A Tale of Two Pups, the Wolverine ESP 5000 & MVP 9000 - Back Up Your Photos and More On the Road

One of the biggest problems with digital photography and digital audio is finding storage for all of your new-found digital data. In the beginning, there wasn’t much of a choice – you stored your photos on memory cards. If you ran out of memory cards on the road, you were stuck, unless you were willing to take your computer along with you to download your precious files. And even then, you needed a CD or DVD burner to back up the data just in case the hard drive took a dive. As with any action there is, as you know, an equal and opposite reaction. In the case of digital photography, however, cameras have grown even more powerful, lighter, and reliable, while the weight of a laptop, extra batteries, card reader, and ac adapter often outweighs the camera five-to-one!

Into this morass stepped a number of companies with dedicated storage solutions. Apple introduced the iPod Photo, and Belkin introduced an iPod accessory to back-up files, but neither of these were workable in the long run due to speed concerns and the need for photographers to actually see what their images looked like and make sure they were copied properly. Other companies introduced more robust dedicated products aimed specifically at digital photography. While these products could also play MP3 files for music, they were pretty much one-trick ponies.

Enter Woverine Data. When I began researching the Wolverine portable storage devices, after receiving a Wolverine MVP 9000 for review, I read a wonderful post on Amazon.com that referred to the MVP as a “Swiss army knife” of sorts, which mirrored my thoughts exactly after working with it on an extended basis. MVP stands here for “Music, Video, Photos,” and it seems that there is almost nothing that it can’t do. The unit is a bit larger and thicker than an iPod and has integrated media slots for the seven most popular media card formats, so that backing up a card is as simple as turning on the unit, and inserting your card. The MVP has a color 2.5-inch LCD, so viewing files is a piece of cake, but the icing on that cake is that it handles just about any RAW file format thrown at it. I’ve tried it with Olympus, Canon, Nikon, and Fuji RAW files, and all displayed properly. It is also capable of playing not only MP3 files, but other formats as well, most importantly to me, Apple’s AAC format, and WAV files.

Last month, Wolverine introduced the Wolverine ESP 5000 (ESP here stands for Entertainment Storage Player). This unit carries over the media slots from the MVP, has a similar but slightly improved GUI, and a different form factor. The ESP was designed to be used in the horizontal position, and sports a nice rubber grip for the left hand, and a control stick for the right thumb. The 3.6-inch screen is nearly double the area of the one on the MVP. The unit is a tad thinner than the MVP, and about half an inch longer, and just in case you were wondering, yes, they’ve thrown in even more tools! In addition to voice recording carried over from the MVP 9000, an FM radio is now included, which you can either listen to, or record to the HD from, as well as preset your favorite stations.

The two areas where the ESP really shines are its video and in photo capabilities. The new screen is bright and contrasty, and far more usable than the MVP for this purpose. But the video capabilities are really what set it apart from the competition, since it can not only view videos, but record them as well. Add a nifty little cradle, and you can record directly from your video camera, DVD, VCR, or any other video source you have on hand. Your own in-flight movies are possible without the use of a computer, as is playback from the ESP to a television, projector, or monitor. After almost a month of a working with it, I’m still finding capabilities that I didn’t know existed. Luckily, the documentation is significantly improved over the MVP, although for some strange reason the software and manual is included on a mini CD, which isn’t possible to use on any slot load optical drive system, including the MacBook Pro I used for the bulk of my testing. You can though download the manuals in PDF form from the Wolverine website, along with firmware updates, so the lack of a usable CD form factor might not be that big a deal, but I’d like to see them packaged with a conventional-sized CD.

While both the MVP and ESP have a built-in equalizer, my experience on both models is to keep it set to “flat,” as there was significant degradation of the sound quality with the EQ active. But wait, there’s more! The MVP can also play a wide variety of videos, with some limitations. My attempts to play videos captured with an Olympus digital camera that had video capability resulted in a frozen MVP, as did some files formatted to play on a Video iPod, although some of those files played fine on the ESP.

Working with video and audio files was where the Mac/PC gulf was most apparent. To play music on a Wolverine, you can either drag your actual music files to the MVP, or you can use iTunes and drag and drop from there, but the problem is that invisible pointer files (.DS_Store) travel over as well, and if you make the mistake of trying to listen or view them, the unit will freeze up. On a PC this wasn’t a problem, because this unit is really based on a Windows environment. And while it works on a Mac, its GUI is strongly Windows centric. For users whose primary purpose is to back up digital files, especially digital photos on the road, it’s a wonderful companion, small and light, very fast, and reliable. The integrated media slots mean one less piece of gear to lose or break, and the color screen is a welcome reassurance that confirms the safe transmission of files from card to storage device. My only caveat for the MVP or ESP is that the Wolverines deserve a dedicated Mac OSX application to ease with proper transfer of different media files from an Apple computer. This would make life far easier for the Mac user. Also, both units deserve far better documentation and feature descriptions, especially since the GUI isn’t all that intuitive at times, and takes a little practice to make sense. To Wolverine’s credit, the documentation for the ESP 5000 is much more detailed than that of the MVP 9000, so steps are being taken in the right direction.

I met with Wolverine’s head honcho Matt Mardini, creator of the units, and learned that there was a wealth of other features that aren’t even mentioned at all in the documentation that the user must discover on his or her own! I would like to see Wolverine create really in-depth and complete manuals and documentation, since at the present it really is like having the aforementioned Swiss army knife with hidden blades and tools. But, overall the MVP and ESP are great tools at a very attractive price, and are far more than a photo backup device.

The firmware updates are important since they add additional camera formats along with bug fixes and other improvements, and as a result both units were able to display newly released RAW camera formats. Updating the firmware is very easy; you just drag the file to the Woverine, place it in the proper folder, follow the instructions, and restart the unit. Voila! Both units are supplied with a full set of cables, power supply, and remote control, although to record video with the ESP, you need to order a cradle unit. The GUI on the ESP is improved over the MVP, but it still suffers from the occasional glitch, especially when copying files over from a Mac, since it’s only from a careful reading of the manual’s file format listings that one is able to know what will the system can display successfully. That said, a bit of time with the units would reveal what formats will read on the systems.

The issue of invisible files on the Mac transferring over and wreaking a bit of mischief on either unit is important, but there are solutions. The first would be to manually go in and delete the un-needed files using the Wolverine’s menu options, and while this works perfectly, it’s time consuming and not a perfect solution. A better solution is using a shareware application for Mac OSX, BlueHarvest, which is available (for $10.00) from: http://www.zeroonetwenty.com/blueharvest/

BlueHarvest prevents those pesky invisible files from appearing on non-HFS disks or devices, and it eliminated nearly all those problematic files from the Wolverines. It’s also a very handy utility for anyone working with non-HFS disks, including digital media cards. For the Wolverine, it made the unit far friendlier to the Mac platform, and I’d urge folks with Wolverines to consider taking it for a spin.

I doubt that most users will ever tap into all of the Wolverine’s extraordinary capabilities, especially the video, audio, FM radio, and photo possibilities of the ESP, but like a Swiss army knife, it’s great to know those extra tools are there if you need them. For a traveler, their multi-tasking abilities mean that you have at least one, possibly two or three less items to pack, and at their price point, they are competitive with other products out there that do far less, often for more money. I’m a firm believer in backing up images to different kinds of media, and either one of the two Wolverines mentioned here will quickly become a favored traveling companion to your digital lifestyle. If I had to choose between the two, my own preference is the new ESP, since the larger screen is not only better to view images on, but also it’s easier to navigate the menu options. Add to it the video capabilities, and it really shines. So, if you are looking at a way to backup your digital photos on the road, backup your data, or relax with a video, Wolverine has couple of very nice pups indeed!

Harris Fogel, Posted 11/27/2-06

For more information on the Wolverine ESP 5000 and MVP 9000, visit: www.wolverinedata.com

For more information on BlueHarvest, visit: www.zeroonetwenty.com

Photographs by Harris Fogel ©2006