For some time Eye-Fi have had the market pretty sewn-up when it comes to Wireless SD cards. The idea is simple – a standard SD card but one that can wirelessly connect to your network, allowing you to transmit camera pictures to your PC or mobile device without having to take it out. Now, Toshiba, the inventors of flash memory, have entered the market with their FlashAir range.
Available in 8, 16 and 32 GB versions the prices of FlashAir is highly competitive, being a lot cheaper than the EyeFi equivalents. However, as we’ll learn, both offer slightly different propositions.
In its default form, this is a pretty normal looking class 10 SD card that you can add to your camera (or whatever else you wish to use it for – but, let’s be honest, it’s a camera this is probably destined for). Read times are pretty average – 16.7 MB/s sequentially, and 16.37 with random large files. Small random file reading is below average at 2.06 MB/s. With a camera it’s the write times that matter, however, and they are a mixed bag – a sequential write speed of 12.47 MB/s is above average, large random file writing of 1.3 MB/s is below average but small write speeds of 0.2 MB/s is well above average. Sadly, camera files are unlikely to fall in the latter category so this benefit is all but lost. Basically, it’s fine – bearing in mind what this card also does, this is actually quite good as it would be easy for it to interfere or for Toshiba to include cheaper components to keep the overall cost down.
Once you’ve got files on your card you need to access them. For this, there are phone apps (iOS and Android) as well as desktop programs for OS X and Windows. I found using a phone app to be the best way to initially set up the card, as you need to configure WiFi settings so that it can be properly accessed in future. There are further settings that allow you to configure a bypass – basically, your device access the card be by connecting to its WiFi signal (802.11b/g/n) but that would mean losing your internet connection, so by providing your SSID and password the card can connect to your router and continue to allow internet access.
There are two desktop applications – one provides a set of “tools” and the other updates the firmware. Tools includes the aforementioned network configurations as well as creating shortcuts to access the card wirelessly – basically, you can browse the contents of the card using the wireless connection.
On Windows the applications are pretty poor quality, with spelling mistakes and some horrible fonts being used. I also couldn’t get the firmware update program to run. Or maybe I did. I run it and it goes away to check and then goes back to the initial screen again – maybe it found no updates, but if it didn’t it doesn’t bother stating this. I also found that a lot of the programs – the firmware program for instance – often makes you take the card out and put it back in again before you can access it. I can’t see the point of providing a wireless card – i.e. something you can leave in your device without having to remove it – if it’s necessary to keep doing this. In comparison, the Mac software was a lot better.
The packaging is an over-sized (bearing in mind the contents) box, with a plastic blister pack inside holding an instructions leaflet and the card itself (and the card is in a smaller plastic container too). A bit excessive and the instructions are certainly no better – it’s the type of leaflet that folds out like a map and, once done, is massive. It’s mainly health & safety and warranty details in lots of different languages. The actual instructions for use is, shall we say, inadequate, mainly pointing you to FlashAir™ Lineup. The problem with the URL is that unless you type it in 100% the same as printed (in a very small font) then it won’t load – normally when typing a URL into a browser you wouldn’t bother with the HTTP or even WWW – I certainly don’t. Do that and the site doesn’t load. Once on the site you find the PDF manuals are just as inadequate with very little content. Thankfully the applications themselves have some help instructions built in.
I mentioned before that FlashAir works different to Eye-Fi. With Eye-Fi you can set up a number of internet connections so, whilst you’re out and about, photos and videos can be sent back to Eye-Fi’s own server to be stored or, if/when your home PC is on, download to that (if you run the Eye-Fi program on your desktop it will automatically download your photos from the server). The result of this is, if you leave your PC on at home, you can return from holiday to find all your photos on it. Or, if it’s off, you turn it on to download them all from Eye-Fi.
With FlashAir there is no middle-man and no way to set up anything more than a single network, which they assume is your own at home. So, using this, the idea is that whilst out you can use your mobile device to view the photos and, if you want to, download them to that device (a quick and easy way of sharing them on a social network, for instance). When you return home you can wirelessly connect to the card and copy them if you need to.
They both do the same thing but in different ways and it’s more apparent why there is such a price difference as a result – hosting your photos and providing some high quality, slick programs and applications to automatically download and view your photos comes with a price. If all you want to do is access your photos on your phone or tablet whilst out-and-about and/or download your photos at home without having to take out your card then this is ideal.
The FlashAir comes with a 5 year warranty.
Cheaper than the popular competition this offers a slightly different solution to the problem of accessing your camera photos quickly and easily. It’s just such a shame that Toshiba have left the end product so “rough around the edges” with poor instructions and equally poor applications.
Disclosure of gift - I received this product at a discounted price in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.