Paying attention to sites that randomly have heavily discounted items often pays off. Last week, and still as of the time of this writing, MyMemory has the Samsung SE-208BW Optical Smart Hub on sale for £27, which is 78% off the MSRP of £120 (Amazon in the US also has it cheap). When I saw it, I had no clue what it was, but after doing some research, I found out both what it is and why it’s so heavily discounted.

It’s essentially a combination of a WiFi router, a portable DVD burner, and a network storage device, all packed into a single unit that’s also iOS- and Android- compatible. Apparently, it came out about a year ago, but more or less flopped due to it flying under many people’s radar, being such a weird device, and being buggy and cumbersome to use. Still, I was intrigued, and at that price I just had to get one.

After finally getting it to work, I thought I would show you how you can use this device to both read from and write to CDs and DVDs from iOS and Android devices, as those are the two most unique features of this device.

Before I get into it though, I want to just quickly go through the basics of this device. It’s slightly larger than most portable DVD drives, and it requires AC power – you can’t run it from USB. It has an Ethernet port for connecting to a network, a built in WiFi router for wirelessly connecting to devices and to share that wired connection, a USB port for connecting USB drives (I wasn’t able to get USB hard drives to work), and a mini-USB port for connecting to a PC, allegedly for using as a USB DVD drive (a feature I haven’t tried).

When operational, the device can be controlled from apps available for both Android and iOS. Samba-compatible file managers should also be able to connect to it for file management, like this one for iOS. The phone/tablet needs to be connected to the SE-208BW’s WiFI network for the connection to work, and then it should allow you to use the built-in features of the app. These features aren’t all that intuitive, as they’re limited and rather fragmented. You can play a DVD using the DVD player mode, but have to switch to the file manager to access files from a drive, the audio CD player to play a CD, and so on. The ability to burn a disc is hidden inside the SMART Backup menu, and actually getting files in there to burn is much easier to do by having a USB drive connected, transferring files to it using a Samba-compatible file manager, and then “backing up” the files from the USB drive to the disc. This is all shown in practice in the video at the top.

Bottom line, it’s a complicated device, which is why I’m not doing a full accessory review of it. The disc reading and writing features are the most unique aspects of it, so I’ll focus on those.

When you first get the unit

Setting this up is ridiculously complicated. After a lot of trial and error, I got it working, and here’s a basic step-by-step guide on what to do from the moment you open the box.

  1. Plug the device into power and an internet connection, using the Ethernet port.
  2. Put the included disc into a computer connected to the same network.
  3. Run the program on the disc and follow instructions for installing the device. It’s fairly self-explanatory.
  4. Once everything is connected and running, go to http://smarthub/ in your browser (no, that URL is not a typo).
  5. Leave the password field blank; by default there is no password
  6. Go to the administration section of the UI and set up a password. This is separate from the SSID/WPA you configured during the installation process, as this is instead the password to access the device’s control UI (like a router).
  7. Go to the firmware update section of the UI.
  8. In a new tab, open this link. Select the latest firmware depending on your region. Right now that’s SE-208BW/AW3 or SE-208BW/TW3. Under “Web UI FW upgrade,” use the Flash widget to download the file.
  9. Once downloaded, select the file in the device’s firmware update UI (from step 7).
  10. Upgrade the firmware. This involves staring at the device for a few minutes while its LEDs blink away.
  11. Done! You’re running the latest firmware.

On your Android/iOS device:

  1. Make sure the SE-208BW is plugged into power, and that the WiFi symbol is lit up.
  2. Scan for WiFi networks and connect to the SSID you specified in the installation process above, using the password you specified.
  3. Open the SmartHub app. Wait for it to successfully connect. This might require you to exit and re-open the app a few times.

At this point you should be able to play around with it. You can try playing a DVD, accessing files from a USB drive, and so on.

Reading from and writing to a disc

The video at the top shows me playing back a DVD using this device and an iPad mini, and also how I burn some files onto a disc using the iPad. The method for Android is identical as far as the SmartHub app is concerned, and only the file management will be different (but easier) on Android, which has an openly accessible file system.

In conclusion

This is a very odd device. It’ a great concept, but terribly executed, which is why it failed so badly, and why it’s being sold so cheap. Firmware and app updates have probably helped a bit to make my experience better than that of early adopters, but it’s still very far from being intuitive. Still, it’s a heavily discounted iOS- and Android-compatible DVD/CD reader and writer, which doubles as a USB WiFi adapter, and triples as a wireless router. I’d really like to see someone take this concept, do it right, and release something that works perfectly, but bottom line, the functionality is worth the hassle when you consider how cheap this thing is right now.

I don’t see myself using this that much, as discs are fairly outdated if you ask me, but it’s one of those accessories that you will one day be glad you have. There’s a lot of talk about how you can replace a computer with a mobile device, and for all its flaws, this device removes the “you can’t access optical media” argument from that equation.