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Hands-on with the Eye-Fi Card: Give any digital camera Wi-Fi capabilities.

A hands-on look at the Eye-Fi Card, a 2GB SD memory card that enables wireless photo uploading with any compatible digital camera.

Last week I wrote about the Eye-Fi Card, a special SD card that enables digital cameras to upload their photos wirelessly. Well, I've had several days with the card, and I'm ready to give you some first impressions. Unfortunately, the card I've been using doesn't include the firmware the Eye-Fi Card will use at release, so I can't yet give this product a formal score.

The card comes with a USB reader, a small instruction booklet, and nothing else; all the pertinent software is included on the card, and it autolaunches when you connect it to your computer. Once you install the software, you can access your card's settings through a very simple Web-based service. A setup wizard guides you on your card's initial run, holding your hand as you register your local wireless network and enter your upload preferences. Integration with Web services like Webshots and Flickr is easy; just enter your username and password, and the card does the rest.

Once you take the card out of the reader and actually put it in your camera, it works just like an ordinary SD card. You shoot and the photos stay on the card's 2GB of memory. Once you get within range of a registered Wi-Fi network, though, the card really works its magic. As you shoot, the card automatically uploads your pictures to your photo service of choice. If the computer upon which you installed the Eye-Fi software is within range and turned on, your photos also automatically upload to its hard drive. Unfortunately, wireless transfers take much longer than simply writing to an SD card, so you need to keep your camera on for a few minutes after you take your photos, to make sure they transfer. You also need to disable power saving (the function that automatically turns off the camera if you don't touch it for a length of time), ensuring that the card will ravenously devour your batteries.

If you're not around a Wi-Fi network you registered on the card, it behaves like a normal SD card. Any photos you shoot outside of your Wi-Fi network upload automatically from the card to your computer/photo service when you get back in range of the network and turn the camera on. Since the card only connects with wireless networks you explicitly tell it about, it can't work with public Wi-Fi hot spots if you're away from your router. Worse still, it can't work with any Wi-Fi network with any sort of log-in system or splash page. Even if you don't need a password and only have to click a bright "Internet" button when accessing it your notebook, the camera simply can't access that network.

For a first effort, the Eye-Fi Card impresses me. It works as advertised, turning your ordinary digital camera into a Wi-Fi-enabled one that can send your photos straight to your computer or photo sharing service as you shoot. It's not a perfect solution though, and you might want to let the technology simmer for a bit. Hopefully the next version of the Eye-Fi Card will include support for roaming hot spots.