Walt Mossberg

Vizrea Helps Cellphone Swap Photos With PC, But It Has Drawbacks

The two most important digital devices people own, the personal computer and the cellphone, have a lot of trouble communicating. Unlike digital cameras or personal digital assistants, most cellphones aren’t designed to easily transfer data to and from your PC.

The problem is especially nettlesome when it comes to photos. The computer is typically the principal repository for pictures, the place where they are organized, edited and printed. But, with their built-in cameras, cellphones are also becoming a key photo repository.

In most cases, the pictures on your phone never make it onto your computer, and vice versa. You wind up with two islands of digital photos. You can send the pictures on your phone to yourself or to others, but usually only one at a time, through clumsy, carrier-provided systems.

Now, some upstart companies are introducing software and services that help you transfer photos between PCs, cellphones and photo Web sites easily and automatically. Two of these products, Sharpcast and Vizrea Snap, are especially interesting.

I’ve been testing Vizrea for awhile, and it’s available in a public trial version now. Sharpcast will do much of what Vizrea does, as well as synchronize your photos on multiple computers and multiple phones, but it won’t be released until later this year, and it hasn’t been available for testing. Neither program will work on most phones at first. Each company is starting out by targeting a limited number of cellphone models.

Despite some drawbacks, Vizrea is very cool. It allows you to see all the pictures stored on your computer on the screen of a cellphone, even if the two devices are 2,000 miles apart. So if you’re visiting relatives in Providence, R.I., but the pictures of your home renovation are back on your PC in Denver, you can still show them off on a Vizrea-equipped phone.

In addition, if you take a picture with a Vizrea-equipped phone while you’re in Providence, the service will transmit it to your PC in Denver or post it to your personal page on the Vizrea Web site. You don’t have to go through any menus; it just happens. Finally, you can share your Vizrea-managed photos with friends, and vice versa.

While Vizrea is primarily a photo service, it can also handle video clips and certain audio files. It also allows you to enter text postings on your personal Web page.

Vizrea, which is free for now, consists of three parts: a software application for your Windows computer, a software application for your phone, and a Web site for viewing and sharing pictures. You can get the software and see the Web element at vizrea.com.

The Vizrea PC program is a complete photo organizer and even includes basic editing functions. You can create virtual albums, or “collections” of your photos, that can be viewed on a phone or can receive photos from a phone. The program automatically captures all the stuff in your Windows My Pictures folder, so it becomes accessible to your phone.

These collections can also be shared with your personal page on Vizrea’s Web site so that any photos you add to the collections are copied to the Web page automatically.

On the cellphone, Vizrea’s software is much simpler. It offers three main choices: My Content, Upload Content and Friends’ Content. The top option, My Content, is the most important. It allows you to choose either your PC or your Vizrea Web page as a source, and then to see thumbnails of the photos stored there and then view a particular photo.

Vizrea Snap is also available as an integrated feature in a popular Nokia photo program for phones called Nokia Album.

In my tests, Vizrea worked pretty well in both directions. I was able to create collections on a ThinkPad laptop, and view them on a Nokia cellphone. I took pictures with the phone, and a few minutes later they were on the PC or on my page on the Vizrea Web site. I shared my collections with friends and was able to see their pictures as well, on both the phone and the PC.

But Vizrea has one huge drawback: It works only on certain phones that use a Nokia operating system called Series 60. Most of these are Nokia models, but only a couple of them are easily available in the U.S. — the 6682 and the N90. There are many others, but they are primarily sold in Europe.

There are also smaller drawbacks. If the cellphone signal isn’t strong, downloading the photos from the computer to the phone can be a slow process. Vizrea doesn’t save, or cache, information for long, so almost every time you want to access your PC from your phone, it needs to download the folder structure and thumbnails, as if it had never done so before.

And I had problems with a cool feature in the Nokia Album version of Vizrea that allows the phone to automatically identify pictures by location. It didn’t work every time, though Vizrea says it is working on a fix.

Still, Vizrea is a hopeful sign. If it can link the photos on cellphones and PCs, it should soon be possible to seamlessly synchronize other kinds of data — contact entries, email and more. Then your two most important devices could really work as one.

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