Review: Digital FOCI Picture Porter

The Picture Porter is a hard drive with multiple memory card slots for viewing and storing your digital pictures while on the go.

InformationWeek Staff, Contributor

December 20, 2005

5 Min Read

If bringing a digital camera along when you travel means lugging a laptop for storing and viewing images, you may be interested in Digital FOCI’s Picture Porter. Combining a hard drive, an LCD and card slots that support a whopping eleven different memory formats, this pocket sized device lets you bring along the data, including music, files, and movies -- and leave the laptop at home.

The Picture Porter is pleasantly small, light and powerful, dealing just as capably with playing mp3s or functioning as an external storage device for a computer as it does as a memory card backup and picture viewer. On the plus side: its weight (8.6 oz with hard drive and battery), long lasting battery (7.5 hrs audio play, 3.5 hrs pictures or video), and ease of installation (the unit requires no drivers under Windows XP Home/Pro, ME, 2000, 98/SE, Macintosh OS 8.6 and later, Linux OS kernel versions 2.4.x and later). On the minus side: its small display size (2.0” diagonal), lack of selectable font sizes for the menus, and a general lack of menu options. Overall, it’s an extremely useful device that does what it is supposed to do, yet left me wanting more.

As an image viewer, the Picture Porter is hampered by its small display -- smaller than most current digital cameras and smaller than the current iPod screen. Still, it’s not a bad display. And if you want things bigger, if not crisper, you can easily hook the device up to a TV via its video/audio cables. A remote control completes the mini-media center functionality. Slide shows are straightforward, displaying the contents of a folder in sequence, the only variable being the interval between changes, from 1 to 60 seconds. A few fade effects would have been a nice touch.

The Picture Porter supports a wide range of RAW image file formats, as well as the expected JPG, BMP and TIFF and will accommodate MicroDrives as well as CF I & II cards, making it useful to professional photographers who don’t want to load down their camera bags with their laptop. Other card formats: SmartMedia, MultiMedia Card, SD Card, Memory Stick, MS PRO, MS Duo, MS PRO Duo, xD-Picture Card. One minor nuisance pops up whenever you connect the device to your computer: The computer insists on adding all the card slots (as well as the Picture Porter itself) to its available drives, whether or not you have a card in them. This slows things down a bit when attaching the device, and makes for a more confused drive listing than necessary.

As an audio player, the device does quite well, though it’s no match for an iPod for storage space or battery life. Unlike the iPod however, the lithium ion battery is removable, so you can replace it easily if it begins to lose its ability to hold a charge. Music can be played in MP3, WMA 7, 8, 9, AAC, and WAV formats, and the panel controls are fairly easy to use. Two features I liked in the audio section are the ability to put the player function into the background and continue on with other tasks while your music plays, and the dual headphone outlets (mini) that let you listen with someone else. I’d like to have a small integrated speaker though, since it couldn’t cost much and would add to the device’s usefulness.

The Picture Porter comes with Ulead management software, a USB cable, video/audio cable, earphones, AC adapter, Lithium-Ion battery, remote control, carrying case, and a user’s guide. Though the device comes with a carrying case that you could cram its controller, adapter and cables into, it gets pretty bulky, and would be better off with just a belt/bag clip so you could take it along for music, or hang it off a camera bag. The 5 VDC 0.5 A (max) charger/adapter supply does its job, though it could be more elegant. It’s a bit thicker than the Picture Porter, and the two prong 115VAC plug doesn’t fold over, a trick I favor, so it’s bulkier in your luggage than it really should be. The six foot cable is stiff and resists coiling, making me wish the unit could power itself off a USB port or just had a sleeker power supply.

I appreciate the use of a standard USB mini “B” type connector, reducing the number of cables I have to carry around by one, since a number of other pieces of gear I own use it as well. The unit worked well with either my Windows XP desktop or Laptop, and equally well with an OS 10 PowerBook. Though I didn’t time the transfers, they seemed in line with the 480 Mbps (max) spec, whether I was unloading memory cards or moving large files off my PC. Moving files around, or using the built in backup features, is a strong point for the device. Not only does it work well as an external hard drive, but it does a fine job moving data from one card format to another, which can be a lifesaver in itself.

For photographers on the go, the Picture Porter is a terrific accessory. For media lovers who don’t need its ability to load memory cards, it’s not an especially good value. For less money you can get more iPod, sans card ports and the ability to download directly from them. It’s not a lot less money, though, and the ability to get rid of a collection of card readers and possibly even your laptop may be well worth the difference.

Digital FOCI Picture Porter MSRP: $399 (20 GB / $469 (40) Accessories: Additional Battery (39.99), Car Charger (39.99)

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