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Lyve Home Is an Ambitious but Deeply Flawed Approach to Storing Digital Photos

Hi, my name’s Dan, and I’ve got a problem with photos.

The problem is not that I’m a crappy photographer (though I am). It’s that, like many of us in this digital age, I’ve got an insane number of crappy photos stored on a ridiculous assortment of devices — desktop PCs, laptops, phones, cameras — not to mention a number of online services. It’s a mess.

(I’ve also got boxes upon boxes of old family photos; look for advice on how to deal with these in a future story.)

image

The Lyve Home, next to an iPhone displaying the Lyve app (Lyve Minds).

Then, at the Consumer Electronics Show earlier this month, I discovered what looked like the solution to my disarray. The Lyve Home promised to solve my problem once and for all by automatically collecting photos and videos from every device and storing them in a single place.

Read: 6 Awesome Family Friendly Finds at CES

Awesome idea, right? So I had to check it out.

Lyve and clicking

Lyve (rhymes with drive) actually gives you three ways to do this. One is to simply download the free Lyve app to your various gadgets. (It will work on iOS, Android, Kindle Fire, Windows 7 and later, and Mac OS 7 or above.) Lyve will make low-resolution copies of each photo from every device, organize them into one place, and display them in the app. When you take new photos, it automatically adds them to your Lyve Timeline, which you can view from any machine where the app is installed.

image

The Lyve app as seen on an iPad.  

The original images will stay on the devices where Lyve found them. But if you want to show your friends pictures of your kid scoring the winning touchdown, you’ll always have a copy with you.

Option two: Pony up $200 for Lyve Studio, a 500 GB hard drive that connects to your Wi-Fi network. In addition to collecting low-resolution copies in the app, Lyve will store a high-res copy of the original file on the Studio — allowing you to delete pictures from your phone when you run out of storage, yet still preserve them on a hard drive in your  house.

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Lyve works with a number of different devices across a range of operating systems. 

Option three: Lyve Home ($300). This 2-terabyte (TB) version of Studio is capable of storing up to 400,000 5 MB images. It adds a 5-inch color touchscreen that displays a self-running slideshow, kind of like a digital photo frame on steroids. It has a USB port and an SD card slot; plug in an external storage device, and Lyve will automatically scan it and upload any images it finds. It has an HDMI-out port, so you can view pix on your TV. (It also can connect wirelessly to Vizio Smart TVs, Chromecast, and Apple TV.) Two other family members can also connect to Lyve Home and upload images to their own private Lyve accounts. It will even let you import photos and videos from Facebook.

(If you’ve got a direct-attached-storage device, such as the Seagate Backup Plus Desktop Drive, you can also use the free Lyve software to automatically store full-resolution copies of all your photos. But you’ll have to leave the device attached to your computer and the Lyve app running at all times.)

It’s a compelling list of features and nice-looking hardware. Unfortunately, in this case looks were mostly deceiving.

Sometimes, Lyve worked really well — even a bit too well. But my experience was marred throughout by technical glitches and some truly head-smacking, what-were-they-thinking? design choices. Here’s my story.

Lyve and let drive

I started by installing free Lyve apps on my MacBook, iPad 2, and Android Nexus 5. No sweat. On the Mac, you simply tell Lyve the folders you want it to scan. On the phone and tablet, it just copies anything it finds in the most common photo and video file formats (JPEG, TIFF, PNG, MPEG-4, AVI, etc.). Within about 10 minutes I had a library of around 300 images that I could view on any of these devices. When I took a new picture with my phone, the low-res version showed up on my MacBook and my iPad in less than a minute.

Then I installed the Lyve Home device on my home network, using the touchscreen to log in to Wi-Fi and then in to my Lyve account. It automatically began downloading full-res copies of photos stored on my other devices. So far, so good.

My troubles started when I attempted to plug an old external 120 GB hard drive into the Lyve Home’s USB port. This drive contained data backups from every Windows PC I’ve used since 2000, including most of my digital photos.

It took about six tries before Lyve Home would recognize the drive and start scanning. And then it wouldn’t stop. The screen displays a running total of the files as it imports them; I gave up watching when the ticker hit 4,000. In the morning, Lyve Home told me it had uploaded 42,350 images.

Oh, my God, I thought. What have I done?

image

MyLyve.com shows how many files you’ve uploaded, but the numbers often don’t match the ones in Lyve’s apps and storage devices.

When I opened the Lyve app on my Mac, it claimed that Lyve had imported a more manageable 3,200 files, give or take a few. But when I checked Lyve Home’s screen the following day, it now claimed to be storing some 10,283 pictures. WTF?

For reasons unknown, thousands of images stored on the external drive (and presumably copied to the Lyve Home) never made it to the app. Apparently Lyve encountered some file it couldn’t digest, so it sat there endlessly chewing on it.

This was just one example of the erratic behavior Lyve displayed over the next three days. I experimented with several thumb drives and got similar results: Sometimes the Lyve Home device scanned them; other times it just sat there. I tried to connect the device to my Facebook account via the MyLyve site; this didn’t work at all in Chrome, but it eventually worked in Safari. Still, only a fraction of my Facebook photos actually showed up.

I uninstalled the Lyve software from every device, restored the factory resets in the Lyve Home, and started over. Things went a little more smoothly, but not much. I encountered the same alarming mismatch between the number of images Lyve Home said it scanned and the ones I could actually view inside the app. Lyve still acted like a brilliant but unpredictable artiste with its own peculiar agenda.

Lyve free or die

The Lyve app also has some design flaws. For example: When you plug in an external drive or sync a mobile device, it automatically uploads all the images on it, including some that you (ahem) may not want to preserve for posterity.

image

Better clean those hot pix of Marge Simpson off your thumb drive before you connect it to the Lyve

You can nuke images from Lyve Home without losing the original copies, but you’ll have to select each one separately. I have thousands of screenshots dating back to 2002 that I no longer need. If you don’t see me for a few weeks, it’s because I’ll be busy deleting them.

Once you have thousands of images you actually want, there’s almost no way to manage them. Aside from marking them as “Favorites,” you can’t tag pictures (with, say, #family or #birthday or #selfie) to make them easier to categorize. You also can’t search for specific images or view them any way other than chronologically. Want to find that delightful photo of the time your daughter tried to feed birthday cake to the cat? You’ll have to tediously scroll back to the date it was taken, if you can remember.

The good news is that Lyve is aware of many of these deficiencies and is working to correct them. Next month, the company plans to release new software that will allow you to assign tags to images, and filter them — so you can see only photos from your daughter’s birthday party, if you like. (You will of course have to manually tag each one first.) You’ll also be able to edit the dates of each picture to control where they appear in the timeline.

The ability to scan individual folders on external devices may come eventually, says company spokesperson Brian Jaquet. In the meantime, you’d do better copying the folders to your computer first and using Lyve’s Mac or Windows app to upload them. Support for other online photo storage services besides Facebook is also on the horizon, but Jaquet did not offer offer any specifics.

The bad news is that, at press time, Lyve had no explanation for the many problems I encountered. (Your mileage may vary.)

And that’s a shame. Most of us need a fix to the digital photo problem, and Lyve Home looked promising. Me, I’d stick with the free Lyve app and wait for the company to update its software a few more times before I dropped any money on Studio or Home. Lyve might ultimately turn out to be the solution we’re waiting for, but it’s not there yet.

Email Dan Tynan at ModFamily1@yahoo.com.