Eye-Fi Pro X2 Lets Your Digital Camera See the World of WiFi

| In-Depth Review

The Eye-Fi Pro X2 is a SDHC memory card for your digital camera.  What sets it apart from other memory cards is that it contains a tiny WiFi radio.  This gives you the ability to send your pictures to your computer or online sharing site, without having to plug your camera or memory card into your computer.  This is one of the first cards in the Eye-Fi X2 series, which contains several improvements when compared to the prior generation of Eye-Fi card.

Installation

In order to take advantage of the unique features of the Eye-Fi card, you’ll need to install some software on your Mac or PC, and use the included USB Card Reader to configure the card.  Note that the Card Reader is only necessary to change the configuration of the card.  When you insert the Card Reader into an available USB port, the card, being formatted as FAT32, should then appear on your desktop just like any other drive.

The card we received contained a copy of the older Eye-Fi Manager software for both Mac and PC, which provides a browser-based method of configuring and working with the Eye-Fi card.  We opted to go with the newer Eye-Fi Center software, an AIR-based application that includes more features and was our choice for this review.  Eye-Fi Center version 3.1.9 and Eye-Fi Card Firmware 4.2001 were used for this review.

Initial setup of the card requires the creation of a free Eye-Fi Account which is linked to an email address, which is validated with a confirmation email.  We already had an account and the software detected this.  You also need to perform a one-time registration of your Eye-Fi card, which associates the unique MAC address of the card with your account.  If you use MAC address filtering on your WiFi base, now may be a good time to enter it.  You are then asked to set up basic features of the card.

The first option to configure is the Network that you’d like your card to communicate with.  You can configure up to 32 network per card, but initial configuration only allows setup of a single network. A network can be either a standard infrastructure WiFi access point, or, new with the X2, an ad-hoc network hosted by your computer.  Since you can only configure one network at this point, and the Eye-Fi system needs to communicate with their servers to perform many functions, it’d be best to enter an access point, rather than an ad-hoc network.  

Next, you’ll be prompted for what online service you’d like to share your photos with.  29 different photo sharing services are currently supported, we selected MobileMe private.  Next, you’ll be asked for what online service you’d like to use to share your movies. 8 different movie sharing services are currently supported, we selected YouTube private.  Next, you’ll be asked to remove the card, take a picture, and then wait a moment to see the picture and verify that the card is working properly.  Lastly, you’ll be given a summary of the cards settings.  At this point, you are ready to use the card, but you may want to refine some of the settings before getting started.

Initial Eye-Fi Setup Complete 

Additional Options

There are many additional options available in the Eye-Fi Center software.  In the Networks category, you can not only add additional networks, but you can also select “Connect to Hotspots and Open Networks.” This will upload your photos and movies if you are near an AT&T, easy wifi or open wifi network.  The Eye-Fi Explore X2 and Eye-Fi Pro X2 cards include a free year of Hotspot Access, after which point you’ll need to pay to continue access.

As shown, the default configuration will deposit your photos and videos in a specific folder.  However, you can also choose to have these items imported into iPhoto, which is great if that’s the program you use to manage your photos and videos.  A Notifications option will send you a notificationwhen the card both begins and ends an upload session.  You can select email, SMS, Twitter and Facebook notifications.  For all options except Facebook, you ask to be send a notification when an upload session begins, when it is interrupted, when it resumes, and when it is complete.  You can also customize the contents of the notification.  Enabled by default, the Geotagging feature uses the Skyhook network and WiFi to approximate the latitude and longitude at which a photo was taken, and embed this information in your photo.  Although not available everywhere, and not as accurate as GPS, it helps provide some data that can later be used to categorize your photos.

 Complete View of Eye-Fi Settings

 

There are also many Transfer Mode options which provide fine-grained control over what you upload, and where you upload it.  There are three Selective Transfer modes.  If you choose Automatic, then all pictures and movies will be transferred to both your computer and defined online sharing sites.  There is also a Selective Share mode, where all media will be transferred to your computer, but only media marked with your camera’s PROTECT feature will be sent to online sharing sites.  There is a Selective Transfer mode, where only media marked with your camera’s PROTECT feature will be both sent to your computer, as well as online sharing sites. Another Transfer Mode option is Relayed Transfer.  Normally, the Eye-Fi card will upload to your computer only if it is on.  With Relayed Transfer, the Eye-Fi will upload content to the Eye-Fi servers, and the content will be downloaded to your computer the next time it is on.  Finally, there’s an Endless Memory option.  This will remove pictures that have already been uploaded, leaving a user-selectable amount of memory free, ranging from 10% to 90%.

Operation

Basic Performance

To test the basic operation of our card, we took a set of 20 pictures, with the camera being about 15 feet from our Time Capsule (1TB) model A1254, located a floor above our camera location, operating in 802.11n (802.11b/g compatible) mode.  The pictures were taken with a Lumix DMC-TZ5 9MP camera, with the resulting JPG images ranging in size from 3MB to 4.5MB in size.  Once the camera started uploading (note that if the endless memory feature is activated, the card will first remove pictures to achieve your free space threshold) it took 90 seconds to upload all of the photos, resulting in a throughput of 4.5 seconds per image.  To compare to the older Eye-Fi Explore 2GB card, which has a slower 802.11b/g radio, we performed the same test, and a set of 20 pictures took 150 seconds or 7.5 seconds per picture.

We then tested the Eye-Fi Pro X2 with an ad-hoc network on our MacBook Pro.  A set of 20 pictures took 83 seconds to upload, resulting in a throughput of 4.15 seconds per picture.  While the performance benefit is marginal when compared to communicating with a nearby WiFi access point, the benefit of this mode is that you don’t need an access point to transfer your pictures to your Mac.  The only downside is that retrieving geocoding information, uploading pictures and other features will require a connection to an access point.

Stress Test

To stress the performance of the card, we then took a set of 10 pictures, and places the camera outdoors, about 40 feet from our WiFi access point, and observed the time it took to upload.  With the old Eye-Fi Explore 2GB card, it took 438 seconds, or 43.8 seconds per picture.  With the Eye-Fi Pro X2, it took 445 seconds, or 44.5 seconds per picture.  Taking variations of picture size into account, this is nearly identical performance.  While it may appear that the Eye-Fi Pro X2 is lacking in comparison to its older cousin, keep in mind that in tests with other devices, we’ve found that 802.11n performance, when at the limit of the range for a WiFi access point, is often slower than the same device using 802.11g.  The fact that the performance was nearly the same, keeping in mind the small antenna embedded in the Eye-Fi, this level of performance is actually pretty impressive.

Hotspot, Notifications and Sharing

We then decided to test the Hotspot, notification, picture sharing and movie sharing options by configuring the card and heading to our local McDonald’s, which has free AT&T WiFi access.  We also brought along an iPod Touch, so we could measure bandwidth, and see the results of our upload.  On three separate occasions we measured the upload bandwidth, and got figures of 201, 583 and 87 Kbps.  Be sure to take this figure into account if you’d like an upload to complete.  Our test involved taking 5 pictures, and then recording a 30 second movie, and seeing if everything arrived where it should.  Using the iPod Touch, we were able to verify that the movie would consistently get uploaded to YouTube, and we would receive both a Twitter and Email notification that the upload was beginning.  Unfortunately, we noted that not all of our photos had been uploaded, and we would often not get a notification indicating that the upload had ended.  We conferred with the Eye-Fi technical team and they indicated that some pictures were in a state where too many attempts were made to upload to MobileMe, but were still on their server.  We were able to use the Eye-Fi Center software to manually force the missing items to be uploaded to the sharing site.  Subsequent testing of the notification, via both email and Twitter, would results in no notifications being sent.

Geocoding

The geocoding feature of the Eye-Fi makes use of the Skyhook system, which associates the MAC address of WiFi access points around the world to their latitude and longitude.  Note that you don’t need to be connected to the access point, as long as the Eye-Fi card can “see” it, the data will be associated with your photo.  We found the accuracy of the coordinates acceptable, in some cases, it was right on the mark, in some cases, it could be off by several hundred feet, and in rare cases (notably at trade shows where people bring their own access points from somewhere else) the system would reports us being in a totally different state or country.  One the photos are processed by the Eye-Fi Center software, the location data can be accessed via iPhoto, Preview, or any other application that can understand this data.  The Eye-Fi Center software, as well as iPhoto, can show the location via a Google Maps plugin.

Eye-Fi Center

The Eye-Fi Center software, now an AIR application, provides an interface to both view and share your pictures and movies, as well as configure your Eye-Fi card.  It will also offer handy Quick Tips upon startup, to help you get the most from your card.  Pictures and movies are grouped by date.  Clicking on an individual picture or movie will reveal details, including the name, time and date taken, delivery status, application delivered to, and location if available.  You can delete the thumbnails stored by the Eye-Fi Center application by clicking on the card icon and choosing “Delete all Thumbnails.”  There is no option to delete individual thumbnails.  A bar along the top of the screen shows your most recently taken photos, and items can be dragged to a bar on the bottom of the application windows to share select items online.  You can also view important messages sent to you by Eye-Fi, as well as access Help.  Note that Eye-Fi center is only intended to let you view and share your photos, if you’d like to edit or print them, you’ll need to use another program.

 

Eye-Fi Center Picture View

 

Summary

The earlier Eye-Fi cards already offered features that you weren’t able to find in many cameras, the most notable being able to transfer your photos to your computer or online sharing site without having to remove the memory card, or plug a cable into your camera.  The Eye-Fi Pro X2 offers many features that we have been asking for but weren’t in the earlier models, such as Class 6 operation so you can record HD movies, ad-hoc mode so you don’t need an access point to transfer photos to your computer, and 802.11n operation to match the latest WiFi standards.  Although our camera doesn’t have a RAW mode, we know this is something that many photographers have been asking for.  The only feature which had consistent issues with was the notification mechanism, and some minor issues with photo upload which could be attributed to issues with the remote system rather than the Eye-Fi servers.  Otherwise, we think the Eye-Fi Pro X2 is a clear winner, and provides a cost-effective way to provide many features which are either pricey options, or simply not available in any digital camera.

 

Product: Eye-Fi Pro X2

Company: Eye-Fi

List Price: $149.99

Pros:

Faster performance with 802.11n radio
Class 6 SDHC allows recording of HD movies
Geotagging via Skyhook network
Direct upload to computer via Ad-Hoc network
Endless Memory always keeps free space on card 

Cons:

Unreliable notification system
Upload to photo sharing sites occasionally get stuck in queue

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Comments

waltp

This seems like a pretty neat memory card, but it won’t help those of us who use DSLR cameras that require CF cards. I shoot with a Nikon D700, and it needs a CF card.

John F. Braun

Unfortunately, about the only option is to use a SD to CF adapter, but they make it clear this is not supported configuration:

Known issues with compact flash card adapters

Perhaps if enough people request this support, they’ll reconsider a CF version of the product.

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