A lot of people may have heard of Synology, the manufacturer of a top line of home network attached storage devices (NAS). Such a device is basically a small computer that houses one or more hard drives and is connected to your network. Although this may sound simple enough, the software that manages the content of the disk is astonishing. All your data is stored, organized and easily accessible from your TV, computer, tablet, smartphone, digital photo frame, you name it. However, the following article will only address the Android apps that are used to access different services on your NAS and some tips here and there. It goes without saying, but just like the description on Google Play states, you must own or have access to a Synology NAS in order to use any of these apps.
First off, the main advantage of having a NAS is that it should be accessible from your phone, wherever you are. This implies that it should always be powered on and connected to the internet. Most home and small office networks have a main router that provides internet access to all the connected devices. Although you have a public IP, you won’t be able to access your NAS from outside your network because all your requests will be handled by the router. The solution is to make sure you forward your necessary ports on your router to the local IP of the NAS system. For example, here is how the admin interface from a Linksys router looks like:
Notice that all the ports (from 0 to 65535) are forwarded to the IP 192.168.1.12. You might want to select only a couple of ports if you don’t want to be able to access certain services from the web, such as SSH. But for now forwarding all ports will make sure that the NAS is completely exposed to the internet.
An important aspect to consider here is that the NAS should have a static IP set. If it is set to obtain its IP dynamically, the router may assign a different one at some point in the future and that’s when your port forwarding will cease to work.
Now that we can access the NAS from the internet using our public IP there are still two problems to tackle. The first one, although not that important, is that you need to memorize the IP which is not very comfortable. The second arises because some ISPs issue dynamic IPs. Which means that although you wrote down your IP it will be changed when your modem at home reconnects (e.g. after the power goes out). Luckily, Synology already has a system to help you with these two. This will enable you to access your NAS by typing something like yournasserver.synology.me (there are 13 entities that provide these services, each with a bunch of different hostnames to choose a subdomain from). Setting this up will require you to access your NAS web interface and go to Control Panel > Network Services > DDNS. From here it is pretty straight forward.
Now that we have the NAS and network configured and accessible from any place with an internet connection let’s analyze the Android apps Synology offers.
Let’s start off with the basic Synology NAS app: DS Finder. As the name suggests, this app will enable you to pinpoint your device on the network, display all important information such as name, model, IP, MAC address, storage status, uptime, etc. This data can be easily sent via email or used in other sharing apps. Also, once you login you can add the device as a favorite which will spare you the need to fill in the credentials next time. Here are the most important actions you can perform with this app:
- shutdown the NAS
- restart the NAS
- turn on the NAS (Wake On LAN) – if your model supports this function
- tell the NAS to make a beeping sound so you can identify it easier. This may not be of any use unless you have more than one device in your network and don’t know which is which.
Having said this, there is not really much more to this app. Once you have your NAS configured and working you won’t need to know (or care for that matter) about all the information provided. And it only works for the devices within the local Wi-Fi, not located remotely.
Next on our list is DS Cloud. If you are used to cloud sharing services such as Dropbox, SugarSync, Sky Drive or Google Drive then you should be already familiar with what this app provides. In a nutshell, it’s a way to map a folder on your NAS with a local folder on your Android device. The app runs in the background and synchronizes all changes directly to your phone. But don’t worry about bandwidth: you can easily set the app to only work when connected to Wi-Fi or set a size limit per file.
Before downloading the app, you need the Cloud Station package installed on your NAS. After this there is still one more step to set everything up, which is to enable the user’s home service. This will create a home folder where you will have your CloudStation folder. Everything in here will be synchronized.
The client side applications include apps for both Android and iOS on the mobile front and on the PC front both Mac and Windows are covered with their own clients. To get those head over to http://www.synology.com/support/download.php?lang=enu. Sadly, no Linux version is available at this moment. The good news is that the actual folder on your NAS is also kept in sync. So you can use that by connecting via FTP. Sure, this is nowhere near as comfortable as having it done automatically, but it is still a way to access your files.
A great advantage is that the Android app works exactly the same as that on your PC. It will sync to your device’s folder (provided that it is set to do that) even if you don’t open the app. Moreover, if you use a file manager like ASTRO to modify the contents of your synced folder then DS cloud will immediately pick up the changes and send them out. One little problem is that the app’s logo remains in the notification bar at all times. Some may find that annoying.
Now, before deleting your Dropbox account you might want to experiment with DS cloud a little. Sure, your space is now only limited by the hard disks(s) on your NAS but there are also some downsides too:
- In order for this to work, your NAS must be online. If not then you can still use the app but no syncing will be done.
- Imagine you are placing a 500 MB file on your laptop in the shared folder. In order to have your file on your mobile phone, first the file must be copied from your laptop to your NAS and then from your NAS to your mobile device. That means that if you are not at home you are directly dependent on the download/upload speed that your ISP provides. You simply cannot compare this to the network infrastructure that a dedicated cloud service has to offer.
- This may not be an issue for everybody, but I use an iPad together with my Android phone. On the iPad version of DS cloud I have to manually add each and every subdirectory that I need to access. There is no tree-like browsing. So make sure you have adequate functionality across all your devices.
To start using DS file you also need to have a service running on your NAS: it’s called WebDAV and you can find it in Control Panel > File Sharing and Privileges > WebDAV. We recommend you only enable HTTPS at this point and select the same on your Android app. And now you have complete control of the entire file system on the NAS using this tiny app. You can even copy files from/to your phone.
Then interface is straight forward. There are only 3 tabs: one with the remote file system, one with the files from your device and one that will display the status of certain tasks such as uploading or downloading. There isn’t really anything more we can add here: it’s simple and does the job very well.
Honestly we kind of prefer this app against DS cloud because it gives access to the complete set of files and not just a custom folder.
Ds photo+ is the app designed to facilitate managing the Photo Station on your NAS. Photo Station is an add-on package that allows you to setup a web interface to display all your photo albums and share them with your friends (more details and screenshots on the Synology website).
The app can be set to automatically upload every picture you take with your phone to a designated album on your Photo Station. This can also be set to be private so don’t worry about privacy. The whole process runs smoothly: right after taking a picture it is uploaded and immediately available on your drive at home. There is only a small notification about uploading that you might be able to see if you exit the Camera app fast, but other than that the user can easily forget the app is running in the background. It can also be set to only upload over Wi-Fi in care the carrier data plan is limited.
Another interesting feature is the ability to view a map where all your photos from an album were taken. This is also available in the full web version of Photo Station, but it is a nice thing to have on your mobile device as well.
Unfortunately it does take some time to generate the thumbnails for your photos and it takes even longer if your Synology NAS is doing something else at the same time.
For the audiophiles there is even a music player called DS Audio. This app basically is a normal music player, the difference being that it streams directly from your NAS. So if you want access to 4 TB of music on your phone, this is the perfect solution. Note that it does consume a large amount of bandwidth so you might want to hang around a Wi-Fi area or get a bigger data plan for it.
Apart from the normal browsing by Folder, Playlist, Recently Added, Album, Artist and Genre of your music files, there is also a Radio tab with a lot of stations for you to choose from. Unfortunately we did not find any way to add new stations from the app.
If there is a music player there should also be a video player. This app is very similar with DS audio. Apart from the browsing and player, DS video can also tell the NAS to stream video content to a TV in its local network. Yes, that means you can play anything for your folks at home while you go out.
One important function of the Synology NAS is the ability to act as a network camera recorder. You can add IP cameras from the network to your Surveillance station (an add-on package on your NAS) and set them up to record continuously or at a predetermined schedule. With DS cam you can login and take a peek at what’s going on at home or play an older recording. Note that while testing we were unable to play any files when in HTTPS mode.
While in the Live View mode you can also take a snapshot of the video. This image will be saved locally, on your phone.
The app also seems to allow the NAS to send push notifications directly to your mobile device. So if a camera detects some movements you could be notified immediately. This worked without any problems on an iPad (the same DS cam app) but on Android the NAS’ Surveillance station did not recognize the device.
Downloading stuff on your home network is one of the best features you get from owning a NAS system. DS download is the app that allows you to manage your download tasks wherever you are and have them ready for the time you get home.
The app is pretty simple. You have quick access to your download tasks, you can remove, resume, delete etc. There is also an integrated browser available so you can use that to navigate and select what file or torrent you wish to download. If you want extra options, you can tap on menu > settings and there you can set download speed limits per protocol (FTP, Bit Torrent, NZB).
One little inconvenient bug was the fields from the add add screen. You cannot use those to paste information from another app.
At the end
If you are a Synology user here are a few links that might help you out:
- A site where you can buy extra IP camera licenses that will be transferred by email is http://www.synology-camera-software.com/ipcam_uk/. Most other retailers sell these on packaged cards which require additional shipment costs and time. Plus you can also pay with PayPal at ipcam.nu. And don’t buy cheap cameras.
- Find out what devices were tested by Synology to be compatible with your NAS at http://www.synology.com/support/compatibility.php?lang=us