photo Plus Expo. It's a waterproof external hard drive with card slots, USB jacks, and Wi-Fi. This tiny box allows you to backup and edit your photos and videos from your smartphone without the need for a laptop. But who would want to do that? 

What Is It? 

External hard drives with Wi-Fi have been available for years but the Gnarbox takes things to another level. It has an SD and Micro SD card slot and two USB jacks. In theory, you could backup data from four different devices at once. It puts all of this into a compact, waterproof package that could easily fit in a bag or pocket. To make it work, you'll need to use a smartphone and their proprietary app connected via Wi-Fi.

Is It Rugged? 

Yes. We kicked it down a cobblestone road multiple times and submerged it in water. No laptop could survive this type of abuse.

How Easy Is It to Back Up Your Files? 

Backing up your data is relatively easy to do but the app doesn't currently show you a progress bar while it's working. It's frustrating not knowing how fast everything is transferring, and how much longer you have to wait. I personally would not trust this as my only backup solution on the road but I would certainly use it as an additional backup. 

Can You Edit Photos With It? 

Yes, you can edit raw files with both the native Gnarbox app, or you can import the files into Lightroom Mobile and edit them there. It works, but if you quickly need to edit a couple of images it seems easier to download them directly from the camera (as most new cameras have Wi-Fi) rather than going through the Gnarbox. If you need to edit a lot of images, I would personally reach for a laptop. 

What About Editing Videos? 

As you can imagine, videos are even harder to edit on a phone than photos. Again, you can use the native Gnarbox app or import the videos into another app like iMovie. As you can see in our review video, it is technically possible to edit videos on a phone but it isn't a pleasant experience and the Gnarbox app, in particular, is missing key features that we rely on with every normal edit we do. Gnarbox claims that you will soon be able to import edits made via the app into Premiere. For some people, this will be fantastic because you will be able to do a rough edit on the road with the Gnarbox and then finish it once you get to a computer. 

Why Would Anyone Want to Use This? 

I personally hate editing photos and videos even on a laptop. I find the screen to be too small and the trackpad way too slow. I want dual monitors and a five button mouse. The idea of spending any serious amount of time editing professional work on a cell phone is not appealing to me but obviously, I'm not the target market. Most photographers I know these days don't even own a desktop computer and many vloggers are creating videos every single day from a 13-inch laptop. These people just might love keeping the Gnarbox in their pocket while they edit their files on a phone. 

Can You Recommend It? 

Even though the Gnarbox isn't for me, I can admit that it's an exciting and well-made product. Luckily, it's such a specialized device that after watching our review video, you probably instantly know if you will love it or hate it. So the bottom line is if you think you will like it, you probably will and you should buy it. But, if you're like Patrick and me, old, and stuck in your ways, the Gnarbox will probably not convince you to leave your laptop at home and replace it with your smartphone. 

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Stas F's picture

So, example of how I would have used this just couple weeks ago.
I went to London for just few days. I have enough storage on SD cards for camera but I also took a drone with me and it only had 64GB micro SD card. For 4k videos it's not much. I didn't need a laptop with me because I wasn't going to edit anything while in London - I'd rather spend more time outside taking photos and worry about processing later.
So I had to decide - taking a laptop with me and and HDD to backup drone footage or not taking a laptop (to make my life a bit easier because I really didn't need it) and somehow backup drone footage without laptop. I spent like an hour at BestBuy with 3 different associates but no one had a clue of how I would backup my drone footage onto HDD without the laptop (the only solution was - buy more micro-SD cards for drone). From what I understand this HDD woulda solved the problem. Not saying I'm buying it, tho =)

Nick Viton's picture

What did you end up bringing with you to London? Personally, I need a laptop with me when I travel.

Stas F's picture

It ended up raining pretty much all the time, so I didn't use the drone at all haha but I just brought more micro-SD cards. I noticed that I really don't have a use for laptop rather than "google something real quick" but I can do it on my phone with free T-Mobile roaming around the world which is even faster and better than poor Wi-Fi quality in hotels.

Jason Levine's picture

In the past I have used an android phone with large micro sd and a Samsung t3 drive. I transferred my camera SD card to the phone, then I transferred the phone to the T3 drive. Takes a couple minutes and more effort but works for on the go storage.

These smart features are basically worthless. Just buy more SD cards and a case to hold more.

Stas F's picture

There are dongles that let you connect your phone to a SD card and to a regular HDD via USB, but BestBuy didn't have those (and neither did Target, Walmart and some other stores I went to) and I was leaving the following day, so buying online wouldn't work. Another possible issue with that is the file system (NTFS or whatever it is) on the HDD and your phone. I think you need an app in order for your phone to be able to read/write from/to external HDD and those are some 3rd party apps from no-name companies. I don't really trust it too much.

Alexander Petrenko's picture

I think anything from WD Wireless series will work for you (unless you need to kick it).

Tony Northrup's picture

I do use an iPad and my smartphone for photo and video editing while traveling. We got a Gnarbox review unit in, but I couldn't come up with a single scenario where I'd actually use it. It's a middle-man between my camera and my phone but I found it didn't add anything except complexity. My phone has 256 GB of storage and I found it easier & faster to load my files onto my phone than the Gnarbox.

If your phone doesn't have the free space, I'd recommend upgrading your phone rather than spending $400 on a separate gadget.

I guess it could be useful if it had more capacity (like 2 TB). If you just need a mobile backup device, there are lots of mobile drives with SD card readers built-in.

Stas F's picture

How do you transfer photos from the camera to an iPad/phone without the laptop?

Lee Morris's picture

Most new cameras can

Stas F's picture

How about drone?

Tony Northrup's picture

I use the iPhone/iPad Lightning SD card adapter. It's really fast. I had something similar for my Samsung Android phone, too.

I generally hate camera wi-fi connections.

Stas F's picture

Well, yeah, there are those dongles and adapters, but do you trust yourself that you won't lose/drop your phone somewhere with all the backups? Idk... And sure you can back it all up to the cloud from the phone, but what if it's over 100GB and you are in poor reception area. I'm not saying that HDD is 100% useful, but if it was half price I'd through one in my backpack just in case.

Spy Black's picture

I'm with you on that. That last thing I'm gonna rely on for backup is a phone.

Stas F's picture

Disagree. HDD can stay in the hotel room or in the car while your phone is out there with you doing same crazy stuff you do )

Anonymous's picture

Yeah, but if you're keeping it back in the room, why do you need to pay extra for the rugged, waterproof, and wi-fi? This is clearly something designed to be carried on your person while shooting.

Stas F's picture

Why buying Mercedes when 1980 Buick will do the job of transferring you from A to B just fine?

Anonymous's picture

Thank you for making my point for me because nobody buys a Mercedes because there's a need for a Mercedes or because a Mercedes is practical.

They buy a Mercedes because they want an expensive status symbol or because they really love a particular model for some reason, be it for aesthetics or particular luxury features.

And you don't have to make it ridiculous by comparing it to a 1980 Buick. You can just say a 2018 Mercedes vs. a 2018 Toyota and it would have made your point just fine.

Anonymous's picture

Do you trust that you won't drop or lose the HDD or that the bag won't get stolen or you won't get pick-pocketed? All manner of things can happen no matter what you do. As far as losing things or forgetting things, I can definitely say that I'm much less likely to lose my phone (given that I'm CONSTANTLY using it for all sorts of things) than I am some device that I rarely check on because it's in my bag and meant to be out of the way. If it fell out of my bag for some reason, I probably wouldn't realize that the HDD was even gone until the end of the day. By contrast, if my phone is away from my person I can definitely tell you that I'd know within 2-5 minutes max.

And if you do lose them, that's why it's a back-up. The entire idea of back-up strategies is predicated on the possibility of one entire system failing or being lost, which is why we have redundancy. Whether you use this HDD, your phone, or whatever else, you should never delete the photos from the original memory cards until you've copied them to at LEAST two other locations, verifying the success of the copy and integrity of the files.

Spy Black's picture

If you can lose that, you can lose your camera and lenses. Where do you keep those? Sounds like a great place to put this, no? ;-)

Anonymous's picture

My lens goes on my camera and my camera is on my body via a sling strap before I leave the house and doesn't leave either my body or my hands until I get back home at the end of the day.

If I'm carrying more than one lens, it's because I'm using it, which means that not more than 30 minutes is likely to go by until I switch lenses. This means that if I notice it missing, (which has yet to happen since I tend to pay attention to my lenses) I only have to backtrack 30 minutes to find where I left it assuming that it hasn't been stolen. You can't do anything about stolen, of course.

With a hard drive, though, if I forgot to pack it back in my bag after using it or if it somehow fell out of the bag without me noticing as I was doing something else, then how often would I be checking on it to realize that it's missing? I'm guessing that it would probably be something measured in hours, not minutes, which would mean a lot more backtracking and a far greater chance that it's gone for good.

The things that I'm most likely to lose are things that I use infrequently and thus have little reason to check on often such as my wallet, keys, filters, random accessories. It's mostly because of the whole "out of sight, out of mind" thing.

Spy Black's picture

You missed the entire point.

Stas F's picture

I don't have numbers, but let's be honest here - phones are getting lost/dropped more often than hard drives. It's just fact. Hard Drive can easily stay in the hotel while you are at the waterfalls/snowboarding/doing other activates taking photos. Plus, if you drop this HDD in the water nothing will happen to it.
I don't understand what the argument about. This hard drive solves certain issue of working with files WITHOUT the laptop. And everyone for some reason tries to come up with "I can do that with my phone". We all can take photos with our phones, let's just throw away DSLRs.
And yeah, answering your question - in my entire life I dropped/lost 0 hard drives. Can't say the same about the phones. So.

Anonymous's picture

I can't really share so much about the hard drive since I don't carry one around with me 24/7 like my phone. If you're talking about keeping the hard drive back in the hotel, then you're getting away from the use case of throwing one in your bag that you suggested. Obviously something that you're not carrying somewhere is less likely to get lost, but if you're leaving it at the hotel how is this hard drive different from any of the numerous cheaper options? A hard drive sitting in a hotel room doesn't need to be rugged or waterproof.

The argument is about you suggesting "What if you lose your phone?" without also posing the question of "What if you lose your hard drive?". Both can be lost or stolen and I pointed out that for me, I'm far more likely to lose something in my bag that I never check on than a phone that I'm using every two minutes. You may be different.

And the only time I've ever lost a phone was before the smartphone era when I just kept it in a belt clip and never used it except to call people. By contrast, I've left external hard drives in school or at the office multiple times and I've definitely dropped them my fair share in transport, which is why I use a more rugged one today for when I do need one. So if we're going by anecdotal experiences, there's that.


Stas F's picture

You really take everything literally. Throw hdd in your backpack and leave it (just a hard drive, not backpack) in the hotel room when you arrive at the location. So as your luggage or tons of other stuff. If I'm at home, obviously I don't have a need of backing up stuff. But if I'm traveling without the laptop to a different city/county I would. If you get paid to do job, sure, bring laptop. I'm talking about simple long weekend trip somewhere. Read my very first post and please suggest a cheaper version of backing up stuff from camera and drone without the laptop. Not only cheaper, but also convenient and quick.

Anonymous's picture

How else am I supposed to take something? Am I supposed to read your innermost thoughts? I just went on what you were saying. It's my not fault that you didn't elaborate. When you say "throw one in the bag", it generally means that you're going to carry it with you. If you meant take it with you to travel and leave it in the hotel room, perhaps you should have that instead, in which case depending on where you go, I'd still say that you might be decreasing the likelihood of it being lost, but increasing the likelihood of it being stolen.

As far as another hard drive to do the backup without a laptop, just about any hard drive can connect to an Android phone via USB if you format it properly (I use Android so I'm not sure about iPhone here though I would be surprised if there wasn't a similar solution for iPhones) so this product would be a convenience play since it can do it in one step as opposed to two.

Or, if you have a camera with dual card slots, you can just mirror them and keep one set of cards separately whenever you get through a set. Or if you don't want to shoot redundant, after getting back to the hotel, break out some extra cards and use the camera's built-in copy function to create backups on a separate set of cards.

You're essentially talking about a situation where a person is taking photos that they deem important enough to back up immediately, but can only afford a camera with one card slot. This person also, despite not being able to afford a camera with two slots to fill his/her backup requirement has $300 of disposable income for a specialized hard drive for backing up photos on the road, but at the same time absolutely refuses to carry a laptop around with them when they travel even though most hotels these days have internet access where you can also benefit from cloud backups which would be more secure. This person also travels enough so that a $300 investment in this specialized hard drive is worth it and is travelling primarily to places where it can be considered reasonably safe to leave things unattended in their hotel room. Yeah, I guess it's really useful for those people, but it's certainly not me or anyone I know so...

I guess I just can't relate to the problem that this solves since I choose to only buy cameras with dual slots in the first place precisely so that I don't have to deal with any of this.

Spy Black's picture

Actually, I think this is a pretty practical device, it's just overpriced. I think $300 for a 256 gig unit would be more reasonable. I'd rather have this than a laptop in the field, I don't need to be uploading images anywhere, so this would work for me. I know some people need to send remotely, but even so this would still make for a good backup.

Anonymous's picture

This is pretty much where I'm at when it comes to this product. It can be useful, but it's on the pricey side.

Reuben Gow's picture

I have a Gnarbox, I backed the Kickstarter almost immediately after I found it.

Back when the Kickstarter was launched this device perfectly filled a need (and exceeded it) I had. On yearly snowboarding trips, between the group of us we'd have multiple GoPros and thus multiple SD cards of video each day. I didn't have a laptop at the time (well I had an Eeepc book thingy that was pretty useless), GoPros WiFi and app were terribly slow and my phone couldn't even play the videos straight from the GoPros. To allow us to backup the videos and clear the SD cards each day I used a Raspberry Pi and some custom software so I could trigger a backup from my phone. It worked but it wasn't very elegant and was a little temperamental and the USB speed was really poor.

The premise of the Gnarbox was perfect, a much tidier package and promising much faster USB speeds. Plus it was even promising the ability to watch and edit the videos.

The delivery dates slipped and circumstances changed and I now have a Macbook pro that so far hasn't been far away from me enough to justify using the Gnarbox to edit anything on.

I do still use the Gnarbox though, i use it to copy everything from my SD cards to my SSD and then later use the SSD with my Macbook to edit things.

The fact that you can start a transfer on the Gnarbox and then disconnect from it and use your phone as normal is nice. After a day on the slopes you can set everything to transfer and then hit the bar in about 2 mins.

I agree mostly with this article. the Gnarbox software needs a lot of work and the market is pretty small but the hardware is rock solid in my opinion.

Stuart Green's picture

I also backed the Kickstarter - it's still in the original box :)

Jorge Morales's picture

Yet, in 2015 FStoppers sure seemed to be praising it 🙄

Rui Bandeira's picture

I do a lot of concert photography and Festivals, and as i work for the bands and/or promoters, im asked to send a few images at the start of the show, i do it using my Canon 5DmkIV wifi and my phone, but i could do it with The Gnarbox so i would be making backups at the same time.
I could also use it on the festivals to free my cards wothout having to go to my laptop, that some times is far away

Peter Mayes's picture

Re the Dell XPS trackpad issue. I have an early XPS (9530) from about three years ago and had the same problem. The battery swells and pushes up the trackpad. I can't believe Dell haven't resolved this issue with the current model!

Lee Morris's picture

Called dell and they are replacing it as it’s a “known issue”

Ryan Cooper's picture

I've had a MacBook do the same thing, I think its just the nature of the beast that sometimes faulty batteries swell up. I think most companies just fix it on warranty.

Peter Mayes's picture

Yes Dell supplied a new battery even though the laptop is well out of warranty. Kudos to them. But I find it surprising that the issue has not been resolved after all this time.

Gabrielle Colton's picture

I need it lol