Gnarbox 2.0 Review: Protecting Your Images from the Elements

We took the Gnarbox 2.0 out into the woods to test its durability and to go full send on formatting SD cards far from computers or cell service. Gnarbox review

Gnarbox 2.0
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Gnarbox 2.0 Review: Protecting Your Images from the Elements

The evolution of the external hard drive we didn't know we needed.

The Gnarbox 2.0 is the portable, ruggedized hard drive we didn’t know we needed. After spending some time with the device backing up photos, formatting SD cards in the wild, shooting some more, and doing some rather “unscientific” durability testing, we came away very impressed. At first glance, we’ll admit the device is a bit confusing; what’s different about the Gnarbox relative to a normal external hard drive, why is it so tough, and what does that screen do? We spent some time getting the answers and determining if it’s worth the money.

First Impressions

The Gnarbox 2.0 is a highly innovative device from a brand that launched on Kickstarter. At unboxing, the uninitiated would never realize the company hadn’t been around for years--the packaging is high-quality and professional, the box contains a nice charging brick (Apple could take some pointers here), and a USB-C to USB-C cable. Once you slide the Gnarbox out of the packaging, its size is striking. It’s compact in length and width, but just thick enough to have some substantial space for memory and ruggedizing. The device is essentially the size of three iPhone 11s stacked on top of each other, which is quite reasonable for something that’s far more durable than an iPhone and packs a terabyte of solid state memory. It weighs about a pound on the dot, which is substantial enough to be reassuring but not bulky enough to deter us from carrying it anywhere we’d take our cameras.

The Gnarbox 2.0 features a removable battery on the back, which initially struck us as a bit strange for a hard drive, until we learned more about the brand’s thinking there. Unlike, say, an iPhone, the Gnarbox is designed to have a long shelf life and be used hard in a variety of conditions. Time and elements degrade batteries but not solid state drive (SSD) memory, so it only made sense to make the weakest technological link easily replaceable. Ditto for everything from accidental dunks in water or mud to extreme cold.

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Features and Specs

  • Gasket-sealed aluminum-rubber enclosure protects from dust and dirt
  • USB-C Transfer: Up to 350MB/s
  • Intel® Quad Core, 2.40GHZ CPU
  • NVMe SSD
  • 4 Core Intel® HD Graphics GPU
  • 867mbps 802.11 ac WiFi
  • 4GB RAM
  • 3000mAh 7.4v removable lithium ion battery
  • SD Transfer: Up to 75MB/s
  • USB-C (x2), SD, and Micro HDMI ports
  • 3-6 hours of continuous use
  • Water Resistant
  • Works with mobile apps on iOS & Android
  • Compatible with macOS & Windows computers
  • Image Support: RAW, TIFF, JPG, PNG
  • Video Codec Support: H.264, H.265, ProRes,
  • UDF File System Support
  • Includes GNARBOX 2.0 Battery, microSD Reader, USB-C to C Cable, Power Adapter (35W), International Power Adapters, and Carrying Lanyard
  • 6” x 3” x 1.16”
  • .8lb (375g)
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Using the Gnarbox 2.0

The Gnarbox is a whimsical combination of a passive, SSD memory device and a more active piece of tech that communicates with your gear in ways no other hard drives do. In addition to its ruggedness, one of the most innovative features of the Gnarbox 2.0 is its screen and overall smarts. After a brief boot-up period, the device displays its name, battery status, and options for memory storage and transfer. Plug in an SD card, and the name of the card is displayed on the screen. This feature alone inspired us to get a little more organized with our memory cards and workflow. Naming SD cards based on size, speed, or where they fit into your camera ecosystem is a great way to stay organized and even remember what’s (likely to be on) a given card.

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How it Works

What really sets the Gnarbox apart from the more traditional external hard drive offerings is the way it’s meant to fit into your workflow. Instead of a tethered memory brick that mostly lives on your desk or a coffee shop table, the Gnarbox is made to go out into the field with you. Think everything from mountaintop engagement shoots to weeklong backpacking trips across Iceland--anywhere you might bring a camera and a power brick but don’t want or need a laptop. Whether you’re worried about the elements, weight, space, or just don’t want to be the photographer who’s plugging into a computer while on location, the Gnarbox is a great way to securely backup your photos in the field. Whether you like to constantly dump and clear your SD cards or prefer rugged redundancy as you capture images on the far corners of the earth (after all, cameras are a lot more fragile than the Gnarbox and there’s no guarantee the Northern Lights will cooperate two nights in a row), the ability to plug in SD cards, transfer all their contents to an elements-proof SSD, and keep shooting is priceless. The data transfer happens incredibly quickly, which means you can sneak in a good memory dump as quickly as you’d fumble around swapping camera batteries.

The Gnarbox 2.0 is a powerful tool for any creator who fills up memory cards and puts in long hours (or days) on location. Whether you’re filming in an urban setting and burning through memory without access to a computer or you’re looking to get your workflow dialed before a once-in-a-lifetime photo adventure, hard drives that travel and have smart functionality are the future. Best of all? When you get home, you can plug the Gnarbox into your computer like a normal hard drive and transfer all your images and video in one upload instead of rotating through SD cards one at a time. A few notes about that below.

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Notes on Use

We noted a couple of things during our time testing the Gnarbox 2.0 that are worth sharing with interested buyers. The Gnarbox itself feels like a piece of expensive filmmaking or photography gear that’s right at home in a Pelican case or slid into a backpack. Ultimately, the most important part of a shoot isn’t what you shoot with, it’s the files you create. The Gnarbox 2.0 is the ultimate way to preserve your important files and its form factor is right at home among all of our favorite gear.

The device itself is a highly-secure SSD backup that doesn’t appear as an external drive when first plugged into the computer. This can cause initial panic until you learn that it’s setup this way to preserve battery and protect your data. You have to go into settings and select “dual role USB” before connecting the Gnarbox directly to computer as standalone hard drive. Switching to mass storage mode so it acts as a 2-way drive instead of a backup solution is an easy step but one that the stoked user may overlook and find themselves in a spiral of despair until they open the manual. We’re here to save you from this brief heartbreak and point out that it acts similar to a smartphone when plugged in; you can only browse it as a passive drive if it’s in the right mode.

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Should You Add the Gnarbox 2.0 to Your Workflow?

After testing the Gnarbox, all of us realized we could really use something like this. It’s the evolution of external hard drives, and we expect to see other brands copy Gnarbox’s innovative approach in the coming years. Any creator who takes storage and backup seriously can imagine use cases for a standalone, smart SSD hard drive. And much like our other favorite pieces of software-powered hardware, it’s constantly getting better.

The current Gnarbox app, Safekeep, allows you to browse the contents of the Gnarbox on your phone while in the field. It even allows you to make selects as you scroll through, which is great for those of us who are impatient to review our best shots while still on the road. And for those of us who are paranoid about committing to formatting SD cards, triple-checking that the images really are backed up is priceless peace of mind. The app connects via a device-powered WiFi signal so browsing is snappy even far off the grid. There's also an app called Showcase that allows you to beam images or footage to larger devices like TVs or projectors. For creators in the field and anyone who shoots multiple devices and needs to quickly consolidate and review images or footage, these apps are surprisingly useful. Once you start playing with them and thinking about their potential, you can't help but wonder why someone didn't think of this before. 

But Gnarbox isn’t stopping there. The brand has plans to provide offline backup for iPhones, essentially acting as a memory dump for times when you’re too off-grid for the Cloud but need to free up precious memory. As mobile creators, we loved hearing this. Matt Hoffman, Marketing Director for Gnarbox, shared, “We’re excited for our iPhone plug in integration called iFuse to release. This allows you to plug in your iPhone to the box and backup photos/videos to the internal storage, but that feature is still being built and we’re not sure when it’s going to be finalized.”

This type of commitment to innovation and multi-disciplinary backup sets the Gnarbox apart from other hard drives that are essentially bricks unless plugged into a computer. If you’re a creator who highly values the images and footage you capture, this ruggedized and intelligent backup system is like a 21st Century treasure chest for your treasured content. Whether you immediately add it to your workflow or shop it next time you’re looking for a hard drive, the Gnarbox 2.0 is worth a look.

Shop Gnarbox.

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