In these days of high resolution digital cameras, large storage space is becoming an urgent necessity for some photographers. Especially on trips away from a computer, you may find yourself running out of memory cards and wishing you had some way of backing up those images off your memory card onto some other device. The Innoplus Phototainer is such a device and comes with a large 20Gb hard drive and generous 3.5" LCD screen.
- 3.5" flip LCD screen
- 20Gb hard drive
- USB 1.1 and 2.0
- TV output
- Slide Show function
- Compact flash I & II slot
- MP3 player
- Headphone & Video-out sockets
- SmartMedia, MMC, SD & Memory stick via optional adapter
- User upgradeable firmware
- Li-ion battery
- Kit includes a case, mains adapter/charger and remote control
- Priced around £400-500
Usability and build quality
The two-tone finish of the Phototainer and its good construction give it quite a high-quality feel. It's definitely something you should treat carefully though. As you'd expect, the weakest part of the casing is where the LCD joins the base, but considering the plastic construction it still manages to feel quite tough.
We're not fortunate enough to have twenty 1Gb microdrives laying about, but laid side by side they'd probably be about the same dimensions of the Phototainer. Yet besides the obvious benefit of the 20Gb storage capacity you also get all the other features that it has to offer. Oh and twenty 1Gb Microdrives would cost around £4000!
So besides looking like something out of Star Trek, how is the Phototainer to use?
The majority of the buttons are placed underneath the LCD, though there are some for controlling the MP3 player on the side. Thanks to these side buttons you can close the LCD screen, put the device in your pocket and still be able to control it.
To test the USB 2.0 transfer speed we copied a file of around 1 gigabyte in size onto the Phototainer. It took approximately four and a half minutes to do this, making an average write speed of 4meg a second, which is good. Copying a Sandisk Ultra 256Mb CompactFlash card to the Phototainer took five minutes and ten seconds.
Although battery-life on this device isn't bad, there are certainly storage devices out there with better battery performance, though mainly thanks to their lack of a large LCD screen! To fully charge the li-ion battery the Phototainer comes with takes approximately three hours. There are various power-saving features that will help you get the most from the battery and of course if you are near a power-socket you can plug it into the mains.
The LCD is more than adequate and there are settings for the Backlight, Brightness, Contrast and Colour levels. You can also use the TV-out feature to hook the Phototainer up to your NTSC or PAL TV. The video-out cable doesn't reach far to the TV, but luckily there is a remote control supplied which provides quite comprehensive controls.
Although it isn't very complicated the graphical user interface isn't too easy to get to grips with at first. After you've used it for a while though you get used to the control layout and it is fine. We did come across a bug or two in the software though. Once when selecting the initial music folder the device uses we were left with a white screen, it had to be turned off and on to be corrected. Innoplus, Phototainer's creators, have a good forum on their website, this also has frequent firmware updates posted and is worth checking out.
||Operation speed isn't very fast, with some Minolta Dimage 7i images on the hard drive it took about five seconds to load the next image when browsing. You can however quickly rotate an image or zoom in on it. The slow browsing speed can be got around somewhat by switching to thumbnail view and locating the photo you want that way.
||Pressing the function button lets you set up slideshows, switch between thumbnail and file list views and set various other options.
||The setup menu is quite comprehensive and the animated image to the left shows the various tabs you can view.
The Phototainer is certainly an interesting device which will no doubt appeal to many photographers. The ability to check your photos have actually been safely stored onto the device and to be able to check them on such a large screen is a distinct benefit. However this area of the market is rapidly becoming more competitive, with several similar devices due out soon and we fear that with the Phototainer's weakenesses it might soon lose out to the competition.
At the time of writing this review though (August 2003), the Phototainer is still one of the best devices for backing up your photos whilst on the move. Just bear in mind the negative points we've listed below before you make your buying decision.
In summary the main positive points of the Innoplus Phototainer are:
Well-built and designed portable device
Easy enough to use
MP3 playback possible
Large 20Gb hard-disk
Fast USB 2.0 connection
Good support from manufacturer's website
Remote Control & Case supplied as standard
Negative points are:
Battery-life should be better
One or two bugs still present in software
Viewing of photos should be faster