I'm often cautious of devices that claim to have Wi-Fi functionality and support, mainly because connecting to Wi-Fi (especially secure Wi-Fi) can be tricky for devices that don't utilize a browser or some other good input method. In the past, several devices I've tried (digital photo frames, cameras, printers) have failed to connect to my network because of the configuration issues required that weren't completely hammered out by the vendor.
Fortunately, things have gotten better -- over the next two weeks I'm highlighting two new devices that get the Wi-Fi connection right, and use Wi-Fi to enhance their product offerings.
The scoop: Eye-Fi Explore, by Eye-Fi, about US$130.
What it is: The latest version of the Wi-Fi-enabled SD card, the Eye-Fi Explore gives wireless access to older SD-supported digital cameras. The new version also utilizes Wi-Fi signal triangulation to provide unlimited geo-tagging, which attaches a geographical location to photos. The card also includes one year of free hot-spot access at more than 10,000 Wayport Wi-Fi locations, mainly at McDonald's restaurants (after the first year, access to this feature costs $19 per year). Photos taken with the Eye-Fi card are automatically uploaded to a user's PC (if the card is connecting via the home Wi-Fi network) as well as more than 20 supported online photo-sharing sites.
Why it's cool: Columnist Mark Gibbs wrote about his enjoyment of the Eye-Fi card a few months ago, and I couldn't agree more with his assessment. Having the ability to automatically upload photos from a digital camera and have the photos go into your PC (via your wireless LAN) as well as the online sharing service saves a boatload of time that would have been spent loading your photo card into a PC and then copying images over. Having the geotagging ability on the US$130 version is nice but only useful for those people really into geo-tagging (I'm a bit hesitant to geo-tag photos, mainly because most of my photos are of my kids). But for travel photos, geo-tagging is useful. The Wayport access is even more useful and worth the extra money, especially for mobile workers that take photos on the road and can then upload them for free via the Wayport hot spots. During my test, I took a bunch of photos, ate lunch at a McDonald's and had the photos uploaded to my online account by the time I got back to my desk.
Installation of the card was easy -- just connect the provided USB SD card adapter to your PC and a Web-based application opens and lets you configure your Wi-Fi settings (including my WPA2-enabled network), enable or disable geo-tagging and decide whether to upload images to a specific folder on your PC. Notification alerts can also be enabled, which will send an e-mail or SMS message to your phone when photos have been uploaded to the Web service.
Some caveats: The notifications are important, because there's no way for the card to tell the camera when the photos have uploaded. In order for the uploads to occur, you have to keep the digital camera powered on (and in some cases, you have to change the power settings to not go into power save mode). On older digital cameras, leaving the power on while you assume that photos are being uploaded can drain the battery a lot faster.
Grade: 5 stars (out of five)