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

The $60 Eye-Fi Geo card packs a WiFi transmitter into a standard 2GB SD memory card, geotagging pictures as you take them and allowing wireless photo uploads from your camera.

The Eye-Fi Card family

Eye-Fi sells a variety of WiFi-enabled SD cards, but the Geo is a new package designed for exclusive sale within Apple's retail stores. There seems to be too many options in Eye-Fi's offerings, with too little reason for all the differentiation. Essentially, the Geo card bundles the features Mac users will probably find most valuable: wireless delivery of pics from your camera to your computer, and iPod touch-style geotagging; Eye-Fi's other subscription features can be purchased separately.

For example, the Geo card is a step above the Eye-Fi Home model ($50/2GB), which only supports wireless photo transfer to your PC from your camera (but not geotagging). Geo is also offered as an alternative to the similarly-priced Share versions ($60/2GB or $80/4GB), which include the Home's wireless camera downloads and add WebShare, a direct-to-web feature that uploads photos you take to your Flickr, Facebook or MobileMe account right from your camera (but again, Share models don't offer geotagging).

Unlike the Share cards or the pricier Explore models ($80/2GB or $100/4GB), the Geo card doesn't include WebShare, as Mac users are likely to want to publish their pictures from within iPhoto after editing them. You can still subscribe to WebShare for a $10/year fee that adds the direct sharing features to the Geo card. The Geo also lacks the Explorer card's bundled HotSpot Access plan, a year long subscription to WayPort's 10,000 WiFi hot spots that allow you to automatically join any of its available WiFi public access points to either send your photos back to your computer or upload them to the web via WebShare. This option can be purchased separately for $15/year.

Wireless SD photo delivery

The first Eye-Fi Geo card feature promises to save you the effort of having to pop the SD card out of your computer and plug it into your Mac (or alternatively connect a USB cable) every time you want to upload pics to iPhoto. This is both handy and quick once you set it up. It involves installing Eye-Fi Manager, an app that listens for your Geo card-equipped camera and downloads any photos you've taken. The app is included on your SD card, so you only need to plug it in (using the bundled USB-SD card reader, below, next to the Geo card and a generic SD memory card) and launch its installer.

Eye-Fi Geo

During the installation, you configure a folder on your local computer to serve as a photo destination location for the card to send your photos. The card will subsequently deliver pictures to that folder wirelessly as you take them, as long as the card is within WiFi range. Of course, for the to login to your WiFi network, you also need to provide your network(s) login details during the installation. The card (just like an iPhone) only supports 802.11b/g networks, so if you are running a faster 802.11n-only network, it won't be able to see it.

You can add additional WiFi network logins for other locations you might be shooting pictures in, but you must set these up with the software and then sync them to the card when it is physically connected via the USB adapter. You can't upload new WiFi configurations directly to the card. If you've snapped some pics outside of WiFi coverage, the next time you take a photo from the camera it will push all your queued up photos to the local folder on your computer automatically.

In order for the card to successfully upload the photos taken by your camera, you may need to turn off its power saving feature, so it doesn't go to sleep and power down the Geo card before it has a chance to send out the selected photos. Eye-Fi also lists a variety of cameras that aren't compatible with the cards, although most SD card-equipped cameras are. The company says when using Eye-Fi cards, "battery life will not be noticeably shorter than when using a standard SD memory card." It seems remarkable that the card can pack a WiFi transmitter into a thin SD card (below).

Eye-Fi Geo

Eye-Fi Manager software

The Eye-Fi Manager software is a combination of menu bar icon (drawn in an unnecessarily distracting Day-Glo orange) and a web-based online service launched from the menu bar icon. The software isn't impossible to figure out, but it feels clumsy compared to what could have been either an iPhoto plugin or a standard standalone Mac app.

Eye-Fi Manager

The upside to being web-based is that you can login and access your camera's pictures and the card's configuration from the web. You have to create an account with Eye-Fi during the install process for this reason; subsequently, all the pictures your camera uploads are then sent to your Eye-Fi account on the company's servers. The downside to being an online app is that it doesn't work if you don't have Internet access.

Because the Eye-Fi cards actually upload your pictures to their server, Eye-Fi can then sell you the option to deliver them to your computer (an option bundled with the Geo card at no additional cost) or upload them to one of several web services (that $10/year extra WebSharing feature). The service also unlocks geotagging, which again is included with the Geo card out of the box. This system allows Eye-Fi to also offer other subscription options you can purchase later (including that $15/year HotSpot Access service).

In other words, the Geo card doesn't talk directly to your Mac via WiFi; it uploads photos from your camera to the company's website and then back down to your local computer. Once delivered, the photos don't stick around on Eye-Fi's website, but do remain in a history catalog of thumbnails you can reference (or delete). Delivered photos are not automatically deleted from the SD card itself, so there's no worry that you might lose any pictures due to a failed wireless upload.

You can set the card to either deliver all photos to your desired location (the default setting), or set it to only upload pictures you mark using your camera's "select" option. The desired location can be either a given folder on your system or iPhoto directly. You can also enable a "relayed uploads" feature, which as the software says "your camera and your computer don't have to be on at the same time for your media to transfer. If your computer is off (or inaccessible), the media will be whisked to the Eye-Fi servers. Next time you turn your computer on, the media will be delivered right away."

Once you've run through the installation's configuration setup, you don't really have to deal with the software again. Photos you take using an Eye-Fi-equipped camera almost instantly appear as thumbnails that drop down from the upper right corner of your menu bar in a nonstandard mini-window that then disappears as the upload process finishes. This thumbnail preview can be disabled if you choose.

You can then manually import your photos into iPhoto (or whatever other app you want to use) from the destination folder you selected, or enjoy automatic photo imports into your iPhoto library directly. After changing the configured destination from a folder to iPhoto, the software acted like it wasn't working for a bit and reported a problem, then started working again. The software later crashed unexpectedly in the background while doing nothing, but again worked after restarting it.

The primary downside to the provided software (apart from the occasional glitch) is that it always has to be listening in the background, which requires the bright orange icon in your menu bar at all times. This really needs to be toned down, particularly because the standard convention for all menu bar items is to use an unobtrusive grey scale icon. Eye-Fi isn't the first third party developer to scream for attention from the menu bar, but it shouldn't nonetheless.

On page 2 of 2: Geotagging for iPhoto 09; Eye-Fi Geo Card Product Review Rundown; and Rating.