If you’re familiar with Eye-Fi’s Pro X2 wireless SDHC cards, which have been available for a few years now, you may be scratching your head at what’s different about Eye-Fi’s new Mobi cards.

Recent Videos

The Eye-Fi Mobi, which is available as a 8GB/Class 10 SDHC card for $50 and a 16GB/Class 10 SDHC card for $80, offers the ability to send full-resolution photos wirelessly as they’re captured to iOS devices and Android devices.

Using a feature called Direct Mode, the Eye-Fi Pro X cards have been able to beam images to iOS and Android devices since 2011. The main difference with the Mobi is that it aims to simplify those camera-to-mobile transfers for casual users, and it certainly achieves that — at the expense of a few options that more-advanced photographers might be looking for.

The Eye-Fi Mobi lacks some of the features you’ll find in the Pro X2 cards: It doesn’t transfer RAW files, it doesn't sync your images to a cloud service and it lacks the ability to send photos wirelessly to laptop and desktop computers. As with the Pro X2 card, you can also transfer videos wirelessly, but with limitations: There’s plenty of support for different video formats (.mov, .mp4, .mts, .m4v, .mpg, .flv, .wmv, .avi, and .3gp), but you can’t wirelessly transfer videos that are larger than 2GB in file size.

So what you get with the Mobi is direct-to-mobile photo and video sharing, with the benefits of a lower price and significantly easier setup than the Pro X2 cards. If you shoot in JPG or RAW+JPG, the Mobi cards represent an easy way to instantly review your photos on a bigger-screened tablet, then edit/share them from your mobile device.

Easy setup

The Mobi cards may lack the ability to transfer images to a proper computer, but that missing feature contributes to a very simple setup.

Setting up the card is simple. You insert the Eye-Fi Mobi card into a camera and enter a 10-character activation code.

You download the free Eye-Fi app to your iOS device or Android device, including Kindle Fire or Kindle Fire HD; enter a 10-character activation code into the app; and you’re essentially off and running.

On an iOS device, you need to take the extra step of changing your privacy settings to allow Eye-Fi to store photos, but the Eye-Fi app guides you through that process. Compared to the Eye-Fi Pro X2’s more-complicated Direct Mode setup, it’s much easier and doesn’t require adjusting using your computer to configure your initial connection to mobile devices.

You also don’t need to be within range of a Wi-Fi access point in order for the Mobi-to-mobile sharing to work. The card forms a peer-to-peer connection with supported mobile devices; the card itself shows up as a Wi-Fi access point on your mobile device, and joining that wireless network allows you to share between your camera and your phone or tablet.

I tested the Eye-Fi Mobi with two cameras and two mobile devices. I used the Canon PowerShot SX260 HS to see how the card performed in a compact camera with reasonably small image sizes, and I used the Nikon D800E to see how it performed with much larger file sizes. On the mobile device side of the equation, I used an iPhone 4S and a Kindle Fire HD, both with the free Eye-Fi app installed.

Hands on with the Eye-Fi Mobi and a Canon PowerShot SX260 HS

After popping the Eye-Fi Mobi card into the SX260 HS and taking a few shots, I did my first wireless-sync test with the iPhone 4S. I snapped a few test photos with different in-camera compression settings to see how fast it would transfer various file sizes, and then I launched the Eye-Fi app on my phone.

On iOS, the card requires a manual connection each time you want to transfer files wirelessly.

On the iOS app, tapping the red icon in the top-left corner of the screen (it depicts a camera and a mobile device) brought up a message that said the phone and the camera were not connected. The message coached me through how to do so: Open Settings and select the Eye-Fi card as the access point. I did, and the photo transfer worked quickly after that. Unfortunately, with the iPhone, I had to perform this manual-connection step each time I wanted to transfer photos.

After that, it took two or three seconds for each 12-megapixel image to transfer to the mobile device and show up in the Eye-Fi app’s image gallery. There was no noticeable time difference in transferring a 5.3MB “superfine” compression image from the PowerShot SX260 HS versus a 2.6MB “fine” compression photo. Both went quickly. I also shot a 30-second video with the camera (the file size was 128MB), and the transfer time was about 50 seconds for that clip.

The entire process was a bit easier with the Kindle Fire HD version of the Eye-Fi app. Using the Eye-Fi app’s “Application Preferences” menu, I set up the Kindle to automatically connect to the Mobi each time the card was detected as within range. As with the iPhone, transfers worked quickly and without a hitch; it took a few seconds for the Kindle to pair up with the card and download images from it. Videos took longer, but not annoyingly so.

The Kindle Fire HD version of the Eye-Fi app gives you more configuration options, including the ability to automatically connect to the Mobi when it's within range.

While those basic transfers worked as advertised and with impressive speed, I did notice a few limitations with the Mobi during my initial tests. There are also major differences between the iOS and Kindle Fire HD versions of the Eye-Fi app. I’ll cover some of the drawbacks of using the Mobi and the app’s platform-specific features in the next two sections.

The Eye-Fi Mobi’s limitations

While you can set up the Mobi card to transfer images and videos to more than one mobile device, that feature has some frustrating limitations. It bears mentioning that the transfers between the Mobi and a mobile device aren’t done by using a “cloud” service. It’s a true peer-to-peer connection between the card and each mobile device; you’ll need to transfer photos separately to each device, and there are usability gaps in that process.

For instance, I tried pairing the card up with an iPhone and a Kindle Fire HD simultaneously, hoping that the card would beam photos to both devices at once. It didn’t. It seemed to favor the Kindle Fire HD, and once a photo was transferred to one of the two devices, the Mobi offered no way to transfer the same image to the other device. You basically get to transfer each photograph or batch of photographs to one mobile device, and that’s it.

There’s also no way to manually select images to transfer, which would be a workaround for that shortcoming. Once you shoot an image or a batch of images, you pair the card up with your selected mobile device, and it automatically loads all the photos taken since the card was last synced to any device. So if you take a photo and beam it to your phone, there’s no way to beam that same image to your tablet. You’ll need to email the photo from your phone to your tablet.

That doesn’t make a huge difference if you only plan to use the card with one mobile device at a time, but if you were thinking of beaming the same photos to multiple devices, forget it. The Mobi wouldn’t be a good solution for a studio setting where you want a group of people to review photos as they’re shot, for example.

On the positive side, the lack of simultaneous transfers to different devices and the fact that the Mobi doesn’t use a cloud service both make the Mobi’s wireless-transfer process more secure. Otherwise, anyone who got ahold of your card’s 10-character activation code would probably be able to view your photos.

The Eye-Fi app's image gallery is a simple repository of photos, with some basic sharing options but no delete function.
Eye-Fi's app doesn't display much data, but you can view full EXIF info for each image once it's on a computer.

Also noteworthy is the fact that the mobile app is a very simple repository for photos. On the Eye-Fi app, there’s no option to delete photos from the mobile app’s gallery of images. You also can’t delete photos from the card by using the app, and deleting photos from the Mobi card while it’s in the camera doesn’t remove those photos from the Eye-Fi gallery on your mobile device. And while each image’s full EXIF data is retained, there’s no way to view it completely within the Eye-Fi app. All you get after tapping the app’s “Info” button are the file name and the date it was taken, so you’ll need to offload the files to a computer to see the full image data.

The Eye-Fi Mobi also has a camera-battery-saving feature that disables the card as a Wi-Fi access point each time it completes a batch of wireless transfers. That’s certainly helpful in terms of conserving your camera battery’s charge, but it also means that you may have to manually select the Eye-Fi card as an access point on your device each time you transfer files. This was less of a hassle when using the Mobi with the Kindle Fire HD, as you could set the app to auto-connect to the Mobi card each time it was detected. You don’t have that option in the iOS version of the app, which is just one way that the Eye-Fi app differs across mobile platforms.

Differences between the iOS and Kindle Fire HD Eye-Fi apps

During my hands-on tests, I discovered that the iOS version of the app and the Kindle Fire HD version of the app vary in significant ways, with different sharing options and fine-tunable settings.

In the iOS Eye-Fi app, you have many options for sharing and printing.
In the Kindle version, you're limited to emailing photos from within the app.

On iOS, once the photos appeared in the Eye-Fi app’s gallery, tapping the gear icon in the top right corner gave me a few sharing options. In iOS, you can email images directly from the app, post them to Twitter or Facebook, print them wirelessly from your mobile device if your printer supports that, or save a full-resolution copy of each image to your Camera Roll (that function is listed as “Copy” in the Eye-Fi app’s menu).

In addition to the app’s sharing and printing options, you also get a few display and control settings in iOS, each of which have a basic on/off toggle in the app’s “Application Preferences” menu. You can view any incoming transfers in full-screen mode, disable your device’s sleep mode while the app is running, or elect whether to have the Eye-Fi app’s gallery display all photos from your Camera Roll or just the ones saved to the camera’s Eye-Fi card.

On the Kindle Fire HD version of the app, photos automatically save to the Kindle’s native photo album, but sharing options are limited to email; the Twitter, Facebook and printing options don’t exist in the Kindle Eye-Fi app. The “Application Preferences” settings include all the iOS options and then some, as you have the option to have the Kindle auto-connect to the Mobi once the card is detected as an access point, geotag your shots using the mobile device itself, and set a destination folder for incoming photos.

Hands-on with the Eye-Fi Mobi and a Nikon D800E

While my hands-on test with the Canon PowerShot SX260 HS was a good indicator of how well the Mobi would perform with a point-and-shoot camera, I decided to also put the card through its paces with a full-frame DSLR, the Nikon D800E.

I did this for a couple of reasons: I wanted to see how fast wireless-transfer speeds would be with the D800E’s hefty 36-megapixel images, and I also wanted to see if I could “fool” the card into transferring RAW images. Here’s how those tests went.

Even at large file sizes, JPEG transfers from the D800E to a mobile device went reasonably fast. The Nikon D800E’s JPEG images can be anywhere from 10MB to 20MB, and wireless transfers of each image took about 10 to 12 seconds each on average -- roughly a second per MB. So the Mobi might be a handy tool for anyone who wants to shoot RAW+JPG, save the JPG files to the Mobi card, and then share the JPEGs to a mobile device. But the step-up Eye-Fi Pro X2 card is certainly a better fit for advanced shooters.

As far as I could tell, there really is no way to transfer RAW files wirelessly with the Mobi. During the Nikon D800E test, I noticed that the Mobi only shows up as a wireless hotspot when it senses that it has new JPEG images saved to it. Taking RAW photos doesn’t activate the card’s wireless functionality.

Overall impressions

Just as advertised, the Eye-Fi Mobi is a wireless card designed for dead-simple sharing. It beams photos and short videos from a camera to your mobile device in an automated, hassle-free way.

Advanced photographers should probably take a pass due to its lack of RAW support, lack of manual wireless-transfer controls and inability to transfer the same photo from the camera to multiple devices at the same time. But this isn’t a card that was made with pro photographers in mind, anyway. Casual photographers who just want a wire-free way to get JPEG images from a digital camera to a smartphone or tablet will enjoy the Mobi’s simple setup and fast transfer speeds. It’s simple, but it’s limited.

Tim Moynihan is a freelance technology writer based in New York. After two years as Home Page and Features Editor at CNET, Tim joined PCWorld in 2007, and worked for six years as a senior editor for camera, camcorder and HDTV content.