Walt Mossberg

Wi-Fi Camera Offers Email, Quality Photos, But Still Needs Work

If a wireless device like a cellphone can have a built-in camera, why can’t a camera have built-in wireless capability?

That’s the question Kodak seeks to answer this week as it ships an unusual digital camera that’s able to wirelessly email the photos it takes, and upload them to a Web site, all by itself — without the need for a computer or a cellphone.

The $599 Kodak EasyShare-one camera comes with a Wi-Fi wireless networking card that pops up from a slot on the top of the camera to connect with any Wi-Fi network in range. Once connected, the camera can email pictures to friends and family and upload them to Kodak’s EasyShare Gallery photo Web site.

Kodak EasyShare-one

I’ve been testing the EasyShare-one for several days, and I like a lot of things about it. The pictures are very good, the user interface is one of the best I’ve seen on any digital camera, and the three-inch color screen is the largest on any digital camera I’ve tested. When the wireless capability works, it works well. I was able to email pictures, and upload them to the Kodak Web site, directly from the camera.

But the wireless features didn’t always function properly in my tests and in some cases required complicated technical work-arounds. Also, the camera has a few other downsides, including lousy battery life, especially when using the wireless features.

The EasyShare-one isn’t the only camera with Wi-Fi capability. Nikon is shipping a Wi-Fi camera as well, but, amazingly, it can’t connect to the Internet. Some other digital cameras have built-in wireless capabilities via Bluetooth. But Bluetooth is a short-range technology that doesn’t connect directly to the Internet, and so it’s mainly useful for beaming pictures to a PC or printer — something the new Kodak can also do.

This new wireless Kodak model is part of an integrated strategy the company is pursuing to tie together its cameras and printers and the EasyShare Gallery Web site, formerly known as Ofoto. Once uploaded, the pictures can be stored and shared with others. You can also order prints of them or gift items emblazoned with them.

Not only can you upload pictures from the EasyShare-one to the online gallery site, but you can wirelessly download small-sized copies of photos already stored on the site into the camera — so you can review them or show them to others right on the camera’s beautiful screen. Up to 1,500 of these downloaded pictures can fit in the camera’s internal memory if nothing else is stored there.

The EasyShare-one is a handsome, brushed-metal camera whose screen swings out from the body and swivels, much like the screens on camcorders. It has a maximum resolution of four megapixels, which is plenty for consumer photos. The lens features a 3X optical zoom. There’s no optical viewfinder, which is too bad.

This camera can accept a memory card but doesn’t include one. It does come with a relatively generous 256 megabytes of internal memory. Its startup and shooting speeds are relatively slow but acceptable for all but the fastest action shots.

A camera with Wi-Fi isn’t as convenient for emailing or uploading photos as a camera phone. That’s because you have to be near a Wi-Fi network or public “hot spot” for Wi-Fi to work. By contrast, the cellphone networks used by camera phones are much more widespread. On the other hand, no camera phone has the capabilities or picture quality of a real digital camera like the EasyShare-one.

When you pop up the Wi-Fi card on the Kodak camera, it seeks and connects to any Wi-Fi network in range. Then, it downloads the Web address for the Kodak Web site. After that, you can use the screen and stylus to select pictures you’ve taken and email them or upload them to the site. Emails don’t actually contain the pictures. They provide links to view the pictures on the Kodak site.

This worked very smoothly in most cases. But at my home, the process failed two out of three times, even though the EasyShare-one connected smoothly to my very fast home Wi-Fi network. The reason was that the camera was often unable to download the Web address for the Kodak site. At first, the company said it was because of problems on its servers. But the problem repeated itself.

The camera can also wirelessly transfer and synchronize photos with a Windows or Mac computer if you have installed Kodak software. But in my tests it had trouble getting through my firewall, and Kodak advised me to make a bunch of techie tweaks to the computer. Not only are these tweaks beyond what most users could do, or should have to do, but they didn’t work. Luckily, the camera can also connect to a PC via a cable.

Another big problem was battery life. It’s only good enough for a measly hour when you’re using the Wi-Fi card, four hours while browsing photos, and 200 shots while taking photos. Kodak does supply an extra battery with the camera, but it makes you spend $30 more for an electrical adapter, which would be handy.

Overall, the EasyShare-one is a good first step toward merging the wireless convenience of a camera phone with the quality and features of a real digital camera. But it needs work.

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