Seamlessly backing up your photos and making them easily shareable seems to be the dream for cloud storage services. Dropbox and Google have put a lot of effort into making photo backups an integral feature of their respective services. Flickr's iOS app lets you automatically upload photos from your phone to better take advantage of the 1TB of free storage the service offers. And Apple offers iCloud streams to back up and share your photos with other iOS users.
Now Eye-Fi is launching a service that backs up all of the photos you take with your smartphone and your camera. Best known for making SD cards with built-in Wi-Fi capabilities, the company's new Eye-Fi Cloud program lets you access your photos on any device you own through a web interface or iOS and Android apps. Launching today, Eye-Fi Cloud offers unlimited photo uploads for $49 per year, regardless of resolution or file size. It works with all of the company's existing Eye-Fi Mobi cards and new customers will get 90 days of free cloud backup (the cards start at $49 for an 8GB model and can be paired to an unlimited number of devices). The pricing compares favorably to Google and Dropbox's offerings, especially if you take a lot of photos, but Eye-Fi's service is designed to only work with pictures, not any file you care to back up.
Unlimited photo backups for $49 per year, regardless of file size
Eye-Fi Cloud works with brand new apps for iOS and Android to grab the photos you take with your DSLR, mirrorless, or point and shoot camera and then upload them to Eye-Fi's servers. Once a card is paired with the smartphone app, any photo you take will be instantly transferred to your phone or tablet, which will upload it immediately to Eye-Fi's servers (or wait until it's connected to a Wi-Fi network, if you choose). The apps also backup all of the photos you take with your phone, similar to how Dropbox and Google+'s backup services work.
Once your photos are in Eye-Fi Cloud, they can be accessed through the service's web interface or an app on another mobile device. Eye-Fi's earlier products made it really easy to share high quality photos from a camera wherever you are, but the new Cloud service now makes it painless to access the photos on any device you own. Photos can be organized into albums, which can then be shared privately with anyone via email (with automatic update notifications when new photos are added to a shared album).
Eye-Fi Cloud isn't hugely different from Apple's iCloud service, with the main benefit being that you don't need to be an iOS or Mac user to access the photos. In many ways, it smartly solves the private sharing photo problem and makes it easy to privately share a bunch of photos with someone at once. It's also the easiest way to get photos off of your camera, especially if your camera doesn't have Wi-Fi built in already. (Eye-Fi says that 64 percent of cameras sold this year won't have Wi-Fi, and 95 percent of cameras already in use do not have it either.)
The new Mobi apps work as expected for the most part, and let you browse your photos and create albums right from your device. Eye-Fi Cloud's servers will intelligently deliver optimized files for each device you view your photos on, so if you're viewing photos on your iPad that were originally transferred to your Android smartphone, they will have enough resolution to support the iPad's Retina display, but won't unnecessarily eat up all of your internal storage. Shared albums can be viewed in either desktop or mobile browsers, and let viewers watch an automatic slideshow or download the entire album as a ZIP file to their device.
The web app is the weakest link in the Eye-Fi Cloud chain
The Eye-Fi Cloud web app is fairly bare bones, letting you view your photos, create albums, and manage sharing. It is possible to download images from the web app to your computer, but it can only be done one image at a time and is rather tedious. As it stands now, it's more difficult to get your photos out of Eye-Fi Cloud than it should be. It's also not yet possible to upload photos you have on your computer to Eye-Fi's servers — if you didn't take the photo with your camera or your phone, you can't back it up. The web app also only supports sharing within Eye-Fi's system — if there's an album of photos you'd like to share on Facebook, you have to download each photo individually and go from there. Eye-Fi Cloud albums also don't offer any social features — you can't like or comment on a photo as you can with Facebook, Google+, or even iCloud.
The new service doesn't yet work with Eye-Fi's older X2 Pro cards and it doesn't back up RAW files. Videos can be backed up through the Android app, but I did not find a way to view them in the iOS version or the web app. The company says that it will plans to add broader support for Eye-Fi Cloud across its product line later this year as well as add more features to the service as time goes on.
Eye-Fi Cloud combines the convenience of smartphone photos with the image quality of a larger camera
Still, despite its shortcomings, Eye-Fi Cloud works rather well. I was able to take pictures with my mirrorless camera, instantly access them on my smartphone, and then have them available on my computer or iPad without ever having to take the SD card out of my camera and go through the laborious process of transferring them to my computer. It's the same process I've enjoyed with my smartphone pictures through Google and Dropbox's existing services, but now I can take advantage of the better image quality of my larger camera and still have quick access to my photos for sharing purposes.
The battle to be the best storage option for your photos continues to wage on, but with a little help, Eye-Fi Cloud could be the most compelling option yet.