The Gnarbox wants to replace the laptop as the photographer’s best friend

Photographers who work while on the go require cumbersome equipment. Besides the cameras and lenses, they often haul with them a laptop, memory card reader, portable hard drives, hot spot, and wires and cables. As more photographers increasingly have to become more mobile, and the demand for immediate content becomes greater, the burden of having to carry all this equipment can take a toll. The upcoming Gnarbox, which combines all those extras into a single portable device, is aiming to become a photographer’s one-stop solution. If there’s proof that there is a demand for this type of product, perhaps it’s this: its Kickstarter campaign raised over $500,000, surpassing its “modest” $100,000 funding goal.

A mini computer that’s designed as a tool for backing up, viewing, sorting, and editing content.

For Tim Feess, Gnarbox’s CEO and co-founder, the Kickstarter success is validation that there’s a place for such a product. But it also means he and his small team, based in Santa Monica, California, have to hustle on completing the product by its March 2016 ship date. When we recently met with Feess, he showed us a prototype: a unit Frankensteined together with electrical tape, external card reader, portable hard drive, and Bluetooth adapter, which resembles nothing like the elegant solution in the mock-ups. But what’s important is that, barring some teething issues, the unit works as advertised.

For those unfamiliar with the Gnarbox, it’s a mini computer that’s designed as a tool for backing up, viewing, sorting, and editing content. Once photos are pulled off a SD card and saved onto the built-in 128GB flash drive, a user can scroll through the images on the companion iOS or Android app, make quick edits, and then share them to social media or with a client. A USB 3.0 port lets you connect another hard drive for backup, or a memory card reader for reading non-SD cards. The rechargeable battery can last six to eight hours, and the whole unit is waterproof and weather resistant.

The Gnarbox prototype (left) and a 3D-printed mockup of the final product (right).
The Gnarbox prototype (left) and a 3D-printed mockup of the final product (right). Les Shu / Digital Trends

Because the unit has its own quad-core 2.2-GHz CPU, GPU, and 4GB of memory, all the work happens within the device, and it never taxes a connected phone or tablet’s processor. The Gnarbox serves content via a 300 Mbps Wi-Fi connection in their native resolutions and frame rates, and Gnarbox says the overall experience is speedier than other camera-to-phone connections. Besides SD cards, the Gnarbox will work with mobile devices too.

Originally, the Gnarbox was conceived as a way to allow people to get content off their GoPro cameras (hence the name, rugged design, and photos of extreme sports in its Instagram account). But after some research and feedback, Feess saw that the Gnarbox’s application applies to other camera users as well, not just action-camera users. This could be anyone from vacationers who want to share photos and videos while on their trip, to pro photographers who need to quickly edit and send content to clients.

In the meantime, Gnarbox has hired three new engineers to improve the components; focusing app development more toward photographers (70 percent of backers own a DSLR, its survey found); partnered with beta testers like pro photographer and surfer, Mike Coots, and made the public relations rounds to demo the product, which is where we met up with Feess. Gnarbox partnered with the Classic Car Club in New York City and invited several reporters on a drive – in super-fast and super-expensive exotic cars, no less – to check out the aforementioned prototype. Along the way, we captured photos and videos of the drive and surrounding scenery; on the ride back, Feess quickly edited the content pooled from various cards, and created a short video clip entirely on his iPhone (see below). It’s slightly crude, but with enough time, we are sure Feess could have put together something polished.

During a rest stop, Feess showed us the effectiveness of the product. Popping in our high-speed UHS-1-class SD card, Feess was able to pull up all our photos, which we could scroll through and select the ones we would like to edit. Connected to Feess’s phone, we could make all the edits you would expect from a photo-editing app. We noticed the process seemed slightly slower than described, and it had some trouble reading another reporter’s SD card; we think these are the aforementioned teething issues that Gnarbox is hopefully ironing out.

According to Gnarbox’s survey, 20 percent of backers classify themselves as part-time or full-time professionals. It will be interesting to see if professionals can replace their high-end MacBook Pros and Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop, and achieve the same workflow level with a phone and the Gnarbox. Perhaps the Gnarbox won’t be a replacement, but an addition: Use the computer when you need more powerful editing tools at your disposal, and use the Gnarbox when you want to quickly edit and share. Either way, the Gnarbox, like Western Digital’s My Passport Wireless and other similar external hard drives, is a great backup solution. It just goes a step further than other drives by offering computer-caliber editing power, and that’s what has us excited.

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