I switched to running OpenMediaVault on my home server. Looking for extra features beyond the traditional Samba file sharing, I tested out Nextcloud in a test virtual machine.
While Samba is simple and easy to set up, Nextcloud offers a file sharing platform much like Dropbox with better security than Samba. I will have a more detailed overview of Nextcloud in my full review post. For today, I want to focus on what I believe is a critical feature not working correctly within its mobile app.
The setup process typically takes less than 15 minutes and requires minimal input from the user. In a short amount of time, the VM is ready for hosting a personal cloud.
My issue begins with video and photo storage.
Most files from digital cameras and phone apps generate their file names based on the time and date the photo or video was recorded. The organizational issue with this is without relatable titles and descriptions it might not be easy to remember what file is what.
Without proper file names you are left with a list of nothing more than times and dates. In most situations we have thumbnail previews which give us a visual reminder of what the file is. However, when using a network protocol like FTP or Samba, the preview is not available because the file is accessed remotely. In order to see a thumbnail of a remote image or video file, the client app would need to download every file locally to create a preview cache. The best alternative to this, would be the server hosting a preview of each file. This normally is a feature exclusive to cloud storage services such as Dropbox, Google Drive, or Microsoft OneDrive.
One of Nextcloud’s many advantages is this ability to serve thumbnail previews over the network when using either the web interface or the official mobile apps. Furthermore, like most other cloud storage systems it supports streaming audio files and video files without the need to save to local storage.
Finally, the issue is that Nextcloud’s video streaming through its official app for Android simply doesn’t work as intended.
In my case I can select any video in my storage folder and it will not playback unless I download the entire video file locally to my phone’s internal storage. Needing to download the entire video defeats the purpose of streaming. Even using the application’s option to stream through a third party video player like VLC does not work.
VLC player itself can stream video files perfectly using FTP or Samba, but it can’t offer the thumbnail previews that Nextcloud offers.
Interestingly, Solid Explorer, a file manager for Android can actually load thumbnail previews for videos over the network when using Samba, unfortunately Samba does not offer the robust security and encryption that Nextcloud is known for.
So at this point I have to choose between not being able to stream files with Nextcloud or not having end-to-end encryption with Samba and Solid Explorer. Streaming is a priority so I choose the latter. Streaming unencrypted data over a secure local network or VPN should be safe enough for my use case.
Nextcloud is a great open source solution and I hope they are able to resolve this issue in the future as it is critical to video access from tablets.
Github Issue for Nextcloud Android Video Streaming:
Nextcloud Community Post for this issue: