Review: GNARBOX 2.0 (An Almost-Perfect Drive for Travel Photography)

Although it doesn’t yet feel like a finalized product the GNARBOX 2.0 has steadily improved since we began testing it.

While reviewing the GNARBOX 2.0, we discussed our experiences with influencers, photographers, and other members of the press. We have one big thing in common: we travel all the time, and editing on the go is an annoying process. But the GNARBOX 2.0 is trying to solve that issue by helping photographers integrate their editing into the cloud as that’s where things are headed for photographers. But for a segment of us, I don’t believe things are quite there yet. If you’re a user of Adobe Lightroom Mobile and a few other apps, GNARBOX 2.0’s apps will integrate with them and allow for simple, on-the-go editing. But photographers can also use the file and folder system within iOS (if you’re still loyal to the ghost of Steve Jobs). Still though, editing from an iPad Pro isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. More importantly, if you’re more used to using Capture One Pro, you’re going to need to edit on a laptop anyway. And after conversations with a ton of other creatives and testers, I’m unconvinced that GNARBOX 2.0 is ready for market.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Built very well. It used to overheat, and then a firmware update fixed it.
  • Lightweight
  • Fantastic battery life
  • Incredibly fast SD card transfer
  • An adequate amount of storage on the go. It’s still best to connect it to your computer and transfer the files when possible.
  • Easy to create and organize folders
  • Their app can read a ton of different RAW files

Cons

  • Painful to use with a computer
  • You need to start the GNARBOX 2.0 (which is slow), then reboot it in Dual USB Mode, then wait for it to restart, and then connect it to your computer
  • Home mode is the only other way to edit off of the GNARBOX 2.0

Gear Used

We tested the GNARBOX 2.0 with various SD Cards from Sony, Canon, and Panasonic cameras. We also used it with an iPhone, an iMac, and a MacBook Pro. All of this was carried in a TENBA DNA 15 backpack.

Tech Specs

Specs are taken from Adorama’s listing. Check out all the variants

• SD Card Backup: 75MB/s write speeds
• USB-C Backup: 400MB/s read/write
• USB-C Computer Connect: 400MB/s read/write
• USB-C (x2), SD, and Micro HDMI ports
• 4-hour continuous use
• Intel Quad-Core, 2.40GHZ CPU
• 4 Core Intel HD Graphics GPU
• 867mbps 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac WiFi
• 256GB: 2GB RAM
• 512GB/1TB: 4GB RAM
• 3200mAh 7.4v removable lithium-ion battery
• IP67: Waterproof up to 1 meter for 30 minutes
• 6″ x 3″ x 1.16″ (152mm x 76mm x 30mm)
• 0.70lb (320g)
• iOS & Android compatible
• OSX & Windows compatible

Ergonomics

GNARBOX 2.0 has been newly designed. One of the big hallmarks of the new design is this body that allows it to release heat and keep the drive cool. I’ve been afraid that debris will get in there, but luckily it collects on the surface.

At one end, you’ve got USB ports and an SD card port. With the port here, you can connect your camera and export the images to the GNARBOX 2.0. The door closes with a reliable press. This gives you reassurance that the info on the drive will be protected.

The back of the GNARBOX 2.0 has the battery. This battery is charged while still connected to the GNARBOX 2.0 and it lasts a long time.

On the other end of the GNARBOX, 2.0 is another USB port. This is the one you use to connect to a computer.

And of course, the screen of the GNARBOX 2.0 is how you’ll interact with it. Using the D-pad below it, you can access many commands. Additionally, you can connect via the apps on your phone or tablet.

Build Quality

The GNARBOX 2.0 is built like a tank. I’d rate it up there with LaCie’s Rugged Drives (which are my favorite). The waterproofing rating is something every photographer should be expecting from their gear these days. Of course, this is also permitting that the flaps are all sealed. For the photographer who travels a lot, know that the GNARBOX 2.0 was stored in the side of my Tenba DNA Backpack. It journeyed with me while going in and out of many airports. It survived X-Ray after X-Ray and about a total of eight during the duration of my testing. For a short amount of time, it also rained in NYC, but we didn’t let the GNARBOX 2.0 sit in water like they’re stating it can. As far as the build quality goes, I can’t complain about the GNARBOX 2.0 at all. It’s terrific. My only thought about what could make it better: include an integrated USB cable the way that LaCie does with some of their drives.

Ease of Use

“More and more of us are moving past Lightroom because we have realized that it’s the software equivalent of Dial-up internet compared to Capture One Pro when it comes to photo editing. It takes us back to that nostalgic time when AOL 9.0 came out many years ago and was mailed to us on a CD ROM.”

To start up the GNARBOX 2.0, you can’t just plug and play. Instead, it’s designed to work first and foremost off of WiFi: it generates its own. So you’ll need to press and hold the right button. Then, GNARBOX 2.0 will take its sweet time to activate. Once this is done, make sure that you’ve got both GNARBOX 2.0 apps downloaded. Yes, there are two. Why? That’s one of the most non-sensical things about the GNARBOX 2.0 user experience. Everything should be under one app. But here, one app helps you organize and sort your images while the other is about managing metadata and such. When you’re on the road, you can insert an SD card into the GNARBOX 2.0 and import the images. Once they’re available and on the drive, you can load up something like Lightroom Mobile and edit. Alternatively, you can export the photos to your phone’s file folders. Then you can edit them there. Indeed, this is best done on a tablet or your phone.

If you want to sit down and enjoy some good ol’ Southern BBQ while waiting for your flight out of Atlanta airport, then you’ll be inclined to use your laptop. To get the GNARBOX 2.0 to work with your computer, you’ll need to boot it up, set it to Dual USB mode, wait for it to restart, and then connect it to your computer. It’s a pain. The other option is to use it in Home Mode and have the GNARBOX 2.0 connect to your home WiFi. I never connected GNARBOX 2.0 to free public WiFi.

Perhaps this is where the GNARBOX 2.0 is really annoying. It’s best for Lightroom users. More and more of us are moving past Lightroom because we have realized that it’s the software equivalent of Dial-up internet compared to Capture One Pro when it comes to photo editing. It takes us back to that nostalgic time when AOL 9.0 came out many years ago and was mailed to us on a CD ROM. Unfortunately, Capture One doesn’t yet have a mobile solution that’s any good. The sad fact is that lots of photographers are still using Lightroom.

“To get the GNARBOX 2.0 to work with your laptop, you’ll need to boot it up, set it to Dual USB mode, wait for it to restart, and then connect it to your computer. It’s a pain. “

Another issue that I have is that 1TB isn’t a whole lot of space when you consider the modern camera. 1TB of data can be filled up after a few shoots. This will mean that you’ll need to continually buy new GNARBOX 2.0 drives. That’s not sustainable. So instead, it’s best to bring the GNARBOX 2.0 out into the field with you, edit and set up in the field, and then come back home to your desktop and edit there. I think this is excessive. I have no problem shooting my images, rating and starring them in the camera, importing, going through my starred images, flagging, doing some edits, and exporting. I genuinely find this to be much faster. If anything, I’d bring my LaCie RUGGED drive with me in the field, edit on that drive, and then bring the images into the Desktop and Capture One. What’s more, my Capture One Catalogs are kept in my hard drives. So I can bring catalogs back and forth between my laptop and my desktop.

Conclusions

I’ve got very mixed feelings about GNARBOX 2.0. It’s not really innovative: Western Digital produced a similar concept years ago, and continue to do so with a build quality that isn’t anywhere as good as what GNARBOX offers. GNARBOX does everything in a far better way. Still, it seems backward as you need to reboot it to use it with your computer. It’s very convenient for a photographer to be able to work with the system off of just their hard drive. However, that space is going to fill up quickly. Indeed, there is a strong reason to ditch the laptop and your computer with the GNARBOX 2.0 being the main drive you work off of. It’s still not an all-encompassing drive for me though. It desperately needs more storage space and a more natural way to use it with a dedicated computer.

Additionally, GNARBOX needs to unify its apps. By and large, GNARBOX 2.0 is offering photographers a great way of managing their files and the metadata. However, I’m not confident most photographers who use GNARBOX 2.0 know anything about keywording or metadata management. In a world where hashtags dominate everything, I’d be shocked to see if the photographers working with GNARBOX 2.0 even use the keywording features. Still, GNARBOX 2.0 is easy to boot up and immediately get to work for the photographer working out of the cloud for the most part. And perhaps this is also where things are a bit curious for me. In all my travels, and in all my commutes around NYC, I’ve never met a photographer who works exclusively in the cloud. GNARBOX could benefit from a more versatile solution. I appreciate how much attention they’re giving to photographers. And if LaCie doesn’t watch out, GNARBOX could even catch up to them and snatch the market away.

The GNARBOX 2.0 receives four out of five stars. Perhaps the market today isn’t ready for GNARBOX 2.0. Want one? Check out Adorama.

Chris Gampat

Chris Gampat is the Editor in Chief, Founder, and Publisher of the Phoblographer. He also likes pizza.