Review: Amber (A Personal Hybrid Cloud Device for Photographers)

LatticeWork enters the crowded hybrid cloud storage market with the introduction of their new Amber Personal Hybrid Cloud Storage Device

As photographers, the issue of where to store our images is an age-old challenge going back to the analog days of prints and negatives. While the shift to digital meant that most of our images now exist virtually, we live in an age where everyone has a camera in their pockets. The ever-increasing megapixel count has resulted in the continued growth of raw file sizes. Earlier this summer, we were introduced to a new NAS (network-attached storage) device called Amber from Silicon Valley-based startup LatticeWork. As the company’s cheeky marketing claims, Amber is not just “another pain in the NAS.” It aims to be a simple to set up and easy to manage hybrid cloud storage solution that leverages Artificial Intelligence to help keep everything organized and easily accessible. There are two versions of Amber available. Amber One comes equipped with a pair of 1 TB hard drives, while Amber Plus doubles the capacity of the included hard drives. For this review, we evaluated an Amber One, which was provided to us by LatticeWork. Storage capacity aside, Amber One and Amber Plus are functionally identical. Curious to know how it fared under real-world conditions?

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Intuitive, app-based setup process
  • Data is stored on a redundant array for added protection
  • Face Recognition AI helps to visually locate people found in photos stored on Amber
  • Works with TimeMachine for backing up macOS devices
  • Allows secure and private sharing of data without having to rely on public third-party services

Cons

  • Buggy mobile apps
  • Many functions are not accessible via the mobile and desktop apps, requiring you to use Amber’s web interface
  • Inconsistent, often sluggish performance

 

Gear Used

We tested the Amber One Smart Storage Device with a custom-built PC (running Windows 10 Professional, version 1903 – May 2019 Update), an Apple MacBook Pro (running macOS 10.14 Mojave), and an Apple iPhone 7 Plus (running iOS 12.4).

 

Tech Specs

Tech specs for the Amber One & Amber Plus taken from Amber’s official spec sheet.

Device
Processor Intel® Dual Core Gemini Lake CPU
1.1GHz Burst up to 2.6 GHz
Memory 2GB 2400MHz DDR4 Onboard Memory
Models Amber One (AM1211-1) / 2 x 1TB HDD
Amber Plus (AM1211-2) / 2 x 2TB HDD
Connectivity
Connection Ports 1 x RJ-45 Gigabit Ethernet WAN Port
2 x RJ-45 Gigabit Ethernet LAN Port
1 x HDMI 2.0 Output
2 x USB 3.0 Ports (1 x Type-A, 1 x Type-C)
Wireless AC2600 (802.11 a/b/g/n/ac)
2.4GHz / 5GHz Dual-Band Dual-Concurrent Wi-Fi
4X4 MIMO
Wi-Fi Encryption WPA2 Personal, WPS Support
Access Control Port Forwarding, Virtual Servers
NAT Forwarding UPnP, Port Forwarding, Virtual Servers
DHCP Server, Client List, MAC Binding
IPV6 Static IPv6 (6RD), Static IPv6 (DS-Lite)
Beamforming Yes
Parental Control Yes
Guest Network Yes
Amber OS
Network Protocol SMB, AFP, FTPS, HTTP, HTTPS
File System Home Folder / Shared Folder: BtrFS
VPHome Folder: LocFS (Optimal Cloud FS)
External Drive: NTFS, FAT32
Supported RAID Type RAID 1, 0
Backup Rsync Client / Rsync Server
Time Machine Server
Snapshot Supports Shared Folder Snapshots
Max. Snapshots per Shared Folder: 256
Max. Snapshots of all Shared Folders: 32768
Local Account Management Max Local User Accounts: 256
Max Local User Groups: 256
Max Shared Folders: 256
Data Security Data Transferring: SSL v3 I TLS v1,
Volume Encryption with AES-256
Supported Client Platform Windows 7 and 10
macOS 10.11+
Supported Browsers Chrome 60+
Firefox 55+
Edge 40+
Safari 10+
Interface Languages English, Traditional Chinese, French, Spanish, German
Companion Apps
Mobile App Amber Manager iOS (10+)
Amber Manager Android (6.0+)
Amber LiFE iOS (10+)
Amber LiFE Android (6.0+)
Desktop App Amber LiFE Windows (7 / 10)
Amber LiFE macOS (10+)
Amber LiFE Apps
Backup Amber LiFE Desktop: Real-time Folder Backup via EzBackup
Amber LiFE Mobile: Auto Camera Roll Backup
Sync Amber LiFE Desktop: Sync Folder Between Desktop and Amber
Casting Output: HDMI + Chromecast + DLNA
Media Format: Videos + Images
Video Streaming HLS streaming for Video Playback with Smart Play
Adaptive Streaming Resolution Based on the Quality of Connection
Support for up to 4 Concurrent Video Streams
Al Indexing On-Device Al Object Recognition of File Contents
Accessibility Companion Apps can Access Amber from the Internet or Local Network
File Versioning VPHome Versioning File System
Version Quantity: Limited Only by Disk Space
Version Retention: Up to 30 Days
Cloud Service 2GB LatticeNest Cloud Storage: Free
Appearance
Size (H x W x D) 6.69 in x 6.30 in x 6.30 in
170 mm x 160 mm x 160 mm
Weight 4.4 lbs / 2000 g
Other
System Fan One, 92 mm x 92 mm
Ring Indicator Adjustable Brightness
Night Mode Feature
Error Notification
Power Recovery Yes
Acoustic Noise Level 19.9dBA at Idle
Power Adapter 65W
Input Voltage 1 00V to 240V AC
Power Frequency 50/60 Hz, Single Phase
Power Consumption 16.0W (Access)
12.4W (HDD Hibernation)
7.1W (Router Only)
Certifications FCC, UL, CE, BSMI, USB-IF, HDMI
Wi-Fi Certifications FCC, NCC, MIC
Warranty 1-YR Standard Warranty
In the  Box Amber Unit x 1
Quick Start Guide x 1
Welcome Card x 1
AC Power Cord x 1
AC Power Adapter x 1
RJ-45 LAN Cable (CAT Se)

 

Ergonomics

Ergonomics for the Amber Personal Hybrid Cloud Storage Device taken from our First Impressions article.

Here’s what the Amber looks like from the front. As we said, it’s pretty much just a black box with LED lights, vents, and ports. Don’t think of it as something Apple-esque. Liken this instead to something more on its own playing field.

The top of Amber has this vented area along with the blue ring. This lets you know that it is on and activated for you to work with.

At the back of the Amber units are the ports. There is one USB C, one older USB, HDMI, ethernet, and power.

 

Build Quality

The exterior of the Amber is made from high-grade plastics with a matte black finish. At a glance, it looks like a rounded black cube with a glowing ring on top. Think Borg Cube meets Tron. All of the ports are tucked away in the back of the device. This helps to keep cable clutter to a minimum. Glowing ring aside, Amber is designed to be a set-it-and-forget-it device. As long as you’re not moving the Amber around after you’ve set it up, not much harm will come to the device. Treat it as you would a desktop computer or printer. Storage capacity differences aside, both Amber One and Amber Plus are functionally identical.

 

Ease of Use

Amber LiFE Desktop App

Getting the Amber setup out of the box is simple, and you can do it from your phone using the free Amber Manager app. Begin by connecting the Amber to your modem or router, and then connect the power adapter and power it on. Simply follow the onscreen instructions on the Amber Manager app at this point, and your Amber should be up and running within 15 minutes or so (longer if your Amber needs to install firmware updates). After the setup process is complete, you’ll need to download the separate Amber LiFE app to interact with your device. We’re not quite sure why LatticeWork decided to utilize two different apps instead of combining all of the functionality into one unified interface. Perplexingly, you can’t access a lot of Amber’s advanced functionality and management features through the apps. This requires you to log into the device’s web user interface instead. Once the Amber is up and running, you can begin using it to store your valuable data. You’ll have to upload files manually from your computer onto Amber using the desktop version of Amber LiFE.

Amber OS Web User Interface

Amber allows you to share files stored on it securely with others by generating unique public links. You have the option to limit who can access the data as well as when the links will expire. You can also set up backup tasks to automatically backup specific folders on your computer onto Amber. Most NAS devices have a dedicated backup utility running automatically in the background. But you’ll need to fire up the desktop Amber LiFE manually. Then you’ll need to keep it running at all times for the backup tasks to be able to watch for changes in the backup enabled folders. Apple acolytes can use Amber as the backup disk for TimeMachine. According to Amber’s online support knowledgebase, you have to log into Amber’s Web User Interface (WebUI) to configure this functionality. Why this wasn’t an option within the Amber LiFE app, we’ll never know. Sadly, the frustrations don’t end there. You can also set up bi-directional syncing between your computer and Amber using the Amber LiFE desktop app, but there is no way to sync more than one folder. This is an odd design choice on LatticeWork’s part. Unfortunately, it limits Amber’s syncing capabilities, and I’ve never run into this issue using other NAS devices.

“We’re not quite sure why LatticeWork decided to utilize two separate apps instead of combining all of the functionality into one unified interface. “

Unlike the desktop app, the mobile version of Amber LiFE is designed for you to access the data while you’re on the go. With the mobile version of Amber LiFE, you can generate outgoing public links to files stored on the Amber as well as backup images from your phone’s camera roll onto the device. When you fire up the Amber LiFE app, it will automatically back up new images that haven’t been uploaded from your phone’s camera roll.

One of the technologies that LatticeWork built into Amber to set it apart from other network-attached storage devices is AI-powered facial recognition. When enabled, images uploaded onto Amber are automatically analyzed so that you can easily and quickly locate images using the faces rather than finding them manually. Throughout our time testing Amber, we believe its facial recognition AI to be a bit hit or miss. Understandably, faces that appear to be looking straight at the camera were most likely to be correctly identified. The faces that are looking off-axis or semi-covered by things like sunglasses easily threw the AI for a loop.

Every so often when trying to locate images using the Face Recognition AI, we got this sad-looking error robot seen in the above screenshot. We’re not quite sure what resulted in this error, but it happened with enough regularity that it warranted mentioning.

In fact, we encountered the sad robot every so often as well when trying to access other files. Seeing too many sad robots turned us into sad humans.

In addition to managing your data and allowing you to find images of people using facial recognition, Amber can also function as a WiFi router. Plus it can stream music and transcode videos stored on the device using the mobile app. Since most photographers in America already have a pretty advanced wireless network setup, we didn’t test out Amber’s WiFi functionality. However, that can be handy for someone using an older router or setting up a new office and doesn’t have one in place yet. While music streaming worked as advertised, the mobile app’s built-in music player failed to display embedded metadata from the MP3s I was playing. Transcoding video never worked properly, whether locally on wifi or remotely using 4G. Whenever we tried to play a video stored on the Amber via the mobile app, it would get stuck trying to load for what seemed like an eternity.

“In fact, we encountered the sad robot every so often as well when trying to access other files. Seeing too many sad robots turned us into sad humans.”

Conclusion

While LatticeWork’s tongue-in-cheek marketing claims that Amber isn’t just “another pain in the NAS,” the reality is that Amber fails to deliver on that promise. It feels very much like a product stuck in beta. Much of Amber’s more advanced functionalities are all but inaccessible via the desktop and mobile apps. This means you need to log into your Amber’s WebUI from a browser before you can manage them. This is a huge knock against Amber in terms of ease of use. Many leading network-attached storage devices on the market have excellent mobile apps that allow you to interact and manage your device while you’re on the go. Unless you’ve got a solid foundation in working with network storage tech, having to dig around Amber’s WebUI can be daunting for many. Speaking of mobile apps, the Amber LiFE mobile app suffers from regular slowdowns and graphical glitches, and frequently failed to communicate with the Amber One we were testing. When it worked, the Face Recognition AI did help to visually locate photos of people by face quickly. In reality, we saw the sad error robot more often than the photos we were looking for.

The inclusion of LatticeWork’s own LatticeNest cloud storage services feels like an afterthought. It’s not really tied into your Amber’s local storage, and honestly, 2 GBs worth of storage is laughable by 2019 standards. The inclusion of a Wireless-Ac router may have been a novel idea to the engineers at LatticeWork when they were designing Amber. In practice, it just adds a feature that will only be helpful to a tiny group of people and further drives up Amber’s cost. In 2019, you’re really not going to be in the market for a network-attached storage device if you don’t already have a good enough wireless router. Hopefully, LatticeWork can address at least some of these issues via firmware updates along with polishing their desktop and mobile apps.

The Amber Personal Hybrid Cloud Storage Device earns three out of five stars. The Amber One (equipped with a pair of 1TB hard drives) and Amber Plus (equipped with a pair of 2TB hard drives) are shipping now for US$549 and US$649, respectively. That’s a big chunk of change to drop on a storage solution that doesn’t deliver on all of its promises. We’d probably look for alternatives or wait for a product revision.

Pauleth Ip

Paul is a New York City based photographer, creative, and writer. His body of work includes headshots and commercial editorials for professionals, in-demand actors/performers, high net worth individuals, and corporate clients, as well as intimate lifestyle/boudoir photography with an emphasis on body positivity and empowerment. Paul also has a background in technology and higher education, and regularly teaches private photography seminars. When not working on reviews and features for The Phoblographer or shooting client work, Paul can be seen photographing personal projects around NYC, or traveling the world with his cameras in tow. You can find Paul’s latest work on his Instagram over at @thepicreative.