LIVING THE WIFI WAY
Kodak EasyShare-One DiaryBy MIKE PASINI
The Imaging Resource Digital Photography Newsletter
"Here," Deep Throat said, "use this while I'm here." And in broad daylight he slipped a silver Kodak EasyShare-One into my palm.
We've been eyeing the One for a while, writing a background piece on it for the Jan. 7 issue of the newsletter after interviewing Kodak's Michael McDougall, director of products and services for Kodak's worldwide public relations in digital and film imaging systems. It's been shipping since early October, but when Deep Throat dropped one off here (complete with the EasyShare Printer Dock Plus Series 3)
"Don't tell me anything about it," I told him. "I want to see how tough it is to figure out." No problem. He didn't bring the manuals anyway.
POWER UP | Back to Contents
The first trick was to turn it on. Pressing the power button didn't do anything.
Sure, there's a reason for that. In fact, you have to wonder why it has a power button at all. You interact with this thing through its large (three-inch), touch-sensitive LCD display. And that's turned inward to protect it when the camera is off. So the first thing you do is open the One like a book. There's no latch, you just open it.
Problem two is that the controls and labeling surrounding the three-inch screen are upside down. The screen is oriented correctly, but the clue is obvious. You have to twist the screen around and (fall forward not back for some odd reason) and flip it back to the closed but revealed position.
Flipping the screen forward is awkward. You naturally want to twist it backward so it faces up at you. That's a convenient shooting position, holding the camera low and looking down at the screen. Nope. Flip it forward and fold it back. You don't have to fold it all the way back, though. It works well in an easel position.
Big screen, short stylus
No matter what orientation you use, the screen is right reading. Not only that, but the four-way controller gets the clue too (up is always upward, even if the screen is upside down).
This isn't a fast way to start up a camera. And shut down is slow, too, as you wait for the lens to retract. You can use the power button to shut down and power up the camera with the LCD exposed, so it isn't entirely useless. But that doesn't really get it up and running any quicker.
A QUICK TOUR | Back to Contents
With the camera powered on, we had a look around.
A few things were familiar to us. On the bottom of the camera, a metal tripd socket and a USB/docking port along with the battery/SD card door. The front wasn't too big a mystery either. A flash too close to the lens, a microphone and some sensors, all above the Schneider-Kreuznach C-Variogon 36-108mm 35mmm equivalent AF 3x zoom lens. And the left side of the camera had a flexible cover over an AC connect and a USAB Video out connector.
One to a row
The top of the camera has (from left to right) a speaker, the Power button with a blue LED, a tiny button to cycle through the Flash modes, an SD slot for the Wireless B card and the shutter button. Tucked into the right corner is a stylus. At 2.25 inches, it's a shorty. The screen responds to fingers, too, but the stylus is easier.
A word about the stylus. We didn't mind the short length but we didn't understand why Kodak didn't just orient its storage along the _long_ side of the One, instead of the short side. We've heard there's only room for about one or two drops of water inside the One, it's packed so tight. So maybe this is one of the engineering tradeoffs mere users can't appreciate.
Everything else is on the LCD panel. On the side of the panel opposite the hinge is a small slide switch surrounded by a translucent panel. The top position is Record mode and the bottom is Playback. A green LED indicates which is active behind the translucent panel. Well below that is an Info button with a similar panel surrounding it to display image data.
The other buttons flank the right side of the LCD on a wide border that keeps your fingers off the LCD. At the top is the zoom rocker switch that magnifies in Playback mode. A Menu button and a Share button (with a red LED in the middle of it) follow. Below them is the four-way controller with an OK button in the middle. A Back button and a Delete button are below that. Each botton is on a row of its own. The buttons can be used instead of the stylus for everything but Record mode where things like changing EV require the stylus.
Too bad the button design doesn't have an indent to catch the tip of the stylus. If you try to tap the buttons with the stylus, it just slides off. They're for fingers, really. But not any fingers. Every button on this thing is ridiculously small.
By design, of course. This camera, Deep Throat confided, was designed for women. Women share pictures. They like little buttons. You get, therefore, these ridiculously small buttons. Someone, we suspect, flunked methodology in sociology. People like buttons they can easily find and effortlessly press. Gender has nothing to do with it.
But in fairness, there was only one button we had trouble with. Unfortunately, it was the shutter button, one of the larger ones. It was hard to find by touch and took a good push to do anything, such that we were always introducing camera shake.
OUR FIRST SHOT | Back to Contents
With the camera on and the screen in shooting position, we tried to take our first picture. But the blue sign-on screen wanted us to go through a setup routine, which includes calibrating the display with the stylus much as you do with a PDA. We did that but it powered down. So we tried it again. Same thing. Ah, the battery was weak.
That was the only time the battery died on us, actually. And we gave the One a workout. So if things aren't working, try a fresh battery.
There are over four screens of these
With a fresh battery, the LCD at last came alive with the scene and we zoomed to crop our image. Ugh. One of those lazy zooms that doesn't respond immediately and keeps going after you let go. The rocker is on the panel rather than the camera body, but there should be better feedback than that.
We got our crop and shot. Not bad. We'd taken a picture.
MORE CAMERA | Back to Contents
This could, we think, be more camera. There are plenty of Scene modes available, a Flash mode button (plus screen icon) and a screen icon for EV. But there's no EV button, unfortunately. You have to use the stylus to click through the settings but they take effect immediately, so you can see what each does. Cycling through isn't a great concept, though. When you go too far, you'd just like to rachet back one setting.
No macro mode either. Really just a 4-Mp point and shoot. Use the button on top to disable the flash if you're flash-phobic. If you've got any ambition at all, set the EV. Or try a Scene mode so you can blame someone else.
Otherwise this is really just a point and shoot. No decisions to make but press the shutter.
We'll have our usual camera hardware review at this URL shortly to cover that aspect of the One. The test shots are already up with some gallery shots. But what's compelling about the One is not the lens/sensor/exposure options.
THE WIFI DOCK | Back to Contents
Later that evening, the dock came out and we launched our odyssey into a wireless photo world.
The dock can function as a simple Ad Hoc network (no router involved, just the dock and the One). Power on both devices, pop up the WiFi card on the One to activate it (sort of like using a popup flash that isn't automatic) and in a few seconds you're connected. We sent a picture to the dock to be printed as a 4x6 dye sub. And it worked!
|The Plus Series 3 Dock. Note the WiFi card (B) poking out the left side. Buttons: Picture size, Cancel, Bluetooth, Four-way Controller, Red Eye Reduction, Slide Show, Transfer. This dye sub printer makes 4x6 prints. Wirelessly.
But wait! Install the printer's driver on your computer and you can use it wireless on your network. As with any printer, if you install its driver on a computer, that computer will be able to print to it. But with the wireless dock, you don't have to have the printer cabled to the computer's USB port. You can put the printer anywhere and any computer that has its driver installed will be able to find it on the network and print to it.
And not just through the EasyShare software. Use any application you normally use to print photos and simply select the wireless dock.
Because the One can also print wirelessly to it through the network, you can put the printer in an obvious spot at a dinner or party without endangering your computer. And if any of your guests has a 26-pin Series 3 USB EasyShare digicam, they too can make prints by just docking it.
THE ONE'S WIFI POPUP | Back to Contents
No, at first we weren't thrilled with the One's pop-up WiFi card concept. We much preferred the Nikon Coolpix P1's internal transmitter and antenna, enabled with a twist of the Mode dial. The One's pop-up seemed less than elegant. Maybe it provides better reception, but it just bugged us. And the connection times out in four minutes to preserve battery power. WiFi takes some energy.
|SD WiFi Card. Ready to connect, with stylus popped up, too. Note the rectangular Shutter button near the stylus and the small square button for the Flash next to the rectangular Power button on top.
But oddly enough, as we used it to snoop out WiFi networks wherever we went, popping the card up and down became sort of fun, an electronic equivalent of winking at someone.
EASYSHARE | Back to Contents
The next morning, we asked Deep Throat just how tough it was to transmit images wirelessly to a laptop. "No problem," he said, "you just need EasyShare 5.2." Which is free. We downloaded and installed it before our coffee was cold.
We put it on a laptop that was wirelessly connected to our router. Not, that is, an Ad Hoc arrangement like the dock. Once it was running, we popped the WiFi card up and the One found our router, recognized it needed a password and displayed a keyboard for us to stylus or button it in when we confirmed we knew what it was. In a second, we were connected and Sharing our first photo.
Just enter your Gallery password to play
We did that in Playback mode by selecting an image with the stylus and pressing the Share button. The One looked for a device, found EasyShare and transmitted the image rather quickly we thought. These are 4-Mp images over a Wireless B connection, smaller than the Nikon P1's 8-Mp images and slower than its Wireless G connection.
Pop the card up and the One looks for a connection
It found our router (and remembered our password)
What you can do (we scrolled down to Transfer)
But to do it, you have to find an accomplice
Two computers with EasyShare software made themselves available
So we were in business
OK, so how do you select several images to transmit. We had to ask because it wasn't at all obvious. The answer is simple enough but not nearly as smooth as the Nikon P1's simple alternatives. You select an image and tap the Drawer icon in the bottom right of the screen. When you've selected everything, you click the drawer and transmit the collection.
There must be an easier way, we thought. Like a Select All. There isn't for an arbitrary selection, but there are a few automatic groupings. Kodak calls them Albums. The Recent album is anything on the card that has not been transferred to your EasyShare collection (which can direct the One to delete what's been transferred so the card really only does have recent shots). And the Calendar albums organize card contents by month. That's still a little broad for us, but it's something.
EasyShare the software was a pleasure to use. We had reviewed a much earlier version when Kodak first released it as a free product and were delighted to see how it has matured. We plugged a HiTi 630PS into the laptop and printed a 4x6 directly from EasyShare. No problem.
BECOMING UNWIRED | Back to Contents
It takes a little re-education to shoot with a WiFi camera, we found. We went into the garden to take some test shots and get comfortable with the camera, as we do with any new gear.
We took a few and then it dawned on us. We didn't have to wait to go back inside to transfer them to our laptop. We switched to Playback mode, popped up the WiFi card, watched it find our network, put some images in the Drawer, opened the Drawer and pushed the Share button. Our sleeping laptop woke up, launched EasyShare and grabbed the images as we wandered around the garden.
We did that a couple of times, just to make sure we weren't dreaming. Convenient backups if nothing else.
SHARING | Back to Contents
But there is something else. Sharing. The same menu that offers the Transfer function, lets you Email, Print and Upload. Emailing and Uploading depend on your EasyShare Gallery account (which is free). But printing only needs an Ad Hoc doc or a dock with a wireless profile for your network.
The Nikon P1 promises wireless printing, too, but there's nothing like the Gallery connection for emailing and sharing photo albums. You can actually view your online Gallery album in the camera. And you can email any image either online or in the camera to anyone in your address book (which you sync between the Gallery address book and the camera address book). But you can't transfer an image from one One to another.
So if you're within range of a network, you can shoot and email without transferring your images to a computer.
That sort of thing grows on you. The image isn't bound to the memory card any more. It's just data that can flow like water through any network that lets you onto the Internet and from there to anywhere you like.
OUT TO DINNER | Back to Contents
Our little orientation period in the garden was only a glimpse of what life with a One is like. Over the course of a week, we used the camera in ways we haven't ever used a camera before. And we had a lot of fun doing it. The new concept was, as we noted, to think about _sharing_ the images.
We went out to dinner at a particularly festive Mexican restaurant one night, taking pictures of the front of the place, the walls decorated with glossies of movie stars and all sorts of things hung from the ceiling. Not to mention our full plates and smiling companions.
But let it recycle....
When we left the restaurant, we passed a Starbucks and pulled up short. Why not email a shot of the festivities 3,000 miles away to family and friends? It might be a vicarious thrill for them. Or even make them hungry.
Sure enough, the One found the T-Mobile hot spot at Starbucks when, from the sidewalk, we popped the WiFi card up. Then we selected an image, pressed the Share button, selected the Email option with the stylus, found the email address in the One's address book, filled out a Subject and the text of the message using the stylus with the onscreen keyboard and sent it. A few seconds later, the image had been sent to the Gallery and emailed to the family.
Of course, we were getting yelled at by our better halves who were already at the car waiting to get in. The social ramifications of this new behavior have a few kinks to be worked out.
We went by the house to drop off some leftovers and while the ladies freshened up, we sat in the car. Why not upload the restaurant photos to a Gallery Album while we're waiting?
Parked in the street, we were in range of the bunker's wireless router. A few minutes later, we had uploaded everything to the Gallery and sent an email inviting more family and friends to have a look.
Which was much more socially acceptable behavior.
Even more importantly, though, this is a great solution to the one problem that has bedeviled digicam owners since the beginning. Backing up vacation pictures when you don't bring a computer along. Being able to upload the images to the Gallery means not having to pack along another box on your trip. And, yes, there are Gallery connections all over the world.
One caveat there, though. You can't actually download the high res images from the Gallery to your computer when you get home. You can download a high res image to print but you can't save it. The workaround is to order a CD from the Gallery.
You just need a WiFi connection.
A PARTY | Back to Contents
To celebrate the One's launch, Kodak rented storefronts in San Francisco and New York for November. Like the Apple stores, they provide product for people to try out but unlike them, nothing is for sale. And on selected evenings, they throw a catered party with staff available to help the guests use all the new toys.
|People & Pictures
|Photo Printer 500 with LCD, Card Reader
Accessories not included
We were ushered into one such last week and got a chance to see just what kind of party animal the One is.
Again a T-Mobile connection was available so guests could pick up a One and print to one of three printer docks. They could also pop a card into one of the new Kodak kiosks to make 4x6 prints.
We brought the One we'd been using, which fortunately had a T-Mobile account loaded so we could take shots at the party and print them wirelessly. Which turned out to be more fun that we thought.
We took aim at a group of people surrounding one wireless printer doc, waited for just the right moment and took their picture. Then we sent the image to their printer. During a lull in the conversation, one of them noticed with some surprise that their picture coming out of the printer! Andy Warhol would have loved it.
Of course, we didn't get it right the first time. With three printers available, all with names so long they had to scroll in the onscreen label designed for them until we could read their number, we guessed wrong a few times, sending recent wedding pictures to an undisclosed location for printing. But that was fun, too, as we wandered the floor looking for our print and confessing we were the culprit.
We had a quiet moment at the kiosk where we just popped the SD card into a slot to order prints that can shooting out the bottom in a few minutes. The touch-screen kiosk interface was very, very quick. And the prints arrived promptly. Kodak has army of kiosks out there already and if they introduce kiosks with wireless connections for the One you wouldn't even have to find a Starbucks to get prints.
MORE FUN | Back to Contents
Using the One to look for WiFi networks was something of a little revelation. There are a lot of them out there. And, wisely, they are password protected.
Even more amusing, there are a lot of laptops and routers not connected to the Internet that do allow connections. Button up your overcoat, if you've got a wireless router.
We never actually got onto a private network that let us upload to our Gallery. But we hit a few unprotected office networks and unprotected laptops.
PICTURE VIEWER | Back to Contents
Just in case you have any doubts about sharing as the focus of the EasyShare experience, Kodak has an inexpensive companion product called the Picture Viewer that holds your favorite images in its 32-MB internal memory and provides an SD slot of any additional shots. The credit-card-sized viewer's 2.5-inch screen (882x228 pixels) runs a nice slide show, but the device is also PictBridge compatible, so all you have to do is plug it into a PictBridge printer to get prints. And, yes, it can tag images for not just printing but emailing, too.
It charges via USB or plugged into a dock (with its adapter), providing about three hours of viewing on battery power. It comes with a nice leather slipcase, USB cable and dock adapter for about $100.
CONCLUSION | Back to Contents
We have this One for a few more days and invite your questions. We'll be adding to this report as we come learn more about the One.
But so far, we've come to appreciate it as more cellphone-like fun than PDA plodding. The Macromedia Flash interface remains a work in progress but the One is perfectly capable of tricks no other camera can do. Wireless printing is robust and extendable to any computer the printer's network. Wireless file transfers are also robust, if lacking a convenient way to select groups of images. Wireless emailing and uploading to the Gallery is unique and a lot of fun. In short, it works.
EasyShare-One Diary: Two Months Later
EasyShare-One Test Images
EasyShare-One "Picky Details"
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Top 3 photos this month win:
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3 Canon PIXMA MG5420