Toshiba FlashAir. Promising, But Ultimately Flawed [Review]

IMG_2892

FlashAir byToshiba
Category: SD Cards
Works With: Cameras
Price: $50

What the hell is wrong with wireless SD card makers? They manage to cram an entire Wi-Fi router into an SD card, along with the memory that’s already in there, and yet the software looks like they got their idiot cousin to write it in a weekend for like $100.

Toshiba’s FlashAir is a great example. The hardware is sound, and has some really great features. But the software is awful. Truly, breathtakingly terrible.

What It Is

The FlashAir card is an 8GB SD card with a built-in Wi-Fi access point and web server. You take photos as usual, only you can also connect to the card directly using your iPhone, iPad, or any computer with Wi-Fi and a web browser. The key advantage over things like the Eye-Fi card is that you can actually see all your photos as thumbnails in the browser, and then either view them direct from the card, or download them to your local device.

The Good

The best thing about the FlashAir is somebody else's software.

The best thing about the FlashAir is somebody else’s software.

When the card is running it’s fantastic, mostly. And it’ll work just fine out of the box — you put it in a camera and switch the camera on. Then you connect to its Wi-Fi network, log in with a default password, change that password and you’re ready.

From there you just take pictures, and then — when you want to transfer some to your iPhone or iPad — you connect to its network and grab the pictures you want. And because you’re likely to be using this when out and about and away from your usual Wi-Fi networks, the iPhone or iPad should see the network and connect automatically.

Compare this to the Eye-Fi, which starts pumping every one of its saved photos to your iDevice upon connection, with no way to choose which to send[1]. Worse, it sends them oldest-first, which is almost certainly the opposite of what you want.

Back to the Flashair. The single best feature of this card, and the reason I bought it, is that it works with Photosync. Using Photosync, you can browse all the thumbnails on the card, tap the ones you want to import and then save them to your camera roll, plus an optional folder in the Photos app. No configuration is required: if the iPhone/iPad is connected to the Flashair network, then it’ll show up in PhotoSync.

The Bad

Software

The problem with all wireless SD cards is that they drain the host camera’s battery. And if your camera is — like mine — already a battery hog then you’re really out of luck.

The default power-off time for the card is five minutes, but you can and probably should change this to one minute. That timeout only applies if you’re not using the card’s Wi-Fi capabilities, which means that one minute (the minimum) should be more than enough to get yourself connected. If not, cycle the camera’s power to reset the timer.

Many cameras these days have a software setting to switch an Eye-Fi card on and off, which means you can turn it on only when you need it. That’s kind of useless with the Eye-Fi as it wants to send all its unsent pictures as soon as it connects, and sadly FlashAir isn’t popular enough[2] to have camera support.

fig 1

Ugh.

To get around this, the FlashAir lets you turn the wireless radio on and off by protecting and unprotecting a special photo that is written to the card by the Mac or PC setup software. In practice, this is a nightmare. It might just be my camera that doesn’t like it (a Fujifilm X100S), but I would get a “read error” whenever I tried to access this photo. If you wait long enough, it may or may not appear and let you unlock it, but by then you might as well have popped the SD card out and stuck it into your camera connection kit.

Worse, once you have un/protected the card, you need to reboot to get the change to be recognized. Better, then, to just leave the card to “Start automatically at boot,” and just swap it out with a regular SD card when you don’t need its battery-draining functions.

Which brings me to the configuration app on the Mac. Or apps. There are actually two, with almost identical functionality. I found it impossible to format the card with either app, and adding in the control image for the Wi-Fi start/stop function sometimes worked and sometimes didn’t. Changing the card’s SSID, password and timeout, however, was bulletproof.

Hardware Troubles
fig 4

This isn’t what you want to see after you just shot unrepeatable photos.

And that’s not it. The hardware has significant drawbacks, too. The first is the speed. This card is dog slow. It’s a Class 6 card, which in practice means that I actually see the card activity light on my camera flashing away for seconds at a time. And this is shooting JPG, not RAW. With my usual SanDisk Extreme and Extreme Pro cards, the writing has stopped before I can get the camera from my eye to see it.

Formatting is also painfully slow — not that you should do it. If you format the card in-camera (which is considered good practice to avoid read/write errors and lost pictures), then the Wi-Fi capabilities are wiped along with your photos, turning this into a dumb card which can’t be fixed until you get it to a computer (you need to plug it into a Mac or PC to reinstall the lost software).

fig 3

The deers.

And finally, transfer is also dog slow. The card uses 802.11g at 2.4GHz, making bulk transfers painful and battery-threatening. By contrast, the Eye-Fi uses speedy 802.11n (also 2.4GHz).

The Verdict

V2.0 of the FlashAir is beginning to circulate in the world, and fixes the formatting problem. But the current version is hard to recommend. It’s slow. It’s unreliable. The access point takes a lot longer to boot than the Eye-Fi’s, and you never know when you might be left in the field without functionality you were relying on.

Which is a shame, as the random-access, uh, access to photos and the universally-accessible web server are awesome.

If you have an iPhone, then this is fine for light use. But if you own an iPad, then don’t bother. You’re better off taking the five seconds required to pull the SD card from the camera and the camera connection kit from your pocket.

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Product Name: FlashAir

The Good: Works Great with any transfer software.

The Bad: Slow, unreliable, buggy.

The Verdict Avoid, unless you have no choice, or have an old, slow camera.

Buy from: Toshiba

Cult of Mac rating: Poor


  1. You can choose to only send pictures that you protect using the camera’s controls, but this is clunky at best.  ↩
  2. With the rise in in-camera Wi-Fi, I think the days of wireless SD cards are numbered.  ↩
  • Marco Vidor

    hi thank you for this awesome review, I use x100s too and I just bought this memory card. so what can I do to avoid the write error and read error? and how can I turn off the wifi function while I’m not transferring photos

    • Gian James Gamones Maagad

      My X100 just had write error too in the 2nd day. But was actually ok on the first day.

About the author

Charlie Sorrel Charlie Sorrel is the Reviews Editor here on Cult of Mac. Follow Charlie  on Twitter at @mistercharlie.

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