Eye-Fi Explore Review

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$129
Editors' rating:
The Pros

Adds wireless and geotagging capability to any SD camera; One free year of public Wi-Fi service; Easy to set up

The Cons

Users must be within 90 feet of a hotspot to geotag photos; Some partner sharing sites have flawed geotagging capabilities; Public uploading unreliable; 2GB limit

Verdict

Not only does this SD Card turn any compatible camera into a Wi-Fi one; it also geotags snapshots and can upload photos at public hotspots.

When we first reviewed theEye-Fi, an SD Card that adds wireless capability to any digital camera that accepts that format, we were wowed by its innovation and ease of use, but we bemoaned the fact that you couldn't wirelessly upload pictures using Wi-Fi hotspots. The company has since added that capability to the original $99 card, but the $129 Eye-Fi Explore does that and more. It geotags your photos, recording the location where you took them, so you can organize and share your pictures in a whole new way. If only the card's partnered sharing sites were better at handling geotagged photos.

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How it Works

Like the original Eye-Fi, the Explore is a 2GB SD Card that turns any SD-compatible camera into one that can transmit photos via Wi-Fi. You can wirelessly upload your photos to your PC and favorite photo-sharing sites, including Facebook, Flickr, MobileMe, and Picasa, among others.

The Explore uses Wi-Fi triangulation to determine your location, and then records that information onto photo files. Many popular services and editing programs, including Flickr and Picasa, allow you to map your geotagged photos. Additionally, the card comes with one year of free Wi-Fi service at any public location that uses Wayport. More than 10,000 locations in the U.S. use Wayport, and participating chains include Marriott, McDonald's, and Hertz.

Easy Setup

Setting up our Explore card was a breeze. After plugging the card into the included reader, you click through the on-screen wizard to install the Eye-Fi Manager software on your computer (which is compatible with both PCs and Macs). Before you continue, make sure you're connected to the Wi-Fi network you plan on using to upload photos at home. Then, manager.eye.fi will open in your browser, where you'll be asked to create an account, configure your Wi-Fi network, confirm you want to connect to public hotspots and geotag your photos, and select your online sharing site of choice.

Once you complete the setup, most users can put the SD Card reader away forever, if they like; from here on out, you can upload photos wirelessly or using most SD Card readers, including one that's built into your notebook. According to Eye-Fi, the included reader has been optimized for the Explore, and not every reader is compatible, but that shouldn't preclude the majority of users from using their own SD reader.

When you insert the card into your camera and turn it on, you might see a message that the card is not formatted for use with the camera. You can format the card by following the on-screen instructions, which is probably to press OK and let the camera do the rest.

What You Can Do with Geotagging

Before you get excited about built-in geotagging, it's important to know what this means. The card records information about your altitude, longitude, and latitude when you take a picture. But if you want to visualize your photos and albums as pinpoints on a digital map, you'll need additional software. Programs and services that let you add geographical information to photos include Flickr, Google Picasa, Adobe Photoshop Elements 6 and up, and SmugMug.

The Explore's geotagging is powered by Skyhook Wireless, which uses Wi-Fi networks to map photos. The downside to this technology is that Skyhook can detect your location only if you're near a network that Skyhook has mapped. In other words, if you're just geotagging--not uploading pictures--it's good enough to be near a Skyhook Wireless site, but not connected to it.

Of course, coverage isn't perfect: as of press time, Skyhook has covered 40 million access points and 70 percent of the population, with 60 million global access points throughout North America, Europe, and Asia. Since the majority of these access points are located in urban areas, the Explore isn't ideal for shooting in rural or remote locations (it has a range of 45 feet indoors, 90 feet outdoors).

Geotagging Test-Drive

Not all sharing sites can map photos using GPS data, and those that do differ in their ease of use. We uploaded our geotagged photos to Flickr and Picasa, which didn't automatically add our photos to a map. The trick is, before you do your first upload from the Eye-Fi Explore, you need to go into the respective sites' settings and check the box for importing GPS information as geodata or to use Exif location information (www.flickr/account/geo/exif, http://picasaweb.google.com/lh/settings).

To place geotagged photos on a Yahoo map, you also have to set your privacy options to public. Once you've done this, your photos will automatically be added to your map. With Picasa, you also need Google Earth. Once you download Google Earth, you can open your picture in Picasa, click the geotag icon, which will open Google Earth, and when prompted, click the Geotag button. Your pictures will then be added to the map. Almost all of our pictures appeared in their exact locations on the map; one was placed a block away from where we snapped the photo.

Transfer Speeds

Once you've set up your favorite photo-sharing site, initiating a transfer is as easy as turning on your camera in the vicinity of your configured router. When uploading to Flickr using our configured router and with our PC on, the transfer speeds were fast--a remarkable improvement over the original Eye-Fi card's spotty performance. We uploaded five 10-megapixel pictures from our Panasonic Lumix FX37 in 7 minutes.

Individual pictures took as much as 1 minute and 51 seconds to upload, but this time around, Eye-Fi began uploading the next photo on the card almost immediately. With the original Eye-Fi, it took an average of 45 seconds to upload individual photos, with an average pause of 17 seconds between each upload. Sometimes, though, we saw fast, 15-second uploads with the original Eye-Fi. Although not a deal-breaker, these still-sluggish times are disappointing given that Eye-Fi recently announced it would double camera-to-computer upload speeds.

Uploading in Public

One of our main criticisms of the original Eye-Fi was that it wouldn't work on public Wi-Fi connections. The Eye-Fi Explore takes a step in that direction in that it works with Wayport, which powers 10,000 public hotspots and whose partners include McDonald's and Hertz. The card comes with one year of free Wayport service, and costs $14.99 per year thereafter.

To enable public uploading, just go to the Settings in Eye-Fi Manager (you must be connected to the Internet on the computer where you originally installed the Eye-Fi software) and check the box enabling uploads via Wayport hotspots. You will have the option of doing this when initially configuring the card.

After we enabled public uploads on our camera, we went to a Wayport-enabled McDonald's in Manhattan to upload five photos using the public Wi-Fi connection. Because there is no interface on the camera (i.e., it's impossible to tell if your photos or uploading or when they've finished) we enabled an SMS alert to our cell phone so that we could know the upload completely successfully (you can also request e-mail alerts by going into Settings in Eye-Fi Manager).

Although we turned our camera on, we never received a text saying the uploading had begun or finished, and sure enough, our pictures never made it onto Flickr. According to a representative from Eye-Fi, this can happen sometimes, depending on how much bandwidth the location allows or how many people are connected. Given thatWayport's locations are concentrated in urban areas, this seems unreasonable.

Verdict

Uploading and sharing photos with the Eye-Fi Explore is as easy as ever. We think it's neat that it geotags your photos but, unfortunately, Eye-Fi's partner sites aren't nearly as savvy as they should be when it comes to geotagging. Moreover, you have to be within 90 feet of a Skyhook hotspot in order for the service to work, which might make geotagging more remote vacation spots impossible. And that Wayport service? It's often unreliable. Although the Eye-Fi Explore is certainly better than other geotagging options, such asPharos Trips and Pics, it still needs work.

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Company Website http://www.eye.fi