TUAW Review and Giveaway: Here, File File!
Back in December we got an early look at an app that allowed you to view and share your Mac's files while on the go. Put simply, Here, File File! [iTunes link] aimed to be the cure to what ailed the file-forgetters among us. Yesterday, the crew behind the very promising preview video announced that HFF was officially available from the App Store.
Read on for our full review of Here, File File!, and be sure to read all the way down to the bottom of the post for news of a Valentine's Day special (because we just love files that much) as well as your chance to win one of five copies of the app for your very own.
The Here, File File app works in conjunction with a small server application that runs on your Mac to grant access to your files from your iPhone. The server has a pretty small footprint in terms of CPU load and takes care of setting up your Mac for remote access for you -- just run the app and access your Mac with your mobile device. Communication between your iPhone or iPod touch and the HFF server on your Mac is password-protected and SSL-encrypted, providing peace of mind for those that are concerned about privacy.
The HFF server is also responsible for configuring the network to allow remote access to your Mac. It uses existing technology (Bonjour and UPnP) to ensure making the connection is as simple and fast as possible. Most recent routers already support automatic UPnP configuration, including Apple's Airport Express and Extreme base stations. The HFF server has a status window that clearly depicts your ability to access your files. If your network does not support UPnP, the HFF support page explains it is necessary to manually forward specific ports. For most cases, it'll work just fine, but if not, you might need to do a little bit of (guided) network tweaking.
Once your Mac and network are both configured with the HFF server, adding your Mac to the app on your iPhone is very simple. When you run the app for the first time, it will attempt to automatically find and connect to your Mac via Bonjour. In my testing, this worked flawlessly. My MacBook Pro was found almost instantly and my iPhone connected to the HFF server on my Mac without any problem.
By default, the app does not save your password for the remote Mac but since I keep my iPhone locked down with a PIN I opted to have HFF remember the Mac's password so I wouldn't have to type it every time I wanted to log in. If the app is not able to locate your Mac on the local network it is a pretty simple affair to manually add the Mac to your list of servers.
Once you've set up and connected to your Mac, the main screen that appears when you launch will be a beautifully depicted tabletop with an image of your particular Mac and its current wallpaper. Towards the top of the screen is the name of your Mac as it appears in OS X, and below that is the timestamp for the last time you connected. You can swipe to the right to view other Macs on your "desk" or to add a new one using the wizard or via manual entry.
The real magic happens, though, when you tap on your desired Mac: a heavenly spotlight shines down upon your Mac as the connection is established. The speed of the connection is may vary depending on your network speed at home and whether your iPhone is on 3G or Wi-Fi. Once connected, there are three main views to select from.
The first view, "Files," is very reminiscent of the sidebar in Finder. It lists several common "Places" on your Mac, including the Home folder, your Desktop, and your Documents folder. Additionally there is a category for "Volumes" which lists the currently-mounted hard drives on your remote Mac. My only complaint here is that the Downloads folder is not listed as one of the default Places in view, but the developer says this was a simple oversight and plans to add it in a future release.
It is the Files view where you likely spend a lot of your time as this is where you will navigate in and around the file system of your remote Mac. It is clear that a lot of thought was put into this app as it is a very intuitive experience. It seamlessly integrates the left-right navigation of iPhone OS with the thumbnail icon file navigation of Finder. Files have their own displays -- a Pages document will be displayed with its icon as the first page of the document, and the same goes for PDFs and Microsoft Office documents as well.
As expected, tapping on a folder causes the whole interface to move to the left, as the view is then populated with the list of folder contents. Tap on a file and it slides seamlessly into view. Slower connections and/or larger files will result in a short wait, with a Loading File indicator. When the file finishes loading, it appears in fullscreen, where you can swipe to navigate to different parts of a document, pinch to zoom in on a single face in a photo, or play/pause any Quicktime-compatible song or video.
While all of this is useful above-and-beyond what Dropbox and MobileMe provide -- after all, they require you to know which files you want to access before leaving the house -- Here, File File goes one step further by allowing you to actually send any file via email. Once the file has been loaded, you can bring up an option of attaching or linking the file. Attached files work as expected: the file is copied directly into the email and the recipient can open the attachment upon receipt. Linked files are a little different, though: HFF creates a randomly-generated link that lasts for 48 hours. Every time a linked file is sent, a new link is generated. As you might have guessed, the purpose of the randomization is to keep unwanted intruders from forcing their way into your filesystem by decoding the links.
If the file is large (more than a couple MB), then a linked file email is more appropriate, as large files can take some time to send via EDGE or 3G. While the file is loading in HFF, it's still possible to share the file over email, but you will only have the option of sending a linked file rather than an attached file. Still, it's a useful feature, especially if you have a 10MB PowerPoint presentation that you need to send to someone, but don't have the time to wait for it to finish downloading to your iPhone.
Even though Downloads is not listed as one of the default Places, there is still an easy way around this slight UI mistake. The "Favorites" view shows a listing of directories and files that you have starred in the course of your use. Any directory or file can be configured as a Favorite for ease of access at a later time. So just by starring the Downloads folder, you can access it under Favorites whenever you want.
The third view, "Search," allows you to (you guessed it) search for files or folders on your Mac. The search is run on your Mac and the results are sent back to HFF on your iPhone (which not only speeds things up a bit, but helps to improve battery life as well). The search window is also filterable, so you can sort your searches into Folders, Images, Movies, Music, PDF, and Presentations. I found the search and filtering to work quickly and without any issue. The biggest shortcoming here is that the search results are currently limited to just sixteen folders/files in the results. The developer says this is for performance reasons and that as HFF gets faster they will increase this limitation. Unfortunately there are no filter options for Word/Pages documents or Excel/Numbers spreadsheets. In my opinion, this is not a deal-breaker by any means especially since a simple update will likely fix this in the future.
Here, File File! is quite simply the most useful utility for accessing your files while on the go. It has a clear leg up on both Dropbox and MobileMe because your storage is not limited to a few gigabytes and you don't have to take an extra step to make sure a certain file is in your Dropbox or iDisk. Since you only pay for the app once, there's no yearly fee to contend with, either. Installation can be a little tricky (especially if your network isn't average), but once it's running, you basically have access to your Mac straight from your iPhone.
Here, File File is available now on the App Store. Regularly priced at $9.99, the functionality it provides is worth every penny. Through Valentine's Day, Here, File File! is being offered with a 30% discount bringing the price to just $6.99.
And even if you don't want to take the plunge, we'll hook you up anyway: We're giving away five free copies to five lucky readers. Simply leave a comment describing how you would best use Here, File File! and we'll randomly select five commenters to get the app for free.
The details of the giveaway are as follows:
- Open to legal US residents of the 50 United States and the District of Columbia who are 18 and older.
- To enter, leave a comment describing how you would best use Here, File File!
- The comment must be left before Thursday, February 11, 2010 at 11:59 PM Eastern Standard Time.
- You may enter only once.
- Five winners will be selected in a random drawing.
- Prize: One promo code for a copy of Here, File File! (Value: US$6.99)
- Click Here for complete Official Rules.
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