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Sunday, January 6, 2008

Don't Buy an Eye-Fi

You would think a nifty new product that has been reviewed by the techies for the major daily newspapers would fare better, but I regret buying the Eye-Fi WiFi SD memory card, and recommend that you learn from my mistakes and steer clear of it when you consider upgrading your camera's memory card.

The card, which sells for about $100, contains two interesting things: 2 GB of memory and a WiFi radio that can send your files back to a photo sharing Web site of your choice. The idea is - once you set it up - you never have to worry about uploading your photos from your camera ever again. As long as certain conditions are met, every picture that you take will be uploaded to your sharing site automatically.

That's the theory. In practice, I found plenty of gotchas. First, the Kodak camera that I was using for the test worked intermittently, until I found out that digging into the FAQ on the Web site, this brand of camera isn't supported. (Their FAQ is very poorly organized, and it isn't easy to find the list of supported cameras.)

Second, the camera has to be configured to work with particular wireless networks, and this can be confounding, to say the least. It won't work at a coffee bar or at most hotels, since these networks require you to bring up a Web-based sign-in page. It also won't work on networks with what it calls "shared WEP" security, which is what I was using on my home network. It will work on networks running static WEP 40/104/128, WPA-PSK, and WPA2-PSK, which is commendable. The product comes with a USB-to-SD reader that is used as part of the configuration process: you need to have your SD card plugged into the computer to configure the wireless network authentication details, and to specify which sharing site you want your photos to end up on. You also have to open up ports on your personal firewall too when you first set it up. And you have to keep your camera on after you snap your photo, to give it time to do the upload. This may be far too complex for the average person, and a lot to deal with to get the ability to automatically upload photos without having to attach a cable or insert your SD card in your laptop and copy the files.

Third, a note of warning. Once you get everything working, every photo is sent to your sharing site. This might not be what you want to do, particularly if you or your subjects value their privacy (don't even get me started down that path, that will have to be a subject for another column). So you might want to bring along a second SD memory card that is just a plain old card and doesn't transmit anything anywhere for these situations. (Thanks, Bruce, for this point.)

Despite these issues, Eye-Fi has done some impressive work. The packaging is close to iPod-clever, and the software will work on both Macs and Windows. It does support a great many different camera models (just not mine), provided they have an SD memory slot. And if you are traveling and want to share your pictures with friends around the globe, it is pretty cool that they can be seen almost immediately after you take them. If you upload them to a social networking site or set up an RSS feed, you could have almost real-time photojournalism, which is a very interesting concept.

My bottom line is that this is way too pricey for the convenience. A plain old SD 2 GB card runs now about $25 and takes almost no time to insert and setup. If Eye-Fi could work out some of the above issues, it might be a more attractive product.

David Strom is a noted speaker, author, podcaster and consultant who has written two books and thousands of magazine articles for dozens of IT publications such as Computerworld, eWeek, Information Week and Network Computing. His blog can be found at, and he can be reached at

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