Walter S. Mossberg is on vacation. The Mossberg Solution will return June 1.
Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to offload the pictures from your digital camera while traveling, without lugging along a laptop? And, when the trip is over, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to show people your digital photos, again without the aid of a laptop, or any other computer?
This week, my assistant Katie Boehret and I reviewed two products that aim to solve those problems. Both let you keep a collection of your digital photos with you at all times, on a pocket-size device. And one also doubles as a high-capacity storehouse that can directly offload pictures from a camera.
We tested Kodak’s new $150 EasyShare Picture Viewer, which will hit store shelves on May 20, and Apple Computer’s $29 iPod Camera Connector, which came out in March and works with the iPod Photo music player — either the 30-gigabyte ($349) model or the 60-gigabyte ($449) version.
Apple’s Camera Connector turns the iPod Photo into a portable repository for digital photos rather simply. While companies like Belkin had previously introduced gadgets that enabled the use of a regular iPod’s hard drive for storing photos on the go, this adapter is much smaller and simpler. And because it works with iPod Photo, you can instantly view the images that you upload. It’s just a small, white adapter that plugs into the base of your iPod Photo on one end and has a USB port on the other end, therefore allowing you to attach your digital camera via a USB cord.
Katie tested the Camera Connector with a 30-gigabyte iPod Photo, which Apple estimates can hold as many as 25,000 images. She downloaded the latest software update for the iPod Photo from Apple’s Web site. Then, after she attached our camera’s USB cord and turned on the camera and iPod, the iPod’s screen showed the number of photos on our camera’s memory card (21) and the total size of those files (38.1 megabytes).
Though we couldn’t see the photos before importing them, after we clicked “Import” we saw thumbnail images of the photos as they loaded onto the iPod. After importing, an option on the screen offered to erase our memory card, but we opted not to do so. Our new “roll” of film was listed underneath the Photo Import menu as “Roll #1 (21).”
We browsed through our imported images by turning the iPod’s scroll wheel and scanning through each of our photos on the iPod Photo’s 2-inch diagonal color screen. The next time we attached the iPod to our computer, it offered to automatically synchronize those photos with our computer’s collection, or you can also manually move them over to the computer, which we chose to do. The Camera Connector is as simple as the device it complements, and we didn’t have any trouble using it.
The Kodak EasyShare Picture Viewer is also white, like the Camera Connector, but that’s where the similarities end. It’s a handsome credit-card-shape device that measures a half-inch thick and weighs just 2.4 ounces. It has a bigger screen than the iPod, but very little internal memory, so it’s mainly for viewing pictures, not for offloading them from a camera. In fact you can’t connect it directly to a camera.
A gorgeous 2.5-inch display screen takes up most of the device, and control buttons are positioned directly to the right of the screen, making it easy to hold and operate in one hand.
You can view — but not offload — photos from a memory card by inserting SecureDigital (SD) or MultiMedia Cards (MMC) in the slot positioned on one long side of the Picture Viewer. A small power button is next to this slot. Katie pushed the SD card from her digital camera into the Picture Viewer, and a message on the screen read “Reading memory card,” before displaying the card’s photos. Later, I popped in a memory card from my Treo camera phone. Both worked fine.
A number in the top right of the screen showed us how many images were on the card, and she paged through them using left and right arrow buttons. The “up” arrow shows you a 2x magnified view of a selected photo, while the “down” arrow displays the photos in up to nine thumbnail images on the screen at once.
Pressing the “menu” button lets you adjust settings or start a slide show of the images. This allows friends or relatives to just sit back and hold the tiny viewer as pictures flash on the screen for intervals that can be set to last anywhere from three to 60 seconds per photo.
Unlike the way Apple’s Camera Connector works with the iPod Photo, you cannot directly offload images from your camera or memory card onto the Picture Viewer. To load photos from a computer, Katie installed Kodak’s EasyShare software on her Dell PC and dragged and dropped the photos that she wanted on the Picture Viewer into the “Favorites” folder. She hooked her PC to the Picture Viewer using its USB cord and selected “Update” to send the images to the smaller gadget.
You can also opt to automatically send photos from your Mac or PC to the Picture Viewer whenever you connect the two via a USB cord.
Katie loaded about 30 high-resolution photos onto the Picture Viewer’s internal memory, but Kodak estimates that it can hold about 150 at full capacity. Adding a memory card can expand the device’s measly 32 megabytes of internal memory, but this might be costly if you don’t already have a high-capacity card.
The Picture Viewer’s screen is very impressive, and we noticed that images in the device’s internal memory appeared quickly as we scanned through the photos. Images from our SD memory card, however, took longer to display and some were blurred before coming into clear focus.
Kodak explained that EasyShare software sends reduced resolution images from your PC to the Picture Viewer’s internal memory, while images on memory cards aren’t reduced and tend to have higher resolutions. Therefore, it takes a bit longer to open and view each image on a memory card. The lower resolution of the transferred pictures didn’t affect the quality when the photos were viewed on the Picture Viewer’s small screen.
If you’re away from your computer, you can “tag” all or certain photos on the Viewer for printing or emailing, and the images will perform the desired action when you connect to the computer again. The Picture Viewer charges by attaching to your computer or certain EasyShare docks, and its battery is supposed to last up to three hours.
There’s no doubt that using the iPod Photo with a Camera Connector offers greater versatility for storing and viewing photos than the Kodak EasyShare Picture Viewer. But if you can’t afford an iPod Photo and you’d like a way to bring your digital memories with you on the go, the Picture Viewer is a less expensive, lightweight option. Just don’t count on it for heavy photo storage, especially without expanding the memory with an SD or MMC card.
With reporting by Katherine Boehret
Write to Walter S. Mossberg at email@example.com