Review: Wolverine ESP
Versatile High Capacity Portable Storage
By Ron Eggers
A multi-function unit with a lot to offer, the Wolverine ESP joins the increasingly crowded field of portable storage devices. It functions as image storage on the road, as an entertainment device with video and audio capabilities, and as an auxiliary hard drive for laptop or desktop computer system.
While the ESP stands on its own merits, and does so very well, the interface bears a surprising similarity to Digital Foci's Picture Porter Elite. I'm not quite sure who came up with it first or if they both got it from the same source, but they're virtually identical. They have the same menu structure, the same terminology and very similar iconography. But physically the ESP is different. It looks different and the controls are different.
Available in capacities from 80 to 120 gigabytes, the ESP weighs only 10.2 ounces. According to its specs, the 80GB version can store 60,000 photos, play 240 hours of video and store 40,000 songs. That may be accurate if you replace the "and" with "or" and only if you're working with low-res images. More realistically, the ESP will hold about 20,000 compressed 10-megapixel JPEG files, which are usually around 4MB each.
The ESP has two built-in card slots, which accept CompactFlash (Type I, Type II and MicroDrives), Secure Data (SD), Multimedia MCC), Memory Stick (MS) and Memory Stick Pro, and xD cards, all without an adapter. It will also read Memory Stick Duo and Duo-Pro, as well as Mini-SD and RS-MMC with an adapter. The ability to accept such a wide range of memory cards is a real plus for someone like me who works with a number of different cameras and memory cards. The unit I tested would not recognize the new high capacity SDHC cards.
The ESP has a bright, easily viewable, 3.6-inch TFT LCD. Start-up brings up eight menu options: Pictures, Music, Video, Backup, AudioRec, VideoRec, Radio and Game. The first six icons access hard disk storage, the seventh turns on the built in FM radio, and the eighth brings up Matrix, a Tetris-like game. Scrolling past those menu options, two more menus come up: Options and Wolverine. The Options icon brings up System, Display and Version menus, which are used to access unit set-up and configuration options.
Data transfer is virtually automatic. It's just of matter of plugging a card into the slot and the transfer menu comes up, asking what action to take. It could be a Full Back-up, a Photo Back-up or No Action. That also brings up a ninth icon on the screen, which represents the memory card. If you select No Action, you can access the images on the memory card directly. You can view, zoom and rotate images and print to any PictBridge compatible printer.
Image transfer from card to ESP and from ESP to computer is fast. It takes only about two thirds of a second to transfer each file from a CompactFlash card. The ESP is a USB 2.0 device, but it's backward compatible with USB 1.1 if you need it. Using the older version of USB makes image transfer a slow and tedious process, though. You can connect the ESP to any Windows XP or newer Mac system without having to install drivers or other program components.
According to the company, Wolverine supports more than 40 different RAW file formats, and the list is always expanding. I tried it with Canon RAW files. It had no problem looking at the .CR2 RAW files generated by the 16-megapixel EOS-1Ds Mark II. Portable storage devices these days support file types that you might not think of. For example, the ESP will display text files. I had no problem viewing this .txt article. It even has word wrap capabilities, so you don't have to navigate side to side all the time.
The new Wolverine unit shines as a music player. It plays MP3, WMA, WAV, AAC (MP4/Audio) and CDA. I used it to play commercial MP3s, individual tracks from CDs, music that I had taped off of old LPs, audio files that I had recorded with a digital camera in the voice recorder mode and podcasts from different sources. I also recorded directly from the built-in FM. The quality of the FM recording, however, doesn't match the playback quality of commercially recorded files. There is a small built-in speaker that works OK for voice listening, but it's not suited for applications where audio quality is important, like music. A good set of headphones really improves audio quality.
The Wolverine can also record Video, but that function requires an optional cradle. With the cradle, the ESP turns into a full digital video recorder (DVR), making it possible to record from a variety of video sources, including TV, VCR and DVD players. Recording times and schedules can be preset, just like with a VCR.
The ESP plays videos in MPEG-1, MPEG-4, WMV9 and Xvid formats. Unfortunately, it doesn't handle the new 1,024x768-pixel video files of the Canon G7. It's important to remember, though, that even if the specific video doesn't play on the ESP, the video file on the hard drive is still safe and retrievable. Once videos have been recorded or transferred to the ESP, if they can be played on the ESP, they can be played on a TV or other NTSC or PAL display device.
The 80GB Wolverine has a suggested retail price of $399.99. The 120GB version costs $499.99, and the cradle has an MSRP of $79.99. (www.wolvertinedata.com)