Nikon CoolPix P2

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Nikon's Wi-Fi cameras are here, though perhaps a few moments too soon. The promise is great: it's a camera that's wirelessly connected to your computer, even when the computer is in the other room. The execution—in the shape of the Nikon CoolPix P2 I tested—still needs tweaking.

There are some cool things you can do with a Wi-Fi camera. The biggest oohs and aahs come from shooting pictures that are immediately transferred to a slideshow playing on a computer, with music and all. More mundane but equally useful are a variety of wireless picture transferring and printing options—just select a shot you like and send it to the computer or printer without ever taking your hands off your camera. You can send shots to any printer connected to a computer, but with the optional PD-10 Wireless Print Adapter ($50; out in mid-October), you can also wirelessly send shots straight to any PictBridge-enabled printer.

The trouble with the CoolPix P2 is that it lacks the range and battery life to effectively carry out its missions. Over the Labor Day weekend, I walked around the inside and outside of the house with the camera, for the most part getting a reasonable connection to our Wi-Fi network (a router located in my home office). But when I took the P2 and laptop out to the deck to create a live slideshow there, the camera had an awful time. OK, so Wi-Fi can be tricky, but at the same deck table both an Apple PowerBook and an HP Pavilion notebook had no problems connecting to the Internet via the same wireless network.

Every time the camera would lose the connection, it forgot what I was doing. I would have to wade through a bunch of menus just to get back into the photo shoot-and-transfer mode I'd been using. And after some time playing with the camera in Wi-Fi mode, certainly less than an hour, I was alerted that the battery was drained. Maybe I shouldn’t be too bothered – after all, I was heavily testing the camera’s wireless features, which isn’t necessarily typical use. Still, it would be nice to know I could get through an entire birthday party while shooting in Wi-Fi mode.

I hate to condemn a first-of-its-kind technology because of herky-jerky behavior. Every product goes through a streamlining, an evolution. Nowadays, the product itself can be updated as improvements are made, and I suspect Nikon is hard at work trying to right some of the wrongs of its new release. The camera is surprisingly affordable for carrying this new capability; after all, in addition to being a wireless pioneer, it’s a solidly performing 5.1-megapixel camera with 3.5x optical zoom and a lot of great automatic and manual controls. (There’s also an 8-megapixel version, the CoolPix P1.) Am I saying go out and buy one? No, but stay tuned, because when the time is right, I think Wi-Fi cameras will be quite desirable.