App Review + Q&A: FileMagnet WiFi File Transfer and iPhone Viewer

I originally bought my first Palm V so I could take some writing with me on the road. I "upgraded" later to a WinMob device in hopes Pocket Office would be a more robust solution, and then again to a Palm Treo, trying a couple high profile "Office" apps out. Confession: none of them really worked. They stripped out style sheets. They converted files to HTML and mangled format, and the feature sets just were never there. I abandoned them shortly after they abandoned me. Mobile editing just isn't there yet.

While I wait for a next generation document editor to (hope beyond hope) prove me wrong, FileMagnet from Magnatism is proving to me the value of the iPhone's built in, format-respectful, Quickview and Quicktime viewers, and added the previously missing -- and tremendously useful -- ability to transfer supported files effortlessly via WiFi, straight from your Mac (with Windows support already in development).

How does this wireless drive-mode, doc viewer hybrid work out? Read on!

Setup

FileMagnet is a good looking app. Devs-come-lately take note (and by the looks of some of the stuff passing for UI in the App Store these days, take careful note!). This UI is crisp and clean and -- very smartly -- they pay special attention to the setup. The app seems to automatically detect where you are in the setup and tell you what you need to know to get to the next step, be it enabling the WiFi connection or where to find and how to download the desktop companion app.

Likewise, the desktop companion app has just as big, every bit as bold, instructions -- state aware, thank you! -- on what to do to get your files sent over to your iphone.

This all combines to get you up and transferring very quickly.

Transfer and Management

FileMagnet uses the iPhone's built-in 802.11g WiFi radio and Apple's zero-config Bonjour protocol to do the heavy lifting. Performance was snappy, even for files several megabytes in size. (Note: your Mac and iPhone have to be on the same WiFi network, and security permissions -- like firewall settings -- have to allow the transfer. See the iPhone Remote app review comments for tips and trouble-shooting on these types of connections).

For fun, I tried a large file (167MB iTunes video file), but cancelled it almost right away. I thought FileMagnet might hang, but after 10 seconds or so, the progress bar disappeared, with no partial file left in the app (and hopefully no fragments eating space on the iPhone). (Since the video was wrapped up in FairPlay DRM, I'm fairly sure it wouldn't have been usable outside the iPod app anyway).

If you transfer a file over and later don't want it anymore, you can swipe to pop up a delete button, or give a quick tap to the edit button to turn on old school MobileMail 1.x style deletion. You can also remove files via the desktop app, or choose to download them to the Mac (presumably moving them over).

Note: I made sure to add an delete a few large files several times, and sync with iTunes between each state, and it seemed to accurately reflect the amount of Other data, which greatly increases my faith in clean file management, without any pesky remnants eating up my storage.

File Viewing

If you've ever Quickview'ed an Office (Word, PowerPoint, Excel), iWork (Pages, Keynote, Numbers), or PDF file in MobileMail, or streamed Quicktime video or audio in MobileSafari, you'll be immediately familiar with how FileMagnet displays your stuff. In fact, it's impossible to review FileMagnet without also reviewing the iPhone's built in file viewers, which is unfortunate because some negative criticism about how long it takes files to open, and how some files don't display properly are being misdirected at FileMagnet when they're clearly limitations on Apple's implementation. But then, this is what FileMagnet chose to work with. Let's see how the combo holds up.

I've had problems before with large files on the iPhone, so I immediately transferred over a 750KB text-only Word doc and tried to open it. Sadly, an alert popped up saying my 16GB iPhone 3G was running low on memory (sand box issue?). Checking FileMagnet's FAQ showed they were aware of the large file issue and were working on it for a future update (if they can pull it off, hopefully they'll share their secret back with Cupertino).

A 125KB text-only Word doc opened in 13 seconds, however, and was highly legible. Since FileMagnet supports both portrait and landscape display, a quick iPhone rotation let's you maximize either size or line count, and all the usual multi-touch double-tap and spread/pinch zoom in/out are likewise supported.

I test everything dept: A very old XLS file with embedded graphics and macros opened in a non-usable state (logo was blown up over the cells), but Quickview on the Mac renders it exactly as badly, so again its clearly a limitation of the OS. A CSV file (which I don't believe is listed as compatible) strangely showed up in icon form, but didn't have the option to open.

A 5MB graphic and animation heavy PowerPoint took 25 seconds to load, froze, unfroze, and ultimately crashed the app. Not to beat a dead horse into some sham of movement, but I've had the same problem in MobileMail.

A 32 page, 1MB PDF with text and graphics displayed beautifully and scrolled smoothly. I would have liked to have tested some ebooks, but didn't have any available at the time. I'll definitely be trying that out at a later date.

Next up was an a 3.5MB MP3. Started up in the Quicktime viewer almost immediately. Since the Quicktime viewer doesn't support album art or metadata, never mind play lists, it's not quite as enjoyable as using the iPod app proper, but the ability to move an MP3 (for example, something you created yourself in Garageband and have every right to do with as you wish) around outside the RIAA mandated iTunes single supported computer can be invaluable at times.

A 15.5MB MP4 file came up with sound but not video in the Quicktime viewer, and spawned another out of memory warning, but again consulting the FileMagnet FAQ led me to doing an iPhone restart, and following that the video played properly.

Quibbles

In the age old battle between ease of use and security, the same UI that allows for such simple setup sacrifices Remote or 1Password style PIN codes for a simpler "Always Allow", "Allow Once", "Cancel" single button-click authorization. Many users will likely appreciate this, and if you've got a strong WPA password on your WiFi router (and you do, don't you?), both computer and iPhone will have to have been given the key to be on the same network, but even so the lack of PIN or app-specific password will no doubt make the security conscious bristle.

As mentioned above, support for larger files types is currently lacking. Nothing new there, as MobileMail and MobileSafari have the same problem, but given that the iPod app can handle large media at least, this might just be an issue of how much memory the SDK grants app developers, but it's good to hear FileMagnet is working on it none the less. (Hopefully Apple is as well).

Preservation of state, where after viewing a file you can close it, open it again, and be right back exactly where you last had it open (be it the same page in a PDF or same time code in media) would be much appreciated. For hardcore ebook readers, bookmarking would be essential in the future.

The desktop companion app shows the size of the file under the file name. The iPhone app only shows the file type (MP3 Media, Word Document, etc.), which the desktop app doesn't show. Both are useful, but given the size and complexity limitations of Quicklook and Quicktime, I'd personally prefer to have the file size on the iPhone (almost as a warning!).

Also previously mentioned, FileMagnet is currently Mac only, which makes some sense given how iPhone development significantly overlaps with Mac development, but Windows still owns the marketplace, even for iPhone users. The developers tell TiPb that Windows support is already "being polished in the lab" it isn't yet available at the time of this review, so Windows users will want to hold off until it's released.

Direct iPhone-to-iPhone WiFi transfer would also be interesting, but as I would mostly use that to send docs to co-workers, simply being able to email them would likely serve me just as well. (Though either would be welcome).

Q&A

Glen Aspeslagh from Ecamm/Magnetism was kind enough to arrange for a brief Q&A with FileMagnet developer Joshua Keay.

What prompted your original concept, or what was your inspiration for FileMagnet?

We made FileMagnet because we wanted to use it ourselves. We're based in New York City and spend a good amount of time on the subway. It's great to be able to read a book, look over a document or quickly scan through some images when you're on the go. It's pretty basic functionality, though the iPhone doesn't have it built in. So we developed it for ourselves and quickly realized that it'd be useful for a lot of other people as well.

Any special challenges you faced in realizing the concept?

One of the big challenges we faced in developing the Application is coming up with an elegant interface for actually getting files onto your iPhone. There are a lot of different techniques that people have tried, including passcodes and synced folders, though many of them can quickly become confusing. We wanted a process that was very easy to understand and that could be accomplished without reading a manual. We're quite happy with what we've come up with, in terms of balancing set up time and ease of use.

Any high-demanded or personal favorite features still pending?

[W]e're working on some new importing options to enable users to add files to FileMagnet from all different sources rather than just your Mac. This new functionality will allow FileMagnet to integrate with a number of different usage scenarios, and we're pretty excited to be developing them.

Thanks Joshua!

Conclusion

If you want to edit your documents on your iPhone, well, I reckon you still have a while to wait. If you want an elegant way to move Quickview or Quicktime compatible files to and from your iPhone, FileMagnet is worth checking out. While I see myself sticking with the iPod App for media in all but rare emergency transport situations, FileMagnet is definitely and improvement over uploading and linking to, or emailing documents, and I think I'll be giving the PDF viewer a good workout in the weeks ahead.

Pricing and Availability

FileMagnet is currently priced at $4.99 and is available -- where else -- via the App Store. (iTunes link)

Pros

  • Superb user interface
  • Easy setup
  • Effortless document and media transfer
  • Excellent integration with iPhone Quickview and Quicktime

Cons

  • Currently Mac only (PC version in development)
  • Easy setup comes at the expense of security
  • Lack of "bookmarking" reduces user experience
  • Inherits limitations of Quickview and Quicktime, especially with regards to file size

Rating

4/5 for Mac users
(Not available for Windows at this time)

Rene Ritchie

Editor-in-Chief of iMore, co-host of Iterate, Debug, Review, Vector, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Reader comments

App Review + Q&A: FileMagnet WiFi File Transfer and iPhone Viewer

7 Comments

It would be good to know how FileMagnet compares in functionality to other similar products such as TouchFS and Files (from Olive Toast).

One other interesting "feature" is that if you have a hot link in a transfered doc- it opens as browser window in file magnet.

I use FileMagnet for viewing PDFs, XLS files and folders with HTML files in them. But for serious ebook reading, currently nothing beats Stanza. It supports a multitude of formats, saves your place in the book, and has a great interface with several useful options.

Hi
Can I use file magnet to upload files on iPhone system folders
I am asking this because I need to fix the known new email notification sound by overwritting the music file by another file with louder sound
Thanks in advance
Elsadig