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Peripherals Reviews

Eye-Fi Card

2GB of storage and WiFi in a standard SD Card!

By Conrad H. Blickenstorfer

Why hasn't anyone else ever thought of this?

The folks at Eye-Fi Inc. did something amazing. They combined 2GB of storage and a full 802.11b/g wireless radio on a single SD card. And it is just that, a standard, regular SD card, no longer or thicker than any other SD card.

The idea here is to give you a storage card that can wirelessly upload your pictures from any camera that uses SD cards for storage to any Windows or Mac OSX computer. Or upload them to a photo sharing site. Or both. All without needing one of those special wireless-enabled cameras or even a special menu on the camera. And without being forced to use a specific photo sharing site.

How does it work?

The bright-orange Eye-Fi card comes with its own small USB card reader. To get started, you simply plug the reader with the Eye-Fi card into a PC or Mac, and an Eye-Fi application will automatically load. On the Mac, it will be a dmg file that creates the Eye-Fi Manager application that you then drag into the applications folder. After you start it, it will launch the browser (as of now, it doesn't like Safari and wants Firefox 2.x instead). On a PC it creates the Eye-Fi application that uses Internet Explorer as its browser.

In each case you're asked to set up an account with your email, name and a chosen password. The Eye-Fi Manager then checks your firewall and looks for available wireless networks. You can then choose which of them to add to the Eye-Fi card (if you go elsewhere, you can easily add more networks). You are then prompted to select from a number of available web photo sites. Currently supported are:

  • Snapfish
  • Gallery 2
  • Webshots
  • Kodak Gallery
  • Flickr
  • Walmart
  • dotPhoto
  • Phanfare
  • Picasa Web Albums
  • Facebook
  • Vox
  • Photobucket
  • Fotki
  • Sharpcast
  • Shutterfly
  • TypePad
  • SmugMug
You can also add a service later. If you pick a service, the Eye-Fi Manager will display instructions on how to access that particular service. You can then either connect to the service, skip that step, or select a different service. I picked PhotoBucket, Eye-Fi Manager connected to it, I entered my login and password and saved the relevant information. The next step was to select a folder on the computer the Eye-Fi is connected to. That will be the one where pictures on the card will be uploaded to. That completes the installation process. Eye-Fi Manager then prompts you to remove the card from the reader and place it into your digital camera.

Below you can see the Eye-Fi configuration screen:

So I placed the Eye-Fi card into one of my digital cameras and took a few sample pictures. Amazingly, almost as soon as I'd taken them, they were automatically uploaded into my PC. Eye-Fi Manager alerted that I should make sure my Casio (it figured that out by itself what camera I was using) should be set so it wouldn't turn off during long file transfers and offered a step-by-step procedure on how to change the settings on the camera. Unfortunately, only a blank space followed, so the Eye-Fi software must not have the instructions for all cameras.

I then proceeded to Eye-Fi Manager and found that the card and software had not only uploaded the four pictures I had taken to my computer, but also already to PhotoBucket (which I had authorized). Below you can see the screen that instructs what to do after initial configuration. The little window at the right bottom pops up when the Eye-Fi card uploads pictures into your computer. It shows image file number and upload progress in percent.

On Eye-Fi Manager you can check your upload history, add more wireless network profiles to the Eye-Fi card in Settings where you can also add or remove online photo services, change camera power settings so it won't turn off before uploads are completed, and there's also a Help section. Now obviously you may not want all your pictures sent to a photo sharing service sight-unseen, and this can be done by changing the setting so that web upload is not automatic. Under "Advanced" in Settings, you can click to add the tag "Eye-Fi" to photos for services that support tags.

You can also instruct the Eye-Fi Manager to not upload pictures to the computer. That way you can wait and enable uploading for when it is convenient. As is, I took the camera and walked around my house, taking more pictures, then returned to the computer. Within half a minute or so, the new pictures were uploaded into my computer. I turned "Upload to Web" back on, but now Eye-Fi Manager did not automatically upload the new pictures. If "upload to web" is turned off when the camera uploads to the computer, you then have to manually upload pictures to your web service.

Below is a screen that shows recent uploads both to the web and to the local computer.

A few little glitches

I did come across some problems. I first tried to install the Eye-Fi Manager into my iMac24. The application loaded fine and found my wireless network, but at a signal strength of only two of five bars. The Mac itself showed five or five bars, and a neighboring PC showed connection strength as "very good". So the Eye-Fi card apparently needs a pretty strong signal from the wireless Access Point in order to work. The two out of five was not enough for the card to connect to my network, and the application just spun endlessly until Firefox crashed.

On a Gateway Vista notebook in the same room as the Access Point, there was a five of five bar connection strength and all worked well, but then Eye-Fi Manager froze. The Windows Task Manager claimed that Internet Explorer, in which the Eye-Fi Manager is running, was consistently hogging 65 to 95% of CPU, and the Internet Explorer window showed the dreaded "(Not Responding") message. When I asked Vista to check for a solution, it simply restarted Internet Explorer. I double-clicked on the Eye-Fi Manager icon to restart the application, but nothing happened. I stuck the Eye-Fi card into its reader and it properly mounted and I could see the files on it. I put the card back into the Casio camera and took another picture. Would it be sent to the PC? Yes, within about a minute, the small upload window opened on the notebook and I saw the picture being loaded. Truth be told, I am more inclined to blame Vista here than the Eye-Fi software, and the glitch did not repeat.

After these minor glitches, I simply began using the Eye-Fi card and what I found was very impressive.

The Eye-Fi card in everyday life

I took the Eye-Fi card, two cameras, and my Vista-powered Gateway notebook on a weeklong trip and it performed great. Once arrived at my destination, Eye-Fi Manager simply asked if I wanted to add the local wireless LAN as one to be used to upload. I accepted that, stuck the Eye-Fi card into the notebook to enable the additional network, and now the camera uploaded new pictures through the added network.

What makes the Eye-Fi card so special is that it's so simple. From its size and shape that's no different from a standard SD card to the unobtrusive way it works, it's just wonderful. The Eye-Fi card is also not limited to one camera. You can stick it into any camera with an SD Card slot you so happen to take along and the Eye-Fi card will dutifully upload pictures taken. So you just snap along and the pictures are automatically uploaded as soon as the camera is within range of the notebook with the Eye-Fi Manager software.

One thing to be aware of is that the camera must be on for the pictures to upload. A couple of times I expected the pictures to have been uploaded but only found one or two. That's because my Pentax K10 dSLR was set to go to sleep after a brief period of inactivity. It'd be great if the Eye-Fi card were to wake up the camera, or keep it awake, until all pics are uploaded, but perhaps that's too much to ask as the Eye-Fi firmware on the card would have to know how to wake up every camera on the market.

On the PC/Mac software side, the version of the Eye-Fi Manager that came with my card showed an upload history of pictures to my photo share service, but not yet a history of what pictures were loaded onto the PC. That feature supposedly becomes available in a future version.

Does the concept make sense?

Does the Eye-Fi card make sense, or is it simply another gadget that combines functions that are best kept separate? After all, it's not very difficult to take a card out of a camera, stick it into a computer and copy pictures. I have, for example, very mixed feelings about cameras with built-in WiFi. I like the wireless connectivity, but not the added complexity of having to manage setup and upload of pictures, and I certainly don't like cameras that force me to upload to a proprietary picture sharing site instead of just loading them onto my computer.

So I must admit that I wasn't sure I was going to like the Eye-Fi card. But it quickly made me a believer. The magic of the Eye-Fi card is that it is so simple. Getting 2GB of storage and completely transparent and automatic upload of pictures, that's a very good thing. Overall, the Eye-Fi card, which retails for US$99.99 with 2GB of storage, is a total winner. The only fear I have now is that I might lose the card. Storage cards are so small these days, it's easy to misplace them. That's probably why they made the Eye-Fi orange. This way it sticks out.

We like:

  • Combines 2GB storage with WiFi on a standard SD Card
  • Load onto your PC or Mac, or any of a dozen photo sharing sites
  • Works in any camera
  • Reasonably priced
  • Very easy to use with browser-based interface

Not so much:

  • Does not keep camera awake automatically for upload
  • No local upload history in software yet
  • SD cards notoriously easy to lose

Click to see the Eye-Fi website.



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