Eye-Fi hands-on, impressions

You may have seen the Eye-Fi, launched this week, nearly a year and a half since we first heard about it. If you're just catching up on the news, it's basically a WiFi-enabled SD card (and accompanying web service) used to transparently and wirelessly transfer photos from your camera to your computer and/or a variety of photo sharing sites. Sounds like a great idea in theory, it turns out that the Eye-Fi is, in its current release, an answer seeking a question. Read on.


We're excited as anyone about Eye-Fi giving the humble SD card -- and by association whichever camera you own -- the uncanny ability to shoot photos over WiFi to your machine and the photo sharing service of your choice, including Engadget fave Flickr, as well as the rest of the gang: dotPhoto, Gallery 2, Facebook, Fotki, Kodak Gallery, Phanfare, Photobucket, Picasa Web Albums, Sharpcast, Shutterfly, SmugMug, Snapfish, TypePad, Vox, Walmart, and Webshots. Good stuff, right? Well, it could actually be a lot better.

It's easy to see that the need to wirelessly transfer photos to your computer or web services is most apparent when you're on the go. Maybe you run out of memory on the card and need to clear out your camera, or maybe you just spotted your favorite Engadget editor on the street and want to put it on Webshots to show your friends ASAP. Sorry, you're out of luck. The Eye-Fi only connects to trusted, encrypted, pre-configured networks, and doesn't have any means of tunneling back to your home computer. That means you can't just grab a seat at your local Starbucks and have the the card to dump the day's photos to Flickr or your home RAID array.

What's more, the home usage scenario isn't much more interesting. Assume you just got back from a long day of snapping shots. You turn on your camera and your Eye-Fi will immediately start uploading your photos to a web service (or a folder on your machine). All of them -- every photo on the card -- and usually at native resolution, too. This kind of sucks because if you're like most people, you: a) don't upload EVERY photo you took to your photo stream, b) don't upload said photos in full resolution (read: 2-10MB+ each), and c) you don't just throw all your photos into a folder on your computer -- you probably use use a photo organizing / browsing app like Picasa or iPhoto. So basically Eye-Fi takes a step forward by cutting out the middleman (in this case, a USB cable to your camera, or a media reader for your vanilla SD card), but two steps back in making the assumption that you want all of the tens (or hundreds) of megs of photos on the card uploaded in full res using your camera's batteries, and yet don't need said photos in your photo app, not just some folder.

The crazy part, though, is that we're still really excited about Eye-Fi. A few small tweaks, like the ability to try to connect to open access points (via an encrypted port 80 connection, of course), find your computer through the service, and dump those shots to a desktop application plugin, and maybe this product could turn right around. (We won't hold our breath for resizing before upload, we doubt the Eye-Fi has the horsepower to take a 10 megapixel photo and shrink it to a web-ready SVGA.) Ultimately, the things the Eye-Fi needed to focus on the most (desktop photo application integration, uploading on the go) were the things left out; for now it'll remain in the novely add-WiFi-to-everything category, so don't be surprised should you find yourself leaving the Eye-Fi at home in favor of something more practically convenient, like a USB SD card.