NTI’s MiST Underwhelms

I’m a huge Dropbox junkie. I’ve got 19 GB of free space that I’ve managed to secure over the years (being a student and inviting friends used to help, especially before Dropbox really exploded over the past few years). But cloud storage is tricky, and I’m the paranoid type who believes you should never rely on only one storage solution — even if it is “in the cloud.”

I was intrigued when I heard about another cloud-solution that claimed to offer a few advantages to the Dropbox setup. It’s called NTI MiST. NTI has been in the software game for a long time, and have seen tremendous success in the industry. Read on to find out whether MiST continues to improve on their sterling reputation, or if it can replace or work alongside Dropbox.

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What MiST Is

To put it as simply as possible, MiST is a cloud storage solution for just about any file type with a web app that works in any modern browser and native Android, Windows, and iPhone apps. You’re probably thinking it’s a lot like Dropbox, and in most ways, you’d be right. Both services allow you to store your documents for access from any decide, at any time.

That being said, it’s also a little different from Dropbox. Dropbox appears a as a folder on your computer, while MiST makes no bones about being an app. I’ll be completely honest: Dropbox is easier to use (more on that later). Beyond that, NTI MiST isn’t really a “cloud app” the same way that Dropbox is a cloud app.

The interface is, at first glance, not really attractive. It also doesn't live on your computer in the same sense that Dropbox does. Dropbox poses as a folder, which is its strongest asset. MiST is of a different era.

The interface is, at first glance, not really attractive. It also doesn’t live on your computer in the same sense that Dropbox does. Dropbox poses as a folder, which is its strongest asset. MiST is of a different era.

NTI makes this a little confusing. They call Dropbox a public storage app, but Dropbox isn’t really public. After all, your files are safe and tucked away behind a username and password, just like they are in MiST. But what makes MiST a little different is that it doesn’t necessarily work as a “cloud storage system.” It uses P2P and proxy servers to achieve the same results, but also add a couple additional layers of privacy in the process.

NTI puts a ton of emphasis on this with what I don’t think is necessarily honest or appropriate marketing (again, calling Dropbox “public” storage is approaching slanderously false territory). Technically speaking, NTI’s system should be much more secure. They also note that one of their advantages is their smaller size; they think hackers are much more likely to go after the big data Dropbox has than they would be to try and attack NTI’s servers.

Technically, this works. But it's a bit of a pain.

Technically, this works. But it’s a bit of a pain.

All of this is secondary to the software. The only thing that truly matters is this: does MiST work? Yes. Well, sort of. Sometimes, in some cases. The truthful answer is that it’s complicated.

Living With the Cloud

NTI’s MiST software, as I mentioned earlier, is nowhere near as easy to set up as Dropbox. There’s no native Mac app currently available, and their website only vaguely lists it as Coming Soon. The web app doesn’t appear to offer as much functionality as the desktop client, eschewing local storage options for a cloud-only system.

But the thing is, the native apps are essential to this experience. They offer the ability to create a locally-stored backup of your data, and choose to back it up online later. So without that, using only a cloud-connected backup option feels like half the experience. As a Mac user, I’m left out in the cold.

The mobile app is fine, but NTI thinks this is it's big selling feature.

The mobile app is fine, but NTI thinks this is it’s big selling feature.

The iPhone and Android apps are also a little half-baked. Their main feature, apart from accessing the occasional file, is automatically uploading any photos you take straight to your computer (which Dropbox has done for a long time as well). MiST’s interface is also lacking on mobile, perhaps even more so than it does on the desktop and in the web. As a graphic designer, it pains me to say this, but MiST is ugly.

While it’s nice to be able to access your files anywhere, it would be nicer if doing that without being bombarded with ads didn’t cost extra on top of your annual subscription. As NTI MiST is right now, it’s $10/year for every computer you have it installed on. An ad-free mobile app is a one-time purchase of $1.99. That’s a small thing, but it feels like gouging.

I'm definitely not a fan of all the ads.

I’m definitely not a fan of all the ads.

Finally, there’s the issue of storage space. Even at $10/year, getting only 500MB of free storage feels like a ripoff. The good people at NTI need to be able to make a living, but compared to their competition, I can’t see any good cost justification for the app.

Comparing to the Competition

NTI MiST likes to talk a lot about how advanced their software is, but also how simple it is. And although many people talk about options like SugarSync, the real competition is Dropbox. So a comparison to Dropbox is certainly apt. In fairness, NTI MiST is still new. I don’t expect it to be perfect, but I do believe that user experience should be of the utmost priority. Dropbox has nailed user experience.

It doesn't come with a lot of space.

It doesn’t come with a lot of space.

Dropbox provides 2GB of space for free to anybody, allows access to any file from anywhere with any one of their free (and ad-free) mobile apps, and lives as a folder on your computer. It’s easy to use their website or the mobile app to share files and folders with just links. Not only that, but Dropbox made strategic deals with many partners to become an imperative part of many apps in its early days. Now, its an imperative part of many apps because everybody uses it. The only person in my family without a Dropbox account is my father. and that’s because he’s using my mother’s. As a service, it’s entered every part of our lives.

NTI MiST is more expensive for what it offers, which is an experience that doesn’t feel like it truly lives on your PC. Dropbox’s best trick is that it appears like a folder. All other functions are secondary. NTI MiST looks like an app, and even though NTI likes to believe its achieving power with simplicity, it’s simply not. There’s no simplicity here. Compared to the competition, it’s a bit of a joke.

Sadly, you can only upload one file at a time to the web app and there's no current release date for the upcoming Mac app.

Sadly, you can only upload one file at a time to the web app and there’s no current release date for the upcoming Mac app.

But for corporations and companies, NTI MiST might prove useful. After all, it’s offering cloud services for a sort-of fairly-priced deal, and it’s less likely to get hacked than its competition thanks to its P2P and proxy networking. That being said, you still couldn’t trust it as your sole method of keeping everybody’s files connected. Like Dropbox — or any other hard drive — eventually, NTI MiST will fail. On a long enough timeline, everything comes to an end.

Final Thoughts

So who can I recommend NTI MiST for? That’s hard to say. I don’t think it’s for me. It’s not my preferred style of simplicity. I don’t like the experience and find little to like about the design. As a user, I’m left wanting. I don’t think the public desire for paid private web storage is as large as NTI thinks it is. Personally, I have yet to hear anybody complain about Dropbox holding their data (although I will admit to having concerns about NSA snooping and potential advertising later).

NTI got its start building simple, but powerful solutions for complex problems. A lot of what they tackled involved computer backup, but it was a different age. The past twenty years of computing have brought a lot of changes, not the least of which is the ubiquity of the Internet. While MiST is a solid effort and I applaud NTI’s focus on user safety, I think it’s misdirected and the company could have been better served building a product that offers a better user experience. Compared to the competition, it feels like NTI’s MiST is struggling to keep up.

EDIT: I’ve been asked to clarify that MiST is not really a cloud sync service. Unlike them, it has the ability to create a private VPN with mobile devices and computers that is only then synced via the cloud. It does not change my review or my grade, as I still feel that as a backup service, it’s too difficult for anybody to want to use on a daily basis in the way they would use the cloud-based competition.


Summary

NTI MiST's experience is second-rate compared to the best cloud experiences today. It's hard to think customers care enough about potential privacy issues to sacrifice ease of use and migrate to MiST's solution. It does work, but it's just not as good as the alternatives for the common consumer.

  • NTI MiST  | 
  • $10/computer license per year, $2 for the ad-free mobile app  | 
  • NTI
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