Review: Eye-Fi Pro | X2

Posted on Sep 19, 2011 in iPad, Mac, Photography, Reviews

What’s the most annoying part of digital photography? That’s right, fiddling around with the memory card or USB cable to copy your photos to your computer.

Well the Eye-Fi cards promise to have a better solution for copying photos: these cards can transfer your digital snaps wirelessly. Yep – despite being the same size as a normal SD card, an Eye-Fi card can connect to your computer over a wifi network. Let’s take a closer look at the Eye-Fi Pro | X2 – their latest and greatest.

Getting started

You need to download special Eye-Fi software for the initial setup. You connect your Eye-Fi card to the supplied USB adapter and configure it to connect to your existing wireless network, or you can either have it create its own ad-hoc network for when you’re on the move.

Then, just pop the card into your camera and away you go.

How to use the Eye-Fi card

The Eye-Fi card works just like any other fast SD card. Pop it in your camera, take pictures (RAW or JPEG or both) and movies – that’s it.

Once your camera has been on a few seconds, the Eye-Fi card will power up its wireless feature and look for your existing network. Once connected, the special Eye-Fi software on your computer will copy the photos over the air onto your PC or Mac.

If you haven’t got a wireless network nearby, the card can alternatively create its own wireless network. You connect to this network (named something like “Eye-Fi 132456″) and then the copying magic starts.

Performance

Despite having pretty impressive wireless performance, it will take a bit longer to copy the huge files produced by today’s modern cameras over wifi than it would over a USB card reader. However, you can optionally choose to only copy your JPEG images, leaving your RAW copies on the card ready to by copied over USB later.

The software is an Adobe Air app, so it isn’t the best Mac app I’ve ever seen, but overall it isn’t too bad. Once you have your card configured, you won’t need to use it too much anyway. Kudos to Eye-Fi for having a cross-platform solution for us Mac users that works.

Other handy tricks

Geotagging

Certain Eye-Fi cards can also make use of the wireless chip inside to geo-tag your photos. They do this by looking at nearby wifi networks. These are later matched by the Eye-Fi software to a database that knows the geographical location of tonnes of wifi networks around the world and uses that to give your photos a rough geographical location.
It’s not perfect, but it’s usually good enough to help you figure out which side of town you took a particular photo.

Endless Memory

Need to take a ton of pictures? No problem! If you’re on a wifi network, your Eye-Fi card will shove pics over to your computer and free up storage for new pictures, which means you’ll never run out of storage. This is only useful for certain scenarios, but if you need to take a lot of pictures and don’t want to have to switch cards it might come in useful.

Picture uploads

I didn’t test this feature, but Eye-Fi also offers an online storage and sync option, that allows you to share pictures with friends or between devices.

iPad app

One other great feature is the fact that you can use the Eye-Fi card with the free companion iPad app, allowing you to use your iPad as a giant photo preview screen: snap a shot, wait 2 seconds and it shows up on the iPad. I used this feature to turn my iPad and a camera with an Eye-Fi card into a rudimentary homemade wedding photo booth.

Conclusion

If you just need to grab a few photos quickly, the Eye-Fi a great solution. I could see it being particularly useful in scenarios where you’re frequently taking a small number of shots and need to quickly preview them on a larger screen.

The geo-tagging feature is also quite nice and a good alternative to using geo-tagged iPhone pictures as a reference.

The Eye-Fi Pro | X2 does exactly what it claims. The wireless performance is pretty good and it can be a huge timesaver if you often need to preview your pictures in between shots.

Recommended

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Review: Waterfield Cargo bag

Posted on Sep 4, 2011 in iPad, Mac, Reviews

I’ve been on the lookout for a new laptop bag for a while. I was recently given a new MacBook Air for work and as my old bag was starting to fall apart and I often cycle to work, I needed something a bit more rugged than most typical commuter bags.

Waterfield bags are designed to be very tough (not surprising as the company was founded by a former bicycle messenger), so I was keen to take a closer look at the Waterfield Cargo bag.

 

Features

The Waterfield Cargo looks like fairly typical messenger-style bag at first. It has a shoulder strap, front flap and a buckle. But there are ton of nifty design touches that make the bag very practical in everyday use:

  • The top zip makes it easy to get stuff from the main compartment without lifting up the main flap
  • The interior fabric is a bright colour, that makes it easy to find things inside
  • The back pocket is great for your iPad or a folder with papers

Design

This bag looks pretty good, but the design isn’t the main reason you’d buy this bag. It’s a very functional design and it’s“tidy” enough to take into any office, without looking too corporate.

You can also customise the look quite a bit by choosing various trim and colour options.

Quality and Durability

Waterfield state that the bag was inspired by ruggedized bike messenger accessories and it certainly feels every bit as durable as its heritage. The nylon fabric is extremely tough and feels much more durable than the fabrics used on similar products from other well-known manufacturer’s bags I’ve owned.

This is how much I can easily fit in the Waterfield Cargo:

 

Contents of my bag

As I mentioned at the outset, I plan on commuting by bike quite a bit with this bag, so I want something that can be strapped to the back of a bike rack and withstand a bit of wear and tear. So far, the Waterfield Cargo has been more than up to the challenge: Despite being bumped around on the back of a bike for several weeks, kicked around on the floor of the subway and dragged halfway across Malaysia on my honeymoon, it still looks like new. Any dirt or muck you get on the bag easily brushes off, and all the seams and zips are rock solid.

Bonus Round

There’s a lot to like about this bag, but here are a few extra tidbits I particularly like:

  • The strap can easily being adjusted just by lifting an adjustment flap at the side, but it doesn’t accidently lift or slip
  • Underneath the front flap are two slim pockets that are almost hidden – perfect for storing your passport or other valuables somewhere hard to access while travelling.
  • The interior pockets don’t get in your way, so you can use the space inside the bag to the fullest.
  • If you do need extra compartments, the Sleevecase accessory is perfect for documents and laptops (it has two compartments, perfect for a MacBook and iPad), while the Cablepouch is great for all your accessories and cables:

 

Conclusion

At $189, the Waterfield Cargo is certainly one of the more expensive laptop bags out there. But this Waterfield bag, which was handmade in San Francisco, is extremely well made with high-quality materials used throughout, so I’d argue that the price is more than justified. If you’ve got a MacBook Pro or MacBook Air you’re carrying around, it’s worth investing in a good bag to protect it.

Unlike other messenger bags that I’ve owned, that have all started to fall apart at the seams after a few months of owning them, this bag feels as though it will give me a good few years of use.

The attention to detail and everyday practicality is very obvious — someone really thought about every aspect of this bag while designing it – and it is very versatile, equally useful as a travel bag for longer journeys or as a daily bag for the office.

Overall, highly recommended.

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Alfred Extension: Open in language…

Posted on Aug 26, 2011 in Hints, Mac

As part of my job as product manager at equinux, I frequently tweak strings and messages in our applications. As most of our apps are available in multiple languages, it’s often necessary to check changes in multiple languages, e.g. to ensure that the string isn’t too long.

There are a number of utilities available that make it easier to launch apps in a specific language, however they all usually require a number of extra clicks and typically only work with apps in your Applications folder — making it cumbersome to open development builds that aren’t installed there.

I’m a big fan of the keyboard launcher tool Alfred and was thrilled to see that the developer recently added extension support for Alfred Powerpack users (at just £12 / $19 the Powerpack is a steal – highly recommended).

I’ve written a collection of Alfred extensions (basically shell scripts) that will allow you to quickly open an app in the language of your choice:

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DIY iPad Wedding Photobooth

Posted on Aug 21, 2011 in Hints, iPad, Opinions, Reviews

When we were planning our wedding, we saw lots of wedding photo booth ideas. You can either rent a traditional photo booth, or there are various DIY setups involving digital cameras.

I started thinking and thought it would be cool to have a setup that would allow people to see their snaps rights away, without having to go around to the camera itself. With a DSLR that supports remote control from a laptop, that is fairly easy to set up, but as it turned out, my cameras don’t support remote control over USB. So I started looking into alternatives and soon hit on the idea of using an EyeFi card and my iPad. (A few weeks after I started planning our photo booth, a story popped up on Engadget about a similar, albeit more professional, setup.)

What you’ll need

  • A digital camera with remote shutter release (I used the Panasonic GF-1 with a cheap wireless remote shutter release from eBay)
  • An EyeFi SD card in the camera (make sure it’s a newer EyeFi card with support for “direct mode”)
  • An iPad connected to the EyeFi network running the free EyeFi app
  • A tall tripod
  • A table or stand of some kind for the iPad
  • (optional) A frame, backdrop or props of some kind for guests to pose with

Camera, remote shutter, iPad and EyeFi card

With this setup, guests could take a snapshot using the remote shutter and almost instantly see it on the iPad a few seconds later. To speed up the wireless transfers, I configured the EyeFi card to wirelessly transfer the JPEGs only, whilst keeping the large RAW files on the card. This also allowed us to place the camera somewhere out of the way and still gave the guests a way to view their pictures.

The photo booth setup – the iPad is just off to the side on a table

One of the snaps from the photo booth

Other Tips

  • Turn on face recognition if your camera supports it and make sure the autofocus is correctly detecting your guests.
  • Turn off any power saving options on the camera and iPad.
  • If your setup is indoors, connect the iPad and camera to AC adapters, if possible.
  • You’ll need a fairly tall tripod or something to stand it on to get the camera up high enough. Ours was a bit low so I ended up adjusting the perspective using Adobe Lightroom.
  • Explain the setup to someone beforehand and ask them to keep an eye on things to make sure everything runs smoothly.
Our guests had a lot of fun with our DIY photobooth and I love the way the pictures turned out, highly recommended!
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Prepaid 3G data in Malaysia

Posted on Aug 21, 2011 in Hints, iPhone

We went to Malaysia for our honeymoon a few weeks ago. We had booked hotels and internal flights for the first five days of our holiday, but wanted to be somewhat flexible so needed to book more hotels and flights on the go.

Getting a SIM card and choosing a carrier

I spotted a Maxis booth in Kuala Lumpur International Airport and headed over to purchase a prepaid SIM card and data plan. Maxis, Celcom and DiGi are the three largest providers in Malaysia and from what I have read, Maxis has the best 3G coverage. Their prepaid plans are marketed under their brand “Hotlink“, and you can find shops selling Maxis/Hotlink top-ups all over Malaysia.

The helpful staff at their sales booth had a micro SIM cutting tool and configured the data plan for me using the “day plan” option, which comes with 500MB of data a day. I assumed it would auto-renew and the total cost would be about €20 for 2.5 weeks.

My wife booking hotels on the iPad at Kuala Lumpur airport with Maxis 3G and personal hotspot

Pick a data plan

It turns out that the day plan needs to be renewed every day after exactly 24 hours, which is a bit annoying after a while. Plus, if you forget you’re charged by the megabyte, which will quickly wipe out your prepaid credit.

Fortunately, while topping up credit in a mobile phone store in Melakka, the dealer recommended I switch to the “internet broadband 1 week” plan instead. I think it’s intended for laptop users with USB 3G sticks, but it worked fine with the iPhone as well. The one week option comes with 1.5 GB of data, which should be more than enough for casual use on holiday.

Coverage & Cost

Coverage was brilliant, with 3G service and full bars nearly everywhere we went – the only time I couldn’t get 3G was on a tiny tropical island 45 minutes off the mainland. There’s no way we could have travelled around as much as we did without a data plan and access to TripIt, TripAdvisor, Agoda.com and other services.

Overall I think I spent about 120 ringgit on the SIM card and various top-ups (about €28/ $39). That’s a bit more than necessary, as I lost quite a bit of credit the first few days due to not renewing the day plan in time.

Don't forget your iPhone SIM tool


Worth it?

If you’re planning a trip to Malaysia, I’d definitely recommend picking up a Maxis/Hotlink prepaid card for your stay. Hotel wifi was often flaky and sometimes only available in rooms near the reception desk, so I ended up using Maxis 3G almost everywhere. Be sure to look up the best data option on their website – the day plan is easiest but not necessarily the most affordable.

 

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First Impressions: Panasonic GF-1 vs. Olympus E-PL1

Posted on Jun 17, 2011 in Opinions, Photography, Reviews

I’ve been a fan of the Micro Four-Thirds format since I first played with the Olympus E-P1 shortly after it was released. Last year I picked up the Olympus E-PL1 and absolutely love it. It’s certainly not without flaws, but it’s a cheap and fun way to get started with “proper” photography and to learn about aperture, shutter speeds and other mysteries.

I had been on the lookout for the Panasonic 20mm prime lens, as it’s considered to be one of the best Micro Four-Third lenses out there. When I spotted a package deal that offered the 20mm lens with the GF-1, I couldn’t resist. Although both the GF-1 and E-PL1 have both been succeeded by newer models, I thought I’d share my impressions after using the GF-1 for about two weeks.

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Review: Dodocase for iPad 2

Posted on May 29, 2011 in iPad, Reviews

The first accessory every iPad 2 owner buys is one of Apple’s Smart Covers. But as elegant as the Smart Covers are, they do not offer much in the way of protection and my iPad already has a number of alarmingly deep scratches on the back from being in my bag with my keys and camera.

Enter the Dodocase for iPad 2 – a hand-made, book-like case with an elegant wooden frame. The DodoCase has a moleskine-like design and elegantly encloses your entire iPad like a hardback book. On the right side of the book sits a wooden frame that has special cutouts for the iPad, while the left has a trademark ownership label and customiseable colour  lining.

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