Friday, January 09, 2009

Someone please make me a good digital photo frame.

Happy new year! I'm back after a bit of a holiday break. And I've been thinking about digital photo frames. Actually, I've been looking to buy one, as a gift for a friend. And here's what I'm wondering: why aren't there any good ones? I did a careful count - there are 43 million different digital photo frames available. And without exception (so far as I can tell) they all fail spectacularly in one way or another. These design mistakes seem so obvious to me, am I taking crazy pills? Here's what I think a digital photo frame needs:

If you have to stick a memory card into a frame, or physically connect it to a computer, then it's an interesting technological novelty. Geek-minded folks who like messing about with gadgets (OK, I'm one of them) will buy your frame. For themselves. And that's it. In order for a digital photo frame to make the leap from technogadget to common household object, it needs to be able to connect to a WiFi network, and subscribe to a Flickr account, an RSS feed, or similar. Once it can do that, I can buy one for my parents, hang it on their wall, and send pictures to it from half a world away. They don't ever have to think about it as being a scary technological object. They can think of it as - get this - a frame. With a photo in it. A photo that changes periodically, all by itself, and keeps them apprised of what their son is pointing his camera at. (And of course, even if I'm using the frame in my own home, it's just so much easier if I can change what's on it from my laptop and not have to worry about futzing around with the thing directly.)

Aspect Ratio
4:3. That's it. I can repeat it, if that would help: 4:3. There is absolutely no reason a digital photo frame should have an aspect ratio of 16:9. With all due respect to Panasonic, most digital cameras do not shoot 16:9. Of course DSLRs shoot 3:2, so one could conceivably make an argument for that aspect ratio. But a digital photo frame is predominantly a consumer device, and the vast majority of consumer point-and-shoots have an aspect ratio of 4:3. Therefore (and I don't think this is a big leap to make), the frames which display those photos should have an aspect ratio of 4:3.

Keep your logo off of the front of the damn thing. If it's got "Sony" or "Kodak" or "ViewSonic" plastered on the front of the thing, it's out. It's a picture frame, I want it to look like a picture frame. I don't want it to look like my TV. (For that matter, I don't like the logo on my TV either.)

Of course there are a lot of other things I'd like too, but the above three things are the deal breakers. Everything else is gravy. I mean, icing. It should have good picture quality. It should be attractive (that'll obviously mean different things to different people). And if you want to throw in cleverness like a motion sensor that makes it turn on when I enter the room, and turn off when I leave, I won't say no.

There are a few out there that are close, but none that I've found that make it all the way. If any of my legions of readers (all six of you) know of a digital photo frame that they think will meet my three criteria, don't hesitate to let me know in the comments below. Thanks!


  1. Have you considered using an SD wireless card in the little card socket? I haven't played with those, yet, but maybe that would solve your connectivity problem... I guess there's the issue of making it subscribe to some service and the software to update whatever local memory the frame has (do any of them have onboard memory?).

    My grandma had one that I used to be able to log in and upload photos to, but that was long ago - maybe they quit making it?

  2. Hi Jon, thanks for the suggestion. The tricky part, I think, is that the frame would still need to be running some sort of software that would allow it to subscribe to a feed.
    I actually did purchase a digital picture frame for my parents for Christmas in 2007, it was made by "Digital Spectrum." The aesthetics were chintzy, and the picture quality was barely adequate, but it was the only option that met my three deal-breaker criteria. It has worked fine for the past year, and my parents have loved it.
    One year later, Digital Spectrum still seems to be the only company offering frames which meet my criteria. They have two, both of which have been soundly panned in Amazon reviews, including many users reporting that the frames failed completely within a matter of hours or days.
    I do wonder why the only frames offering these very obvious (to me) features are made by some company which I've never heard of, and which seems to have no quality control...