for Handspring Visor
- reviewed by Cory Doctorow
Let met start by saying this: the eyemodule camera
for the Handspring Visor kicks all kinds of ass. I mean, a digital
camera that weighs a couple ounces, is rugged and ready, and shoots
hundreds of greyscale images (or a couple dozen color ones) at a
time -- you gotta love it.
The eyemodule is a "Springboard Module" -- that is, a snap-in
add-on for the Handspring Visor PDA. When the Visor debuted in September
1999, much ink was spilled lauding the PalmOS-based organizer for
its revolutionary plug-and-play expansion slot, the Springboard.
Dozens of vendors announced ambitious plans for Springboard modules:
GPSes, MP3 players, barcode scanners -- the entire universe of handheld
computing opened up.
And then it closed again. The announced modules slipped their
ship-dates, and slipped them again. Antsy, technology-starved users
began to lampoon
the barren wasteland of Springboard moduledom. Then came eyemodule.
Eyemodule is the first killer Springboard module to be released,
a truly useful and novel bit of technology that redefines photography
as much as it changes handheld computing.
Unlike its Palm cousin, the Kodak PalmPix (which requires that
you hold the Palm up to your face like a camera), the eyemodule
embraces the handheld form-factor, shooting like an old-timey single-reflex
camera. You stare down into the Visor's screen, using it as your
viewfinder, and snap using the either the scroll-up button on the
unit or a shutter control on the top of the module. The effect is
one of stealth: in three months of heavy, public eyemodule shooting,
not one bystander has realized that they were on candid camera.
is a classic example of the fine work that product-design shop IDEO
cranks out with amazing regularity: such icons as the Palm V, the
Visor, the stand-up toothpaste tube and the Macintosh AV monitor
all started their lives at IDEO -- however, the eyemodule is the
first IDEO project to be marketed directly by the company.
You can snap from the hip as you walk down the street, sit on
a crowded airplane, or peruse the Picassos at a foto-verboten gallery.
The low angle of the shots and the odd play of light and shadow
in monochrome snaps gives nearly every shot an air of mystery and
The eyemodule shoots at three resolutions: 8-bit grey at 160 x
120 (9k in storage), 8-bit grey at 320 x 240 (39k in storage), and
8-bit color at 320 x 240 (120k in storage). With a half-filled 8MB
Visor Pro/Platinum/Prism, you can store about a hundred greyscale
shots before maxing out. Given the ease of use and the infinitude
of subjects to be immortalized in bits, shooting a hundred snaps
is easier than you think (though the eyemodule does suck batteries
like a hazmat vampire).
Image quality is low by traditional digital photography benchmarks,
but full-size digital cameras are the wrong yardstick by which to
measure the eyemodule's output. Instead, examine the eyemodule's
images as things unto themselves. The greyscale pictures have dramatic
play of deep shadows and bright highlights, like a still taken from
a Super-8 film. The color images have a naive, saturated feel like
early sixties beach postcards. While the camera definitely prefers
bright light and forelit subjects, interested artifacts can be obtained
by shooting backlit or well-lit subjects on dark backgrounds --
I got some awesome shots of the Disneyland castle at night last
time I was in Anaheim.
The on-board software is practically perfect. Like any well-designed
Springboard module, the eyemodule has its own drivers in its firmware,
which gives literal plug-n-play use: plug the eyemodule into the
ass-end of your Visor, and in about three seconds your Visor is
a camera. You can beam the eyemodule app and any shots to any other
Visor owner you happen across, and the simple-but-powerful preferences
screen allows you to switch off the rhythm-breaking "Are You Sure"
dialog the software delivers before storing images. Like any good
digital cam, the software has a facility for paging back through
shots in memory, zooming, deleting, renaming, and filing your stored
images. On the new Visor Platinum and Prism, images are displayed
in 4-bit grey and 8-bit color, respectively.
Conduits for the MacOS and Windows 9*/2K are available for free
online, and with the default
Visor USB cradle, even four megs of images -- a hundred greyscale
pix -- can be transferred in a minute or two. As images are brought
over to the desktop, they are converted to JPEGs. If the eyemodule
has a major problem, it is that the sync conduit does not produce
Web-ready file-names for its synced images -- instead of calling
the file "120200_13.45.22.jpg," the conduit names it "12/20/00 1:45:22
PM." Manually renaming dozens or hundreds of files before uploading
them to the 'Net is a big ole pain in the ass, to say the least.
But this is hardly an indictment of the camera! Microgram for
microgram, millimeter for millimeter, the eyemodule makes the neatest
handheld digital images of any device on the market and then some.
eyemodule Springboard Module,
$150 (requires Handspring Visor, $150 - $400).
b i o :
is a gadget-fixated science-fiction writer and entrepreneur who
makes his home in San Francisco, California and Toronto, Canada.
He is the co-founder and Chief Evangelist of openCOLA,
Inc., and recently won the John
W. Campbell Award for Best New Science Fiction Writer at the
Hugo Awards in Chicago. His (nearly) daily eyemodule journal can
be found at www.craphound.com/eyemodule.html.