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Saturday, September 26, 2009, 09:00 am PT (12:00 pm ET)

Review: WiFi-enabled Eye-Fi Geo SD card tags Places for iPhoto


Geotagging for iPhoto 09

In addition to the wireless upload feature, the Geo card adds WiFi-based geotagging, which uses the card's WiFi to triangulate its position just like the iPhone and iPod touch do (and as Snow Leopard now does), using the same data from Skyhook Wireless that Apple uses. WiFi location finding isn't nearly as accurate as GPS, but it's a lot more affordable.

Only a few high-end cameras offer built-in GPS tagging. The iPhone 3G and 3GS have GPS onboard, so they can offer more accurate geotagging on the pictures they take. GPS can map your location within several feet, while WiFi triangulation only places you within a few blocks of your actual location. Still, the Geo card's WiFi geotagging is much better than nothing. Using the Geo card in your standalone camera, you can have fairly accurate location data automatically attached on your photos, allowing iPhoto 8 (of iLife 09) to include the pictures in its Places database, just like the pictures you take with your iPhone or other GPS-enabled smartphone.

Skyhook's WiFi location service doesn't require to you login to any WiFi base stations to get a location fix; it simply looks for nearby base stations it knows the location of, and estimates where you are. This means it works pretty well in urban areas but is of no use anywhere there are no known WiFi base stations. Skyhook says it has data for about 70% of the population in the US, Canada, UK, France and Germany, and covers most of the larger metro areas in Europe, with service expanding into urban areas of Asia.

If the Geo card can't determine your location, Eye-Fi says it will either leave the photo untagged or will add the last known location to it. The accuracy of tagged photos will be very similar to the location information offered by the iPhone Maps app (without GPS). However, rather than providing a general circle depicting your location based on how accurate the estimate is calculated to be, the Geo card tags a precise location on your photos that may be off by several blocks, without any indication of how accurate the estimated location is.

You can also add any base stations you know the location of to Skyhook's database, which will improve the accuracy of WiFi locations for your Geo card, iPhone, and everyone else who uses the service.

Correcting the accuracy of a photo's location in iPhoto 8 isn't entirely intuitive; you can't just drag the photo's pin on its Places map. Instead, you have to select the photo or photos you want to correct, pull up the information map panel for the selected pictures, and either type in a known location by name (such as "Union Square" San Francisco), or select the "Find on Map" option, which allow you to "Drop Pin," name the new location, and assign it to your selected photos. This might initially require referencing help.

Eye-Fi Geo Card Product Review Rundown

For users who want to take full advantage of iPhoto 09's Places feature, the Eye-Fi Geo card offers a cheap alternative to replacing your camera with one that offers built-in GPS or WiFi location features. At 2GB, it's not a huge capacity card, and comparable storage-only SD cards can be found for as little as $10. However, with the capacity to automatically upload photos from any known WiFi hotspot, the 2GB storage capacity acts like a ladle rather than a bucket; conceptually, you could shoot, upload, delete, and keep shooting.

Of course, that requires that you pre-program the card to associate itself with your WiFi hotspots. If you're out and about shooting pictures, you'll need a $15/year HotSpot Access subscription to take full advantage of this "upload, empty, and reuse" capacity. Those 10,000 hotspots only work in the vicinity of places like McDonald's and various airport lobbies (but not Starbucks).

Note that you can't simply plugin your laptop's ad hoc WiFi login details for remote shooting and direct wireless sync, as the card won't connect and sync without actual Internet access; it uploads its pictures through Eye-Fi's service, not directly to your computer. That means the card won't deliver your photos to your computer until both your computer and the camera happen upon Internet access (with "relayed uploads" turned on, the camera can upload photos at its first opportunity for later delivery to your computer). The Eye-Fi software also requires Internet access in order to present your latest upload history as recorded on Eye-Fi's servers (of course).

All things considered, the Geo model Eye-Fi is now selling through Apple offers a great bundle of the company's impossibly small WiFi technology, an SD card sufficiently-sided to accommodate plenty of photos (but probably not too many videos), and Eye-Fi's more useful service features: wireless upload and geotagging. Other options are available on an annual subscription basis. Compared to the excessive and somewhat confusing array of product options Eye-Fi offers, the Geo version seems like the best package for most Mac users.

The Geo card itself seems like a reasonably priced upgrade for your existing camera, but the software Eye-Fi provides needs some refinement. The overall software experience seems a bit thrown together, and the garish orange icon is an irritating fixture in the menu bar. While you can turn it off when you're not using it, the point of having a background listener waiting to grab pics as they're available on your camera is a key feature of the Eye-Fi product, so it should be able to do the job unobtrusively.

Rating: 3 of 5

3 Stars


Pros

Wireless photo transfer is quick and handy
Geotagging features work great with iPhoto
Broadly compatible with almost all SD cameras
Hardware works well, no real downsides (such as battery life)

Cons

Somewhat limited card capacity (particularly for video)
Web-based software glitchy and a little confusing
Day-Glo Orange menu bar icon needs to go