DCRP Review: Minds@Work Digital Wallet
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally Posted: Tuesday, July 25, 2000

Last Updated: Monday, September 10, 2001

One of the major concerns of new digital camera owners is how they can go on a long vacation, and still take all the photos they want. One solution is to load up on memory cards, though this can be expensive. Another option is to bring a laptop with you, and download the photos when necessary. This is unrealistic for most people.

The folks at Minds@Work, a Southern California based startup have been thinking about this problem too, and the $500 Digital Wallet is their solution. (Disclosure: Minds@Work is a DCRP sponsor.)

The Digital Wallet is a portable storage device, roughly the size of a paperback book, which contains a Motorola ColdFire processor, PC card slot, rechargeable battery, and a 6gb Toshiba hard drive.

What's in the Box

The Digital Wallet includes the following:

  • Gray or translucent blue Digital Wallet
  • AC adapter
  • USB/Power "Carry Dock"
  • PC Card adapter for CompactFlash
  • Power cable
  • USB cable
  • CD-ROM with drivers and software (AmazingMail.com, Motorola DigitalDNA, Rutulis SmartBack Jr., and several ArcSoft products)

There are numerous other PC Card adapters available at extra cost, for SmartMedia, Memory Sticks, and more. The included CompactFlash reader is Type II compatible.

Look and Feel

This is the major area of disappointment for me with the Digital Wallet. The whole thing doesn't feel solid; the plastic is cheap, and the doors are difficult to open and close. After I finally got the battery in, I could no longer get it out, without risking pulling the wires right out of it.

The Digital Wallet has a little attachment (known as the Carry Dock) which snaps onto the bottom of the unit when you want to use USB or the AC adapter.

And here's a closer look at the attachment -- USB on the left, power on the right.

Here's a look at the side of the unit, with the PC Card door open. The buttons on right are used for navigating the menus.

Finally, here's the top of the Wallet. Under this door is the rechargeable battery.

The Digital Wallet also comes in a transparent blue case, which looks good with an iMac.

Using the Digital Wallet

Here's how you'd use it: Let's say I'm away on a two week safari in Africa, with just my 48MB CompactFlash card. When I fill up the card, I pop in into the PC Card adapter, like so:

Then, I just insert the PC Card into a slot on the side of the Wallet:

Next, you hit the power on button, which is the one on the lower right in the photo above. You'll see a quick startup screen, and then the main menu.

The startup screen

The main menu (sorry these shots aren't great -- it's hard taking pictures of LCD screens)

The main menu has three choices -- download content, display volume, and information. It also shows the current level of the battery. By the way, Minds@Work claims an average of 140 minutes per battery charge.

Continuing with my example, we're now going to download photos from the CompactFlash card to the Wallet. I'd choose "Download Content" in the main menu.

Here's the Download Content Menu. Choose Start Download to begin...

Download in progress...

The download doesn't take very long, thanks to the speedy 1.8MB/sec transfer rate (this is the theoretical max speed- your results will vary). If you want to confirm that the download was successful, you can choose "Check Last Download" from the Download Content menu.

A quick look at the other options in the main menu now.

Display Volume lets you view the files that are stored on the Digital Wallet at any given time. Unfortunately, the names are shown in the 8.3 format that DOS users are familiar with. Getting out of this mode isn't easy - you have to scroll all the way down to the bottom of the list to exit.
Here's the Information submenu. The most useful thing here is the Free Disk Space function.
After a few seconds of grinding the hard drive, the Wallet tells you how much space is left on the hard disk. Looks like plenty to me!

On the whole, the Wallet's operating system needs a bit of work. Let's hope the firmware upgrades will make it a little more user friendly.

Now, you've got to get the photos from the Wallet to your computer, right? Since most of the other digicam sites are PC centric, I'll look at this from a Mac users perspective.

Since this is a Mac (grin), there are no drivers to install. Just be sure your have MacOS 8.6 or greater. You just plug in the USB cable to your Mac and the Wallet, turn on the Wallet, and after a few seconds, the drive mounts on the desktop.

From there, you can use it just like any other disk on your Macintosh.

Important MacOS notes: I noticed a few very annoying problems that could cause your computer to crash (or worse).

  • When you connect the Wallet to your MacOS machine, ALWAYS use the AC adapter. Otherwise, the Wallet will power down after 30 seconds. Unlike Windows, the MacOS does NOT like drives just disappearing, and it will give you an error, or maybe crash your computer.
  • If you unmount the Wallet by dragging it to the Trash, it will remount itself within seconds. If you're too slow at yanking the USB cable out from the Wallet, the Mac will wonder what happened to the drive it was trying to mount, and will crash. You need to be really quick at removing the USB cable, or else. I'm not sure if this is a MacOS or a Minds@Work issue, but it should be looked into

Final Thoughts

The Digital Wallet is a great concept that needs a little more refinement in order to make it a great product.

What I liked:

  • A much needed product
  • With 6gb, more than enough storage
  • Fast download speeds
  • Lots of software included
  • Easy to install and setup
  • Good battery life

What needs work:

  • Case needs to be redesigned and made stronger
  • Operating system is confusing
  • Serious issues with MacOS mounting/unmounting
  • A little pricey at $500 -- how about a 3gb version for half the price?

If you're been looking for a product like this, then be sure to check out the Digital Wallet. I'm hoping the firmware upgrades will help fix the issues mentioned above, and that the Digital Wallet 2 will take what's already working well, and make it ever better.

Want a second, third, or fourth opinion?

The Minds@Work folks went all out, getting all four of the big digital camera sites a Wallet to review. Now if we could only get the camera manufacturers to do that!

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