GNARBOX 128GB Portable Backup & Editing System

So what is this thing you call the GNARBOX? Funny you should ask. Directly from the manufacture’s website: “A pocket-sized device that empowers you to backup, organize, edit & share HD videos and photos, laptop free.” Hmmm. I have to say that up until a month ago, I had never heard of the GNARBOX. The website touts that the device is for anyone with a camera. ANYONE? Now you have my attention.

Let’s start with a couple of details. The GNARBOX is water and shock resistant. It is also very close to the same dimensions as my iPhone X, except for its thickness ( 5.3” x 3.4″ x 1″ / 1lb​). It has a ton of technology built into it. Features like an Intel ® Quad Core – 1.92GHZ CPU, 4 Core Intel ® HD Graphics GPU, Dual band 300mbps 802.11 a/b/g/n WiFi, 2GB of RAM​, and a Battery Life of 4-6 Hours with its built-in 4000 mAh 3.7v rechargeable battery. Is it GNARly though?

The K-12 dude. You make a GNARly run like that and girls will get sterile just looking at you.

Charles Lamar to Lane Meyer - The Movie - Better Off Dead

GNARBOX is Cool

But honestly, GNARBOX isn’t cool enough to make your photo groupies sterile like those who watched Lane Myers ski the K-12. GNARBOX is basically a hard drive, Wifi hotspot, and card reader all in one. It allows you to not only download and store your photos and videos, but edit them as well. This is where it gets cool though … Because of the builtin WiFi, you can literally do all of this in the middle of nowhere!

GNARBOX Ports

The GNARBOX has 5 weather-protected ports. You can directly download SD and Micro SD memory cards. There is also a USB charging port, a USB port for a card reader, and a USB port for secondary hard drive backup. You can charge it just about anywhere you can charge your mobile device thanks to included USB charging cable. This includes in your truck in the middle of the New Mexico desert.

GNARBOX app download screen © Jay Goodrich
GNARBOX - app download screen (click to enlarge)

GNARBOX APP

The app is pretty simple and straightforward to use. If you can edit photos in Lightroom, you shouldn’t have any trouble within the GNARBOX app. Once you install the app and turn everything on, GNARBOX prompts you with video tutorials for setting everything up. This worked great for me, but about half way through their tutorials the videos stopped working from the app.

The app is your connection to the photos you download. None of the photos are stored on your mobile device unless you send them there. This is beneficial because you will not fill up your mobile device.

Downloading from the Device

It took me a little bit to figure this out. At first, I was under the impression that the only way I could download from the GNARBOX was through the app and my mobile device. I found a switch in the app to turn the “Mass Storage Mode” on and boom, I could download directly off of the GNARBOX onto my desktop. I couldn’t find anything about how to do this in the literature though. It was pure luck that I just happened upon it. So know upfront that getting one of these devices comes with a little learning curve. You can switch between the “Mass Storage Mode” and the “Standard Mode” at any point too. Which is a nice feature.

GNARBOX downloading at breakfast photo © Jay Goodrich
Breakfast in the desert. Downloading into GNARBOX. (click to enlarge)

Forget the Laptop

On a recent mountain biking trip to New Mexico I brought the GNARBOX along with a new Fujifilm X-T2. I didn’t bring a laptop or any other camera gear. The Fujifilm X-T2 only had a 32GB SD card in it as well. That gave me enough room for about 600 RAW files.

I know you are thinking that I am completely insane. GNARBOX and Fujifilm camera, neither of which I have ever used, were the only pieces of equipment with me. Other than a DJI Mavic Pro drone. You want real world tests don’t you? This is as real as it gets.

So no laptop or even a cell signal and a full SD card over breakfast. Honestly, not a big deal. I turned the device on and then started the app on my iPhone X and began downloading 690 photos taken over two days. The GNARBOX creates a password protected WiFi connection and you then download your photos into it just like you would into Lightroom or Capture One Pro.

Even though GNARBOX did this flawlessly, it was REALLY slow. The manufacturer claims Data Transfer Rates up to 4GB per Minute. It took me about 30 minutes of churning before the device had all 690 photos stored. This could be the archaic SD card though.

However, remember this, I was in the middle of nowhere!

GNARBOX app editing screen © Jay Goodrich
GNARBOX - Photo before edit. (click to enlarge)
GNARBOX app editing screen © Jay Goodrich
GNARBOX - Photo after edit. (click to enlarge)

GNARBOX Editing

One of the major features of the GNARBOX is its in-app ability to edit stills and video. Within seconds you can apply adjustments to your photos and then ship them off to your camera roll to share. You can also send the edited photos back to your GNARBOX so you don’t loose the changes. However, the edited files are JPEGs so you now have JPEG compression constraints attached to the files as well.

If you are an Adobe Creative Cloud member you can also download Lightroom CC and edit your photos in Adobe’s app as well. One of the benefits of using Lightroom is that your edits can automatically sync across devices and platforms. This may be a better option. If you edit a photo in the GNARBOX app, those edits will not show up on the original photo. Adjustments made in Lightroom CC on your mobile device will show up in Lightroom CC on your desktop.

If you share the GNARBOX edited photo though, it will contain the adjustments you performed in their app.

One thing that is a little difficult within the app is the viewed photo size. The app doesn’t rotate if you rotate your device. This means that on my iPhone X the photos are really small. Yes, the app allows you to zoom in, but you almost need to edit on a larger device like an iPad.

Who is this For?

The GNARBOX is for the photographer who travels far and beyond on a consistent basis. It is for the photographer who wants to shed weight, ditch the laptop, yet still have editing capability. One of the major hinderances here is the capacity of the GNARBOX. You can get it in a 128GB ($299) or 256GB ($399) version. If your trips are more extended stays and/or you shoot a lot of video, one device isn’t going to cover you. Then you immediately get into the question of what are the savings?

I truly feel that the GNARBOX is NOT for me. Yes, it is an amazing invention. It is very usable for even the entry level photographer. It also gives you additional storage and editing capability in the palm, of well, my massive hand. So why no?

I am going to take you down another film era memory here. You used to get 36 exposures in-camera with one roll of film. Then you had to reload. Now, I get 4000 exposures on one 128GB flash card. If you travel with 8 cards, you can use 4 as backup cards and still have 500GB of storage or 20,000 photos. When I get home I take my 4 cards out of my pocket and upload them into my desktop storage and begin the editing process. I have saved EVEN MORE weight than a GNARBOX user.

However, I am the photographer who doesn’t like editing in the field because I am not in controlled lighting environment. In addition, I typically have very little downtime to edit when shooting in the field. So I have learned to not worry about having immediate access to my photos.

GNARBOX – Positives

It eliminates your need for a laptop thus dropping weight from your pack.

You can download and edit photos with ease.

It works seamlessly with your iPhone – which most already have in their pocket.

The app is intuitive.

Its water, shock and dust resistant.

GNARBOX – Negatives

Seems slower than advertised, but that could be my old card.

If you are looking for less carry weight, why not just bring more compact flash cards?

Storage size isn’t really large enough for longer trips.

Storage size isn’t large enough if you shoot a lot of video.

Edits are saved as secondary JPEG.

Your photo groupies aren’t going to care that you are carrying the GNAR. They will care if you can ski it though. According to Charles Lamar.

Get you some of this:

GNARBOX 128GB

Purchase your very own GNARBOX 128GB model from B&H Photo.

GNARBOX 256GB

Purchase your very own GNARBOX 256GB model from B&H Photo.

2 Responses

  1. I backed the Kickstarter for the 128GB version and was able to take it with me on a recent trip to The Gobi Desert, where I definitely did NOT want to bring a laptop! I had the same concerns about storage, so I also brought a 1 TB external hard drive, which you can plug in and back up to directly via the app and it worked great (it supports USB 2 and 3, but not Thunderbolt or FireWire).

    I would agree that transfer times seemed slow, but it wasn’t unmanageable.

    Battery life in a tent at -10C was a problem, but keeping it warm and plugged into an external battery pack kept it going fine.

    I used the app to review files and do some quick grading, but saved my editing until I got back to base.

    Overall, as a lightweight, rugged, backup hub, I can definitley recommend it.

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