Imagine you just recorded a scene of unwarranted police brutality at a protest and then your phone was confiscated or you dropped it and it got trampled by the crowd. What a pity, all your media may be lost. There are many  known instances of police seizing people’s phones or forcefully deleting footage.

Last month, while at the People’s Climate March in New York City, a WITNESS team tested a multiple-phone (Android only) backup workflow that helps minimize the chance of losing your mobile media. We wanted to accomplish the following: (1) have a continuous backup of our video files as soon as they were created, and (2) have a practical workflow that is not too intensive on battery consumption.

Considering the choice between cloud backup to Google Drive, Dropbox, etc., as described in this post, and backing up to a local Wi-Fi drive, we chose the latter for the following reasons:

  • Cloud backup while on the street uses mobile data connection (4G at least) which will drain the phone’s battery faster than a Wi-Fi connection.
  • Video files are large and backing up to the cloud will require continuous strong 4G connection, which is not guaranteed, especially at mass events where service outages are common.
  • Backing up to a local Wi-Fi drive allowed us to use tablets and phones without SIM cards and mobile data plans.

The equipment

In addition to various models of Android phones, we grabbed a Seagate Wireless Plus drive. The Wireless Plus is a portable, battery-powered hard drive with built-in Wi-Fi networking capability. The device allows up to eight tablets or phones to access and store content at the same time, with a range of up to 150 feet. We hid the drive in one of our backpacks(it may be a good idea for the person carrying the backpack to not have a camera so that police are not interested in checking the backpack.) We connected three of our phones to the drive with a password protected Wi-Fi connection. At this point we could manually copy files to the drive by using the Seagate Media app or, even better, with a file manager app such as ES File Explorer.

SyncMe App 2
SyncMe settings: the phone’s camera folder will be synchronized to a folder called Nexus 5 on the WiFi drive, syncing scheduled to run every 3 mins.
SyncMe App 1
Synchronization of a video file in progress. This process runs in the background while you continue filming.

But our goal was to have each new photo or video copied to the drive automatically. So we decided to test SyncMe, an app that allows users to schedule automatic syncing of directories. Guessing documenters will shoot two-to-five-minute long videos, I scheduled SyncMe to run every three minutes.

The results

When we were done filming I had the camera folders of three different phones backed-up to the drive in my backpack.

The drive’s battery lasted for about four hours of continuous operation. Using Wi-Fi continuously does drain the phones’ batteries faster but it did not make it impractical.

Video files from Nexus 5 phone copied over to remote WiFi drive by SyncMe app
Video files from Nexus 5 phone copied over to remote WiFi drive by SyncMe app

It is always a good idea to bring a portable power bank charger (or two) such as this Anker model that can be used to power and/or recharge both the phones and the drive.

There are numerous alternatives to the Seagate Wireless Plus and the SyncMe app. We would love to hear from you if you have used any similar devices and workflows to backup mobile video on the fly.

Check out these relevant WITNESS resources:

Featured image from Flickr user Toban Black “Police Downtown” in London, Ontario, Canada 2009 

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