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I got my Gnarbox in 2017. I had purchased it because it looked like the travel companion I had waited for a long time.
Although the Gnarbox 1.0 has great features, at the end of the day, It felt like an incomplete solution.

Three obstacles (transfer reliability while plugged into power, transfer speed, and battery life) have been the main reasons why I decided to sell my Gnarbox 1.0. I really wanted to love it. It’s a clever concept. I had wanted a device like this for a long time, but I feel this execution fell short of my expectations.

This is my honest review of the Gnarbox 1.0

A history of backup attempts

Quebrada de las Conchas, Salta Argentina

In 2016 I did a photography trip through northwestern Argentina with two of my best friends. This trip was half pleasure half location scouting. We were trying out the itinerary of a photography tour through Salta’s wine route which is famous for fine food, culture and landscapes.

During that trip, I took a hacked WD drive that I had refitted with SSD drives as my backup option.
Although this worked well initially, it had many problems:
First, there was no confirmation of backup completion. The drive had an activity light, and no much information about the backup’s status.
Second, none of the MP4 videos transferred to my backup drive.
Fortunately, I used multiple SD cards and never formatted or repeated any of the cards during the trip.

My failed test with a WD passport
My failed test with a WD passport

After this failed test, I set out to find a more reliable option for backups on the go. Since my camera bag keeps getting heavier every year, I didn’t want to carry a laptop along for this task.

Gnarbox 1.0 Kickstarter campaign

I became aware of Gnarbox after it got funded. I brought my unit from an online retailer and used it gently on a trip to Mexico. It seemed to work fine. It was used very lightly, only a few files into its internal 128Gb memory. No problem at all.

Gnarbox 1.0 with only USB power

Organizing the gear for a Patagonia photo tour

Upon preparing my gear for a Patagonia photography expedition I knew that the Gnarbox’s 128gb memory was not going to cut it. Because of this, I brought two 2.5 external HDD to backup my daily RAW and MP4 from the trip.

I wanted to dump all the content into one HDD and duplicate the dump into the second one for redundancy sake.
Little did I know that my Gnarbox was not going to be capable of doing this reliably.

Gnarbox 1.0 SD and USB inputs

Gnarbox failure with external HDDs

  • Voltage issue: This is buried inside their troubleshooting guide and I had only discovered while on location. It seems that the Gnarbox has a voltage problem when you connect both an external HDD and Gnarbox’s USB power cable. No matter the circumstances, this renders the same result. File transfers will fail, no matter what you do. You can only power the unit by a USB source. This triggers the voltage issue with any other USB devices that require power (HDD). I had contacted Gnarbox’s support about this issue and they confirm this is due to a design flaw and can’t be resolved by a firmware update.
  • Transfer speeds: It takes a long time – over an hour – for a 64gb card to transfer all its content. This is simply too long. Since you can’t reliable transfer your files directly into an HDD, as I explain before, you are limited to transfer your files internally. This means that in order to have your files exported to any other media, you need to double the time of transfer (one for the internal memory, two for an external HDD).
  • Battery life: The only way I was able to reliably transfer my files into my external HDD was to have the Gnarbox run with its internal battery only. I had no transfer problems by doing this. The huge downfall of this method is that the battery gets drained very quickly – almost empty after 60gb – and it’s not enough to transfer an entire 64 gb SD card. Also consider that in order to do this, you have to charge Gnarbox’s battery after each backup. This might take another hour, hour in a half.

Alternative solutions to Gnarbox and backups on the go

A new Gnarbox 2.0 is on the works. I honestly can’t say much about it since I’ve only seen its specs. I, for one, would not buy another Gnarbox. I feel I was somewhat mislead in what their product is capable of doing.

While looking for alternatives, I found another solution to daily media backups that is proven to be super reliable without breaking the bank.

Check back soon for another post detailing my current backup solution to daily photo and video backups without a laptop.