As photographers and videographers, there comes a time when we’re about to set off on a trip, suitcase at that sit-on-to-zip capacity, where we have to wonder if we really need to bring a laptop. The Gnarbox proposes a solution between dragging a laptop somewhere we’d rather not and running into a “card full” warning with nowhere to dump the images or footage. With the promise of being just as indestructible as a waterproof camera, it’s also perfect for those more extreme adventures, as we discovered during our Gnarbox review.
By length and width, the Gnarbox is about the size of a smartphone (5.3 x 3.4 inches). It is a bit thicker, though, with a depth of one inch, so if you want to fit it in your pocket, you’ll need to bust out that old pair of cargo pants. But the Gnarbox’s one-pound weight makes less of an impact inside a camera bag or suitcase compared to a laptop computer.
Inside, the Gnarbox uses 128GB of flash memory and 2GB of RAM. Transfer speeds are comparable to a laptop, with read speeds up to 270MB per second and write speeds up to 100MB/s.
Outside of the media ports, the Gnarbox has just a single point of control — the on/off button at the top. Everything else is controlled via the mobile app. A pair of status lights below the power button give an idea what the Gnarbox is doing without looking at the app, with the lights signaling when the Wi-Fi has powered up, when a transfer is in progress, and when the Gnarbox is charging. The company says one charge will last between four and six hours, but the number of files you get out of that will understandably vary based on how big those files are. We were able to transfer 1,500 RAW photos (with a few video files mixed in) twice, saving both to the Gnarbox and to an external hard drive, and still had 63 percent battery life remaining.
The Gnarbox app
Without a screen or keyboard, controlling the Gnarbox requires a mobile app. The box has built-in Wi-Fi and the app is available for both iOS and Android devices. Inside the app, you can transfer images from the SD card to the Gnarbox or to an external hard drive, or both. Using that connectivity, the Gnarbox can also send photos wirelessly to your phone or tablet for editing or sharing.
The Gnarbox app is well organized and easy to use. The wireless connection was painless and worked on the first try. Once connected, the Gnarbox app opens to a home screen with all the files organized by date. Tapping on “Devices” allows you to see what’s on the SD card.
Inside the SD card view, the app automatically organizes the files into two categories: what’s already on the Gnarbox and what’s not yet on the Gnarbox. Those categories are then divvied up by date. You can tap on a section (like a date or the entire set of images not yet on the Gnarbox) and transfer them all at once, or you can go through and select photos individually. Once you hit transfer, the app asks if you want to transfer those files to the Gnarbox itself or to an external hard drive, if you happen to have one connected.
As the files transfer, a status bar at the top of the app shows the progress, along with a warning not to remove the card while transferring. If there’s a glitch along the way (like if the connection drops mid-transfer), the app will warn you with a pop-up displaying which files didn’t transfer. Since the files not on the Gnarbox are organized at the top of the screen, it’s easy to go back and retry the transfer.
An incomplete transfer only happened once during our review, probably from dropping the connection to the app. It wasn’t a total disaster — we simply restarted the process. The only other issue we had is that the app may not select every file if it is still indexing the memory card, so we would recommend double checking that everything has correctly transferred before formatting the card without realizing it has a few stragglers still left on it.
Once the files are on the Gnarbox, the home screen displays them, organized by date. Each date category displays how many photos, videos and documents are stored there. Tapping through the images allows you to view the files and even tap a star to mark favorites.
Both photo and video editing is also built right into the app. Photo options include color, exposure, contrast and crop. The editor isn’t the most robust mobile app we’ve seen (sharpening and adjustment brushes, for example, are missing) but works well for quick edits and lets you get something up on Instagram before you get back home to your computer. Of course, you can also transfer files to your phone and open them up in any third party photo editor if you need more control while on the road.
Inside the app’s video editor, you can grab a still frame from the video or trim the video and even string several longer clips together into one file. The same editing features for still photos also allow you to adjust factors like contrast, exposure, and vibrance in video. The app even allows for adding music to the file. Edited videos can then be exported to the Gnarbox itself, or to your phone.