I wanted a digital picture frame.
After seeing them in stores I was always put off by the high price and hassle-factor of loading new images all the time. After all, what’s the point of having such a dynamic piece of technology in your living room if it can’t be updated frequently enough to keep you interested?
When frame prices dipped below the $100 mark, my interest was renewed however the issue of updating still plagued me. I thought “why hasn’t anybody integrated WiFi into a picture frame?” and promptly searched Google only to find out that they indeed had, and there were actually several manufacturers with such frames. Excited I began to ponder the possibilities: Updating the frame directly from iPhoto, potentially having new photos pulled from my computer automatically - no, wait...pulled from the internet automatically! Many of my friends post pictures up on sharing sites and social networks like Facebook, why not have those go to the frame as well?
With my new set of requirements I set off to find the perfect frame.
WiFi Photo Frame Review
High in the Google rankings was a frame from eStarling which seemed to have it all…except the ability to order the frame from Canada. I eventually found a way to trick Amazon into letting me order it, however the difficulty caused me to pause long enough that I began to explore other options as well. I’m glad I did, as the eStarling appears to have some imperfections such as occasionally freezing which would require a reboot, more on that later.
Kodak, Samsung, Sony, all the big brands seemed to have their own interpretation of what a WiFi enabled frame should accomplish. That’s not to say they are the only ones with refined offerings - many smaller companies including SmartParts, iGala and eStarling have frames with their own pros and cons.
I should mention that I list FrameChannel integration as a positive below due to its solid integration with many popular photo sources, however it should be noted that FrameChannel stays in business by displaying ads on your frame in between your photos. This can put some people off, however it seems to be one of the only ways to get photos from Facebook into the frame, as all Facebook RSS options have been squashed. For those who are really upset about the FrameChannel ads, here’s a hint: The advertising appears to be geo-targeted, so when you sign up for the service, be “creative” with your country selection. Another note about FrameChannel is that it publishes an RSS feed that can be used with Windows FrameIt or any direct RSS consumption method (ie. Samsung interface).
Pros: Uses FrameChannel. ‘Proper’ resolution (800x600) for viewing your photos without black borders.
Cons: Ongoing subscription fee for Kodak online service – Not many people are willing to pay several hundred dollars for a frame, and then pay more each month for something that many other frames offer for free.
Summary: This web-enabled frame is targeted towards those uncomfortable with web-technologies (see the paradox?) and as such Kodak felt the need to make their service simple but charge a recurring fee for doing so. In my opinion, if you’re shopping for a web-enabled frame to begin with, you have some idea what web-content you want to display with the frame and therefore don’t need Kodak to hold your hand through the process. For the increasingly common situation of purchasing a frame for someone else (parents commonly) with the thought of updating the pictures remotely, both parties are much better off to create a Flickr or Picasa account and buy the Samsung, Sony or iGala.
Pros: Allows direct entry of RSS feeds via its web interface. Web interface is OS agnostic and should work well on Mac, Linux and Windows. ‘Proper’ resolution (800x600)
Cons: Higher end of price scale. Difficult to find in stock. Can't be hung on wall.
Summary: A serious contender, all the fundamentals of a web-enabled frame are present. Frame design will be up to the individual to judge, leaning towards more modern than traditional.
eStarling Impact 8
Pros: 'Proper' resolution (800x600). Retreives photos via RSS (through eStarling service). Relatively inexpensive.
Cons: Frame can't be hung on wall. Existing users complain of frame freezing, lockups and connection issues. Difficulty ordering frame outside of United States. Sister product Impact V claims video playback but company support confirms videos can't be played automatically in slideshow.
Summary: A frame with surface appeal which shows cracks in its functionality once you dig a little deeper.
Pros: Solid network capabilities.
Cons: Glossy plastic frame looks cheap. Frame is on higher end of price scale. D-Link logo is always visible, preventing frame from ‘blending-in’. Widescreen resolution will create black borders on most photos.
Summary: While the software team gets high-marks for this project, the hardware team gets a slap on the wrist. Ease of usability and connectivity are offset by widescreen display and poor case design.
Pros: Quality of frame and display is excellent. Sleek, modern look. Good overall usability.
Cons: On the very high end of price scale.
Summary: With high marks from most reviews the Sony is a decent choice if money is no concern.
Pros: Beautiful wood frame with matting fits in well with other non-digital photo frames. Inexpensive frame with WiFi abilities. ‘Proper’ resolution (800x600).
Cons: WiFi abilities were an afterthought, with zero ability to use the frame exclusively with Internet content. No ability to loop Windows Live slideshow plus a maximum number of photos through RSS results in a maximum internet slideshow time of under 2 hours, after which the frame goes back to the main screen or internal photos.
Summary: Without the ability to loop through internet content this frame isn’t much more useful than its non-Wifi counterpart. Unless you plan on using your frame in an ‘on-demand’ setting (in which case, why wouldn’t you use a computer?) another Wifi frame would likely better suit your needs.
iGala WiFi Linux-based Frame
Pros: Touchscreen (no entering your wireless details with a tiny remote). Will stream RSS photo feeds via Windows FrameIt and perform updates on a periodic schedule while looping through slideshow. ‘Proper’ resolution (800x600). Frequent firmware updates by vendor offer new and improved functionality. Can mix multiple picture sources (in memory, Flickr, Gmail and FrameIt content) into one big slideshow or select an individual source.
Cons: Some difficulty connecting to non-mainstream routers (ie. Airlink) – Subsequent purchase of $30 Belkin Wifi router connected without issue. On the higher end of price scale.
Summary: A frame that answers the question “what do geeks really want?” Impressive hardware and solid vendor support for firmware updates make this the most promising frame for applications beyond displaying pictures (Live data streams and home automation controls come to mind). Average non-geeks will find the frame acceptable to use, and the “do everything on the frame itself” approach (as opposed to installing software on your computer) will appeal to those with Macs or who use online photo-sharing accounts already.
Here are a couple shots of the SmartParts and iGala frames blending in among some non-digital photo frames:
Above: SmartParts SPX8WF in bottom left corner.
Above: iGala frame in bottom left corner.
Recommendation: In terms of features, vendor support and ease-of-use, you can't beat the iGala IWP808. It truly is a "Set it and forget it" photo frame and with regular updates from all your social networks streaming to the frame, it never gets boring to look at.
Have comments on one of the above frames? A question about one of the frames? Share your comments and questions below!