Over the last few years, we’ve reviewed a couple of network-attached storage (NAS) devices from Synology. We first got our hands on the entry-level DS215j, one of the predecessors of the modern-day DS218j, and then we tested the enterprise-focused DS716+II, which has since been succeeded by the DS718+. Synology is one of the leading manufacturers of NAS devices, providing versatile boxes that will find favour with enthusiasts as well as small- to medium-sized businesses.
We’ve used one of our previous reviews to describe at length what a NAS is and who might need one, so if you aren’t sure whether you need one, we suggest you read up before proceeding further. The model that we will be reviewing today is the Synology DiskStation DS218+, which sits in between the two models that we’ve reviewed earlier.
The DS218+ is a two-bay NAS that’s powered by an Intel Celeron J3355 dual-core processor capable of speeds up to 2.5 GHz. It has 2GB of DDR3L RAM that, Synology says, can be expanded by 4GB by utilising the second available memory slot. Like other Synology units, you can put 3.5-inch or 2.5-inch SATA drives (hard disk or SSD) into each bay. The DS218+ supports drives of up to 14TB each, giving you a maximum internal raw capacity of 28TB.
You get three USB 3.0 ports, 1 Gigabit Ethernet port, 1 eSATA port, and a copy button that can be used to quickly copy data from an external drive, as we’ve described earlier.
The Synology DS218+ looks like the DS716+II/ DS718+ at a glance, but this one has a front cover that has a tendency to come loose rather easily.t least this isn’t something you’d be mucking about with on a daily basis. Like its siblings, the DS218+ is pretty unobtrusive, measuring 165mm x 108mm x 232.2 mm and weighing 1.3kg without drives.
The fan does a decent job of keeping the enclosure cool without getting loud, though with an operating temperature range of 5°C to 40°C you will want to use it in relatively cool environments, by Indian standards. Synology says the unit is capable of reaching speeds of up to 113Mbps for encrypted reads and 112MBps while performing encrypted writes, but that depends on a variety of factors including the drives you use.
The DS218+ comes with a few enterprise-grade features such as AES-NI hardware encryption, a virtual machine manager, and a MailPlus Server license allowing you to run a hosted email solution. It supports more concurrent users in Synology’s Office, Drive, and Chat collaboration apps as compared to other consumer NAS units in the company’s lineup, though something like the DS718+ is obviously still a step-up. Synology has a strong portfolio of apps — called packages — that you can install via the Package Centre, a sort of App Store for your Synology NAS.
You can search for packages, browse through the store to see what catches your eye, and update them, similar to the Mac App Store or the app stores on your mobile device. At the time of filing this review, around 60 packages were are available from Synology itself and roughly another 70 from third parties. You can also sideload packages from third-party sources. In our previous reviews, we’ve covered some of the consumer- and enterprise-focused Synology packages as well as apps for mobile devices.
As we’ve noted earlier, we are big fans of Download Station and Video Station — and their corresponding mobile apps DS Get and DS Video — which you can use to download and manage videos from the Internet, if you are someone who still likes maintaining a local library and haven’t switched fully to streaming services. Just like the Synology DiskStation DS716+II that we reviewed a couple of years back, the DS218+ supports 4K 30fps hardware transcoding, which means you can stream those H.265 files in their full glory even if your client doesn’t support the format. Do note that the exact resolutions you can stream at will also depend on the capabilities of your client. Synology has a handy table on its website if you want to get into the finer details of the formats/ resolutions and you can also read more about transcoding in our Synology DS 716+II review.
Moments is a relatively new photo management app, which Synology believes will find favour with the average user, as opposed to the Photo Station app, which has features that are geared more towards the professional. We found this differentiation a little strange, especially since the two apps maintain their own databases and there’s no way to share photos between them. So, for example, if you have been using the Photo Station app for some time, and now want to make use of some of the new features that Moments offers — such as face recognition — you can’t do that without importing all your photos from scratch.
Getting photos into the Moments app isn’t exactly seamless either. Strangely, there’s no way to point the Moments app to a location on your Synology device that already has some photos and let it import them in the background. You need to use the Web uploader from the browser on your desktop, or drag the photos into the browser window. Alternatively, you can use the Moments app for Android or iOS to send photos from your smartphone into the Moments database, which is pretty similar to uploading your pictures to a cloud service like Google Photos. Photos are uploaded in full resolution, and all EXIF data is preserved.
Once you have your photos imported, , things work a lot better. Moments groups your photos by Faces, Subjects, and Places, and we found the face recognition to be up there with the best apps that we’ve used. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a way of retraining the app in case of the (rare) false positive. The Places feature also works as advertised, offering a view of your photos grouped by location.
However, the Subjects feature is a bit underwhelming, as Moments seems to have only a small preset list of ‘subjects’ including Cat, Dog, and Ocean, and there’s no way to search for objects beyond that. This is similar to how Apple has implemented object recognition on Photos for iOS and macOS, as opposed to Google’s more flexible approach that lets you search for even arbitrary things such as ‘yellow mug’. It also doesn’t deal well with some of the localised stuff. For example, we imported a bunch of wedding photos into Moments, but only one of them was found under the subject ‘Wedding’. Moments, of course, lets you search by location and the people it identifies, and you can share any of the photos with anyone on the Internet with a couple of clicks.
The basic idea behind Synology’s Moments app is to offer the basic functionality of Google Photos on a private cloud where you host and control all your own data, but the app is clearly a work in progress and lacks the polish of some of the more mature Synology offerings, such as DS Video.
The features we described above are available via Moments’ Web-based interface on your desktop, and also the Moments app for iOS and Android. Do note that your experience using the mobile app will depend largely on the Internet speed of the home/ office where the Synology NAS is plugged in, since the app needs to constantly talk to your NAS unit.
Synology’s EZ-Internet package makes it easy to make the contents of your Synology unit to be available via the Internet — which it will obviously be necessary need to be for features like remote upload to work — by opening the required ports on your router. We tried the app with four different routers during the duration of our review period, testing and EZ-Internet worked flawlessly with all of them.
Another app that aims to replicate a Google offering is Synology’s Drive, which is functionally equivalent to cloud storage solutions like Dropbox and Google’s app by the same name. While the app doesn’t offer any additional functionality that would make you want to use it over the more established public options, if you work in an organisation where it is important for data to be under your control end to end, or if you are an individual user who values the privacy that comes with hosting your own data, Drive is worth considering. Of course, you are then responsible for all your own backups and the physical security of your NAS, in case of natural disasters, theft, power surges, and disk failure, though Synology has a package that makes backing up the contents of your NAS to a cloud pretty seamless.
Our experience using Drive was pretty smooth, both while using computers on the same home network as the Synology, as well as from remote locations, with the syncing working as we expected. Synology has released native apps for macOS, Windows, and Linux as well as mobile apps for Android and iOS. While Drive does a good job of maintaining version histories of all documents you work on in any shared folder, the default conflict resolution settings didn’t work as we expected them to.
By default Drive is configured to “Keep the latest modified version” and rename discarded versions in order to preserve them, but we noticed that it just did the former (i.e. preserve the changes made by whoever saved the document last) but there was no indication that there had been a conflict. We could still go back to the version history of the document — accessible via the Web and even via Finder/ Explorer on a computer — but without any indication that there had been a conflict, we were unlikely to go digging and thus risked losing someone’s changes. Changing the conflict resolution setting to “Keep the version on the server” via the settings of the Drive software on each client made the feature work as expected, and we saw another copy of the same document pop up in the folder, similar to how Dropbox and other storage providers handle such scenarios.
You also get features like selective sync i.e. you can pick exactly which files and folders you want to sync on each machine, one-click sharing of files/ folders with others via the Web, and even integration with Synology’s Office, a Web-based collaboration suite that lets you create and edit documents, spreadsheets, and slides. It’s available via the Web-based Drive client and is great if you collaborate only within your organisation and have everyone using Drive and Office as their primary platform. However, if you use Microsoft’s Office apps, you will need to constantly convert your files to/ from the formats that Drive uses. Throw in the fact that Drive’s mobile apps don’t support editing documents — and there are no Synology Office mobile apps — it might be a bit immature for most organisations at this stage.
The Synology DS218+ is priced in India at Rs. 32,799, though it seems to be retailing via the company’s authorised online partner Amazon India at a slight premium at the moment. This is a decent NAS option for medium-sized businesses that are looking for enterprise-grade features and don’t want to spend on something like the DS718+ (Rs. 42,399). While the 4K transcoding feature of the DS218+ will appeal to consumers, the rest of its features might be an overkill for most, and they might want to consider one of the more affordable options such as the DS218 Play (Rs. 23,699), though its transcoding capabilities are limited as compared to the DS718+. Of course, as we've explained before, pretty much every Synology NAS will let you stream videos to clients that don’t require any transcoding.
The ecosystem of Synology’s packages is available to all of its offerings, and that’s where the company’s biggest strength lies. While Moments and Drive may lack the maturity of some of Synology’s other applications, the company has a great track record of improving capabilities via software updates, and we are hopeful about their future.