Digital Photo Frames: Shopping Tips
Today's digital picture frames, even more than the frames of 18 months ago, make it easy to keep loved ones and memorable events close to your heart--and visible on your desk or wall. Here are our picks for the best digital photo frames currently available. Note that frames come in a multitude of shapes and sizes; and even though all of them will display your photos, they're far from equal. The ten photo frames presented in this slideshow are the best we've seen, but keep these important points in mind before you buy a frame:
1. Resolution: A higher resolution will do a better job of reproducing images.
2. Aspect ratio: A widescreen (16:9) format might be an attractive way to display images in an nontraditional manner; but a standard (4:3) format may match the size of your images more closely (depending on the camera you're using).
3. Built-in connectivity: Look for Wi-Fi capability if you want the frame to access content that lives on a PC or comes from the Internet. Consider cellular broadband if you want to interact with and send content to the frame.
4. Audio: Built-in speakers enable viewers to enjoy slideshows set to music.
Kodak EasyShare W1020
The wooden-framed, glass-fronted Kodak EasyShare W1020 ($160 as of May 7, 2009), a 10-inch version of the 8-inch EasyShare W820 we admired last November, takes the top spot due to its ease of use, with or without Kodak‘s proprietary software. The EasyShare W1020 is Wi-Fi-enabled and can stream content from your Kodak EasyShare Gallery and Flickr account. Setting up the Wi-Fi component is as simple as entering your network key. And starting a slideshow involves nothing more than plugging in a media card.
The 10-inch frame produced very good color accuracy in our tests and retained a commendable amount of detail across highlights, midtones, and shadows when compared to our original photo files. One downside to the W1020 is that it doesn't handle nested folders on a card or a USB flash drive; everything must be in the same folder.
Sporting a wooden frame, the SmartParts SPX8WF ($160 as of May 7, 2009) looks like an analog frame sitting on your desk or mantel. Images on its 800-by-600-pixel screen looked quite similar to the originals on our test PC, though with a slightly green cast upon close inspection. The SPX8WF is integrated with Windows Live, through which you can set up photo streams and view news headlines. And if friends want to share a photo with you, they can e-mail it directly to your frame--a pretty cool feature.
The motion sensor is an especially useful feature on this frame. You don’t have to remember to turn the frame on or off, which helps you avoid wasting electricity and prolong the frame’s lifespan. On the downside, the menu can be slow to respond. And occasionally, I encountered frame catatonia when I didn't aim the remote directly at the sensor.
With its wooden, double-matted, and glassed frame (interchangeable mats are included), the HP df820a4 ($150 as of May 7, 2009) looks about as close as physically possible to an analog picture frame. The only giveaway is the telltale dangling AC power cord (if the frame is hanging on a wall). Like its very similar predecessor, the df820, the df820a4 used its 7-inch, 800-by-600-pixel display to produce excellent results in our tests, with natural-looking, saturated, and nicely detailed pictures. HP throws in a copy of its PictBridge software, too, so if Mom wants to print a photo of you and your sister, she can do so instantly without having to use a computer.
My biggest gripe: You can’t instruct this photo frame to present your pictures in a particular order, nor can you shuffle the order. Instead, they stubbornly appear in the order in which you originally loaded them. Moreover, the only way to power on the unit is via a switch on the frame itself; the remote lacks this function.
Sony S Frame DPF-D80
The Sony S-Frame DPF-D80 ($130 as of May 7, 2009) rocks Sony’s sleek design sense. This 8-inch picture frame is shiny and black, the screen is matte, and button labels and the Sony logo are backlit. I tested the black 8-inch version; but this model also comes in 7-inch, 9-inch, and 10-inch versions, and in white and red color options. I found the menus easy to navigate, and they nested logically, but I preferred to use the remote control instead of the buttons because that way I could avoid leaving fingerprints behind on the side of the frame. Colors on the sharp 800-by-600-pixel screen popped well, looked saturated, and showed no noticeable distortion in our tests.
The Sony’s slideshow mode offers the usual transition effects, and allows you to view images linearly or to shuffle your photos into a random order--a feature missing on many other digital frames that we tested. I especially liked this frame's ability to handle large image files (up to 100MB); incidentally, the DPF-D80 is equipped to deal with 48-bit color, whenever that standard reaches the mass market. My only quibble is that the price seems high in view of the frame's lack of extras such as video and MP3 support.
This 10.4-inch Pandigital PAN1002WT02T frame (priced at $185 as of May 7, 2009) blends in seamlessly with your retro analog frames. It even comes with an extra wooden frame, so you can switch between black or espresso, depending on your décor. (We looked at an earlier and less successful Pandigital frame, the DPF80-2, a couple of years ago.) The new model's 1024-by-768-pixel display presented good detail and very little color shift (what there was tended toward the cool side, which is typical for frames). If you don’t like the look of your images, you can tweak them by using the brightness, contrast, tint, and color control--a feature that’s rather uncommon for digital photo frames.
The PAN1002W02T is advertised as Bluetooth- and Wi-Fi-compatible, but you’ll need to buy a special dongle from Pandigital to stream content from photo-sharing sites or RSS feeds. And like other frames we’ve seen, this one has no power button on the remote, so you must switch it on and off at the frame itself.
The Transcend PF720 ($95 as of May 7, 2009), an update of the Transcend T.Photo 720 featured in our digital frames roundup of last November, does seem serious about transcending genres. It is not only a digital photo frame, but also an FM radio, a video player, and an MP3 player. The device’s built-in 2GB of memory invites you to amass a big collection of files without using any cards or a PC (though you can do that, too). The frame’s 800-by-480-pixel screen looked crisp, and the photos it served up had extremely natural-looking color, without the blue or green tint seen on so many other frames in this category. My test unit did have a bit too much contrast, which caused it to lose some detail in dark shadows of pictures; but otherwise, the frame rendered images well.
The unit’s remote handles everything: You can add photos to your Favorites; adjust the frame's volume; and set different modes for photo, video, music, radio, calendar, and slideshow functions. The Transcend PF720 is a great device to keep by your bed or sofa because you can use it like a personal media player for listening to the radio or to your MP3 collection as well as for viewing slideshows and videos. Another boon: It can function as an alarm clock. There’s a lot to like about the Transcend PF720; and at slightly less than a hundred bucks, it’s a good deal--even without Wi-Fi.
Like the Sony S Frame DPF-D80 (also included in this roundup), the D-Link DSM-210 ($210 as of May 7, 2009) looks far techier than a traditional picture frame. But regrettably, some of the frame’s features will pose problems for technophiles and technophobes alike. First, in our tests, images transferred very slowly to the frame’s 1GB of internal memory because the DSM-210 requires you to copy them one by one; the only way to copy multiple images is by using a downloadable Yahoo widget--a bit of a burden. Once transferred to the frame, the pictures appeared slightly desaturated and had a cool cast. Also, the DSM-210 can't handle nested folders and can't run images from multiple cards and internal memory into a single show.
The DSM-210 lets you stream photos (but not video, unfortunately) through FrameChannel, an RSS utility. Oddly, the default settings limit you to a meager five photos. It’s as if D-Link were conspiring to limit the number of pages in your virtual photo album. In addition, as with the multimedia cards, the frame can't stream content from more than one channel at a time (meaning only Picasa, only Flickr, or whatever). These limitations, together with the D-Link’s sky-high price, might put consumers off.
Ipevo Kaleido R7
The Ipevo Kaleido R7 ($200 as of May 7, 2009) is beautifully designed--even if it doesn’t particularly resemble a picture frame. The 7-inch widescreen can rotate on its solid, heavyweight stand and automatically orients pictures accordingly. In my tests, the Kaleido had very good detail retention in midtones, and well-exposed pictures looked dynamite on the matte screen. And this is a good thing since this frame offers control only for brightness--not color, tint, or contrast. Interestingly (and potentially useful to photographers and art directors), you also have the option of viewing metadata onscreen alongside your photos.
With the built-in 802.11b/g wireless connection and the machine’s EyeStage software, you can stream photos from iPhoto or RSS feeds. I liked the Kaleido’s intuitive menu operation and power on/off interval settings, and found the Wi-Fi connection simple to set up. However, it’s hard not to wish this device had audio and video support for the price, but hopefully there is an R8 on the horizon.
The 7-inch IT7150 ($195 as of May 7, 2009) looks futuristic, but it feels like today’s plastic. The frame's responsive touchscreen, paired with an intuitive menu screen, makes for an attractive package--albeit an expensive one. With an 800-by-400-pixel display, Wi-Fi, and streaming content through FrameChannel, this unit has enough features to compete within its class. But its internal memory (128MB) is puny compared to that of other frames we’ve tested.
Slideshows looked sharp in my tests, though the colors was noticeably cooler and contrast was slightly higher than in our original photos. Alas, brightness is the only setting you can adjust. I ran into some trouble with nested folders and with content from multiple cards, too: All photos must come from one source at a time, an annoying limitation. I also had difficulty setting up Wi-Fi for the frame. You have to supply all of your DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol) information rather than simply a network key, which suffices for most other wireless frames. Once you've completed the Wi-Fi setup, you can view RSS feeds and listen to Internet radio, but audio quality was the worst I heard from a frame in this roundup, so you might not want to go there.
The Giinnii GN-812 ($50 as of May 7, 2009) is looks respectable from a distance, but up close it’s fairly lightweight and feels like it's made of inexpensive plastic. The unit has an 800-by-600-pixel display. One of its biggest weaknesses is the weird semicircular array of function buttons on its back; these buttons are impossible to operate without scrutiny—something that their location hinders. Luckily, the Giinii 8 comes with a remote that works reasonably well.
In our slideshow tests, I noticed that the frame tends to crop images heavily unless we told it to fit (rather than fill) the screen. It doesn't automatically resize verticals for the display, though the unit can sense when it has been rotated and will attempt to compensate. Color in our photos was accurate: a little on the cool side, but still vivid. The Giinii 8’s menus were sometimes a bit tricky to navigate; but once I got the hang of using the remote, I could easily adjust slideshow transitions and set the photos in random or linear order. The GiiNii 8’s 128MB of internal memory storage is not very impressive, and its menu structure may not be perfect; but for $50, it’s not too hard to live with.
For more on digital photo frames, read about PC World’s mashup ideas for a perfect digital photo frame.
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