And this is us on holiday

Epson's new Photo Viewer is a logical extension to the digital-camera boom. But, asks Charles Arthur, is it really worth almost £500?
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The Independent Online

I'm starting to wonder if this prediction game is as hard as everyone makes it out to be. On the last day of 2003, I wrote that in 2004 "digital media players will be released which can store and display gigabytes of photos. Hard-disk space is cheap, small liquid-crystal displays are cheap and both nature and marketing people abhor a vacuum." And what turns up when I return to work? Epson's new P-1000 Photo Viewer, which is about half the size of a paperback book and has a 10-gigabyte disc and 3.8in (9.6cm) liquid-crystal screen.

Arguably, I'd made this prediction easy for myself: as denizens of Slashdot pointed out Creative launched just such a product, the MuVo, late last year, but it's a music and video player as well. What I had imagined was something to carry around just your digital photos, so you could show them to your loved ones on the spur of the moment. And here it is.

The ascendancy of digital cameras was sure to bring in its wake something on which to display their photographs, just as the rise of digital music over the same period has brought about products such as the Apple iPod and all the other MP3 players. And arguably, many more people now have digital cameras than have digital music players.

What we want is an iPod for digital pictures: something small (yet big enough to handle the function), light, with good battery life, and an interface that lets you move around thousands of digital items with ease and pick any particular one, or group of them, from simple controls. Bad news, I'm afraid. The Epson P-1000 isn't it. Although it is a good attempt.

Just before explaining where it fails, some praise for the built-in extras. You can read photos directly from a Compact Flash card plugged into a socket in the case; you can print directly to a USB printer; you can burn images directly to a CD. All useful extras.

But what about the product itself? The P-1000 is meant to be held in the hands, and perhaps passed around. The immediate impression is of its weight. It's about 2cm thick, but weighs 317g (11oz). Though even that sounds wrong - it feels really chunky. (By contrast, the heaviest Apple iPod weighs 175g, or 6oz.) The weight factor alone makes the P-1000 seem a work in progress; it's caused by the backlight and screen - as the battery and hard disk are similar to an iPod's.

The other problem is in navigating the photos. With music, the artists do all the hard work, helpfully naming the songs and grouping them into albums. Most people don't name their photos, even on their computer. Without an index, you need a processor that can very quickly generate thumbnail versions of much bigger-sized photos to navigate through a collection at speed. This is a tall order - too much for the P-1000, although it tries.

Finally, the big navigation button is nice, but you press a different one to confirm your choice. Clearly, this product needs Apple to rescue it from interface misery. And interestingly, a job ad by the company at the end of last year suggests that it is developing a video iPod; the rumours would see it later this year. (I think I'll bank it for a 2005 prediction if it doesn't turn up in the next 50 weeks.)

There's also the point (which my wife, being practical, brought up immediately) that when we view printed photos in a group, they're handed round individually, so everyone can view one simultaneously. That's true, but you can always just gather around the viewer; it's still a group activity, just arranged differently.

Professional photographers might be happy to carry their entire oeuvre around to show to prospective employers. But at the price - you could get an iPod for that! - they might be the only buyers, for now. I predict that I'll wait for the next generation.

Epson P-1000 Photo Viewer: £499SRP inc VAT; 0800 220546