Eye-Fi Explore|X2 Card Review
Eye-Fi, I wanted to love ya. I was smitten with you at CES and thrilled when you arrived on my doorstep for a visit this past month. We took some nice photos together. And you provided almost everything a man could want (in a Wi-Fi enabled SD card, that is). But alas, it was not enough.
Okay, enough silliness. Around Valentine’s Day, I received my Eye-Fi Explore|X2 card from the company for review. I saw it demonstrated at CES and was impressed with the concept. Now it was my chance to put it to the test.
What was the concept you ask? Well the Eye-Fi cards integrate an 802.11 Wi-Fi radio onto a normal SD card. Insert the card into your digital camera and you instantly have a network-connected device capable of uploading photos instantly to your home computer and preferred photo-sharing site. In addition, the Explore|X2 adds other capabilities including the ability to upload via internet hot spots (at places like Starbucks and McDonald’s) and geotagging using Wi-Fi hot spot triangulation.
These latter two features really intrigued me. I could easily see taking an extended through-hike or backpacking trip, swinging into town for re-supply and stopping at a coffee shop with Wi-Fi to upload all the photos taken thus far. Or when traveling, I could share experiences in cities around the world almost as they happen, taking pictures and logging into hot spots as I tour. Pretty cool idea.
The Eye-Fi Explore|X2 arrived in straight-forward packaging no bigger really than a normal SD card. It includes the Eye-Fi card which works with any SD-capable camera, a USB card reader and a simplified manual. Installation was a snap. Just plug the card into a computer and everything else is pretty much automagic. The software installs, provides prompts to remove the card and take a test shot, etc.
I took a number of test shots and found connecting to my Wi-Fi router fairly easy at short distances, say 20 feet non line of site (NLOS). Further than that and in NLOS conditions, I found connections to be almost impossible.
The Eye-Fi cards use a low power radio, much lower power than what’s in most laptops, which makes connecting at longer distances very problematic. And that is the Explore|X2’s downfall. I tried to connect and upload at multiple Starbucks, for instance, and failed every time. After my second attempt, I contacted Eye-Fi’s technical support staff. They were very good and helpful. After uploading my card log, they confirmed that lack of signal strength was the cause of my inability to connect and upload.
What can I tell you? I still like the concept. I just wish it worked better in the real world. Snuggling up to a Wi-Fi router in the backroom of a Starbucks isn’t really a solution for most folks (although it may work well for those that encounter an especially friendly barista). Given the problematic nature of connecting at hot spots, I find it hard to justify the $99 MSRP for the 8GB card. That’s 5 to 10 times the cost of a standard 8GB SD card (but does include free hot spot access). Instead, you might stick with the company’s 4GB Connect|X2 which comes at a much lower price tag (and can be upgraded later to access hot spots).