Eye-Fi X2 Cards:
Pro X2: $149.99
Explorer S2: $99.00
Geo X2: $69.00
Connect X2: $49.00
iPhone App: FREE
When I reviewed my first Eye-Fi card almost two years ago in February of 2009, I was amazed at what I saw. A tiny little SD memory card with a WiFi radio inside. Inside! How did they do that? I hardly believed they could squeeze it all in to that tiny little space, and I am still amazed when I see it now, with an even better radio and even more memory capacity.
If you have been hiding in a cave for the last few years or simply not paying attention to new things, Eye-Fi is exactly that, a standard SD sized flash memory card with a built-in WiFi 802.11 b/n/g radio inside the SD case. When this device is inside your camera (or powered up in a SD card reader), and in the range of either an open WiFi, or even your own locked (keyed) WiFi, the card will upload images stored in its memory onto the Eye-Fi service.
With the exception of one low-end card, all Eye-Fi cards will also “Geotag” your photos with an approximate location as to where they were taken, if they are within range of any WiFi signal. This is done using a service called Skyhook. Skyhook has recorded the location of just about every WiFi radio they can find (Google helps as they drive around the world recording street view for Google Maps) and notes their location. Even though the card cannot connect to these radios, it can use the radio’s unique “ID” and send that ID with your picture to the Eye-Fi service when it uploads them. Then, using the Skyhook location database, it can look up the location of that WiFi radio, and bang, your photos are tagged with an approximate location of where they were taken. Not perfect, but more often than not, close enough for a picture.
The new Eye-Fi X2 series cards now comes in four flavors of slightly different features, size, and price: the Pro X2, the Explorer X2, the Geo X2, and the Connect X2. I think the best way to illustrate the differences is in this table:
|Class 6 transfer speeds.||√||√||√||√|
|802.11 b/g/n capability.||√||√||√||√|
|Endless Memory Mode.||√||√||√||√|
|All Wireless Uploads|
|Automatic photo and video.||√||√||√||√|
|Effortless on-line sharing.||√||√||√||√|
|On-the-go updates w/hotspot access.||√||√|
Most of the items in the table above are self explanatory, or at least, they should be, but let me clear up or highlight a few:
• Class 6 refers to SD memory transfer speeds. While this may not seem very important, in a camera, speed is important, especially as you shoot video or raw files, as some SD cards are not even fast enough to record video. SD cards come in speeds designated as Class 2, 4, 6 and 10, with Class 2 being slowest and cheapest, Class 10 being the most expensive and fastest. So as a 6, these cards are fast enough to record full definition HD video, but do not carry the extra cost of a Class 10.
• Most of us know what 802.11 is, right? If not, it is IEEE’s set of standards that define wireless local area network (WLAN), and often called WiFi. But do you know what the b/g/n after it means? They represent a protocol that basically tells the speed of the WiFi link. Protocol b, the oldest, maxes out at 11 Mbps, while g takes you all the way up to 54 Mbps max. But the newest, n, can reach speeds of 200 Mbps or better. And notice that these cards are rated for all three protocols. So why should you care?
You should care because now all the new X2 cards have the ability and speed required to save and upload video. Because of WiFi speeds in the past, this was not really feasible with the first generation card, but everyone seemed to ask for it. However, now with the newer high-speed cards, this is possible. There is also one card capable of uploading RAW photos as well. But, you should keep in mind that this is still running at wireless speeds, not wired speed, so do not expect this to be anywhere near as fast as USB 2.0 connection, and the upload could even fail if the WiFi connection is not robust enough, or in range long enough to transfer these large files. Lastly, this is a small, lower powered radio with a little antenna, so do not expect to see anywhere near the max speed from this card for the speed protocol used to connect to your WiFi access point.
• My favorite feature of the new card set is the “Endless Memory Mode.” This mode will delete photos from the card after they have been successfully uploaded off the card to the Eye-Fi service, but only if the card reaches a set full percentage (which you can set between 10% and 90%). This feature gives you the memory space of that uploaded photo back to let you keep shooting more. If you are within reasonable WiFi coverage and have a good connection, the card will just keep uploading your pictures and freeing up more space on its own, as long as the camera is turned on, making it look like the card has endless memory.
• Ad-hoc networking is in the Pro Series now and will let you go straight from your camera to your laptop. You set it up like any WiFi, first creating a local network on you computer, and then using the Eye-Fi Center to add that network to your card. But in reality, it felt like a hack. Yes, I could get it to work, but with my computer in Ad-hoc mode, it is no longer connected to the Internet. That means while the images came quickly to my computer from the camera as I was shooting, they lost their Geotags, because the computer was not connected to the Internet to retrieve them. It also caused several other features in the Eye-Fi Center to stop working due to loss of Internet as well. So I am not sure there is value here. But the images screamed into my MacBook Pro, so that was good.
On the computer side, to fully use the card as other than a standard 8 GB SD card, you will need to install a small piece of software (for Mac or Windows) that adds a small menu icon on each machine. This menu gives you access to management software for setting up the card. The software also displays a thumbnail of photos as they arrive on your machine from the Eye-Fi service as they come in. Note that the card can upload to Eye-Fi anytime it gets on-line, and these pictures will stay on their system for a reasonably long time, until your computer goes on-line (and the manager is running of course), at which time they will start downloading to your machine.
Because I reviewed the Pro card before, the old Eye-Fi Manager software was still on my Mac, and started working when I inserted this new card, but immediately went through a bunch of updates. I do not know if that was because of the new card, or because I had not run the software in a long time, but I was automatically brought up to date. However, if this is the first time using a card, you must connect it directly to the Mac or PC first to set it up before using it. They include a free USB to SD adapter with the card, but the SD reader on my MacBook Pro worked great as well.
Upon inserting the card, an Eye-Fi disk image icon will appear on the Desktop. Opening that up reveals a few items, and the one marked START HERE should catch your attention and would probably be a good place to start. Inside you will find a .dmg file, mounting it will give you the installer package needed to get you started. (Windows users will find a different method of installing the software.)
As you can see, for me, having previous software seemed to make things not go so smoothly, but at least they have a sense of humor about it. Also, the Eye-Fi card firmware was not up to date, and this update process seemed to have a few glitches as well. Eventually, I was ready to go and was all up to date. Even with the problems, everything recovered itself just fine and I was all set to go in just a few minutes, and the Eye-Fi Center launched.
Inside the Eye-Fi Center is were you will set up the card. You should run this at home the first time, because this is the step where you can add the WiFi keys for your local WiFi. (You can always add or change them later.) You can add up to 32 private networks per card now. Clicking on the drop down revealed the two networks in my house I could see, and I selected the first, and entered the WiFi password. Once you add a WiFi, you will be asked to confirm that you want to connect to Hotspots and Open Networks. You should check this box so you can use open WiFi radios, which is a real plus when traveling. You are then offered a chance to turn off automatic uploading, and I also recommend you leave this on too. Obviously, this is the reason you want this card, right?
You are next given the opportunity to automatically share your photos on-line, with MobileMe being the default, but as you can see from the list above, you can probably share your photos to your favorite place as well. I, however, opted to turn this feature off, because if on, it will share ALL my photos there, and I am not sure I want them all going out to the world. But if you are just touring around and what to create a photo blog (for example), this could be a great feature. A similar feature is offered for sharing videos on-line as well.
That is it; you are all set up and ready to go. You will now be prompted to put the card in your camera and take your first picture, and wait for it to download.
All did not go as smoothly as I would like however. On my previous card, after I took a picture, I would see the little image showing the download in the upper right hand corner of the screen, and then the picture would automatically just show up in my iPhoto Library. This time, I saw them download (see above), but I have no idea where they went as I sat and waited for them watching iPhoto. It seems, now they go to this new Eye-Fi Center.
The Eye-Fi Center is a reasonable app with a lot of options, and gives you a place to review downloaded content as pictures come in, as well as manage multiple cards, if you have them. For some reason, this software thought I had three cards (see above) and I would sure like to know where the other two are. Inside Eye-Fi Center you will find a little gear next to the active card which will let you make changes to the card, including change or add a WiFi or WiFi key, add or remove services, turn on and off endless memory mode, add email or SMS notifications when transfers start, end, or have been interrupted, and set options for picture, raw, and video modes. Note that the card must be present in the machine for this to work so that someone cannot just change these setting out from under you. It was in here that I found the setting to automatically move my pictures to iPhoto, and a surprise, I can also set up Lightroom or Aperture to work with Eye-Fi as well.
As mentioned above, I turned on the “endless memory” option, set it to 50%, and started shooting around the house while connected to my wireless-n WiFi router. I could not see anything happening here, as the number of available pictures just kept going down. Oh yea, when the card was inserted empty into my little 7.1 Megapixel Panasonic DMC-TZ3 Lumix camera, I was told I could fit 2,251 shots in memory. Opps! I was going to need to take over 1000 pictures before this feature kicked in. Okay, now, with “endless memory” set to 10%, because I wanted to see it actually work, I started shooting a lot more images. They began to uploaded as expected, and quite quickly I will add, and sure enough, when I passed 300 shots, the counter started going up again. It was deleting older photos that had been successfully transferred off the card. If this works as well in the field, I may never carry a laptop with me again, especially since this card will automatically connect to open AT&T hotspots. Just find a Starbucks, have a coffee, and your shots will upload while you relax. Do note, however, that you now have a WiFi radio running in your camera, so you can expect your battery life to be less than it used to be, so you might want to carry an extra battery or two to be safe.
Overall, using the card in my Panasonic Lumix camera, I could not see any difference between using this card and any other good regular SD card. Pictures took at their full speed, and video worked great with no lag time that I have seen with cheap SD cards. I also noted that the upload speeds while at home seemed faster than the previous card, and had no trouble keeping up with my computer downloading and storing them into iPhoto. I would have loved to try this card in a Cannon D7, but sadly, I don’t own one!
I loved the Eye-Fi card from the very first moment I saw it several years ago at Macworld, and have loved using my older Pro card. But now, they are faster, better, and bigger, so there is even more to like. The only question is which to buy? I hope the table above will help you out there.
But wait, there is more. If you own an Eye-Fi card and an iPhone too, you can now get the Eye-Fi functionality and benefits you have on your camera on your iPhone. With a free app from Eye-Fi, you get unlimited photo and video uploads straight from your iPhone to your computer or to the web. One you register your app, “iPhone” will appear in the Eye-Fi Center on your computer.
You will need to configure it in the Eye-Fi Center before anything will work on your iPhone, but sadly, there are no instructions telling you this. And it is a bit confusing. Trying to change the photo’s destination by clicking “Local Photos” in the app popped up a dialog telling me to go configure Eye-Fi Center to configure this. OK, did that, and pressed the button again. I got the same dialog. Seems you have fully quit the app (in iOS 4.x, that means clicking Home to exit, then double click Home to bring up the list of active apps, press and hold an app, and then click the little red x to stop the app) and then relaunch it again. Only then does it know you have configured your computer. This time, “Local Photos” showed my MacBook as the destination. Pressing the button once again tells you to configure this on your computer. Why is this a button at all?
Once configured, photos will now automatically land in preset folders in your computer, and you can forget about syncing or tethering. The Eye-Fi app uses your iPhone’s data connection (EDGE, 3G or Wi-Fi) to upload your photos, videos, and screen captures in full resolution. Like the card, your iPhone can wirelessly send your iPhone photos and videos to one of the popular website listed above as well. And the app will Geotag your photos just like the card, so you have a reference point later.
When you launch this app, and press “Uploader,” it will scan your phone looking for media, and present you with list of all your pictures. Simply press the dot next to each item you want to upload, press Upload, and off they go to your selected destination.
Even for free, this app needs some work. For example, I would like to see an “Endless Memory Mode” option on this app just like the card, deleting pictures from the iPhone after they upload successfully. I would like an option that lets me choose to upload new pictures automatically when connected to WiFi, but not on the 3G or Edge networks, as that would eat up my AT&T bandwidth limit rather quickly. I would like to set this same option separately for images and video, as I might be OK with a few pictures, but not with the larger video files.
This app would also benefit from an instructions screen when you first launch it. Right now, you are left staring blindly at a few options that don’t seem to work. Also note that this app only works if you have a Eye-Fi card, so consider it a free bonus for card owners, even if it needs a little work, because it does gets your photos to your computer wirelessly, and that is cool.
- MyMac Rating: 9 out of 10. Almost perfect, with just a few glitches to keep it from being that perfect 10!