Review: Kodak Smart Picture Frame
Developer: Weave Innovations
Price: $349 (includes six months of premium service, subsequent service ranges from $4.95 to $9.95/month)
Requirements: Mac with Internet connection, Netscape 4 or later or Internet Explorer 5 or later.
Trial: The software is free from the Web site.
In issue 6.09, I gave you a preview of the Kodak Smart Picture Frame. Now that I have had time to use a production version for a while, I can give you the second part as a review. I will assume that you already read the preview, so if not, please do so. In the preview, I told you what the frame promises. So, does it deliver? Yes, it does.
I described the hardware last time, and not much has changed. The buttons, which attracted my only complaint about the hardware itself back then, have been slightly adjusted so they can be used more comfortably. The LCD’s viewable area is comparable to that of a medium sized regular frame (4 x 5 1/4 inches). The resolution is 640 x 480 pixels. I’d prefer the LCD to be larger or to have a higher resolution, but alas, this would make the frame much more expensive.
The frame only faithfully reproduces colors when you look at it straight-on, but the image itself is viewable from pretty much all angles. There is enough built-in memory to store 36 pictures, and the memory can be expanded using CompactFlash type I & II memory cards (but not microdrives).
As with normal picture frames, the frame’s vertical angle can be adjusted. Overall the frame does not use too much desktop space, although you may want to place it in a location where its two cables (power and telephone) can be hidden from sight. As I said last time, the frame has a more traditional look, compared to the expensive high-tech frames that Sony makes; this was vividly confirmed when a friend of mine came to visit and didn’t even notice that it was a digital frame. Now that’s what I call unobtrusive technology!
The buttons used to operate the frame are located on the top, back, and right sides. Because of the angle of the frame, they are nicely hidden but nevertheless easily accessible. The modem connection works pretty well, and loading images and channel content into the frame does not take as long as I had feared. Being able to automatically update the frame every night makes this really easy.
My only real complaint about the hardware is that the power cable sits very loosely on the bottom of the frame and tends to fall out when I move the frame. Weave is aware of this problem and working towards a solution.
Hardware is important, but what really makes a machine tick is the associated software. Here, too, Weave Innovations has done a great job. Actually, there are two sets of software. The first is associated with the frame itself and the controls; the second is the StoryBox network, used to upload pictures via the Net and sharing pictures with friends and family.
The frame software is very intuitive to use. There are seven buttons. On the back is the simple on/off button; on the right side is the Pictures/Channels button (more on channels later); and on top lie the Menu, Left and Right scroll, OK and Share! buttons.
Most functions are accessed by pressing the Menu button, scrolling to your selection and pressing OK. The menu has a flat hierarchy, meaning there are no unnecessary sub-menus. Several commands act directly when selected (like the Update Now! command), while others require you to make a selection to act upon (like Delete, which asks you to select the images you want to remove from the frame’s memory). The menu allows you to set several options, such as automatic on/off times (so the frame isn’t on at night when you don’t use it) and the slide show (which can be configured to cycle through the images and channel content at various time intervals). You can also order Kodak prints of your images directly from the frame.
The Share! button allows you to share images with your friends directly from the frame interface. And, last but not least, the Pictures/Content button lets you switch between these two “modes.” In pictures mode, you see your picture (or pictures). The content mode is similar to a digital newspaper delivered to your door (or rather frame) with every update. It displays items such as news, sports, weather, etc. Overall, the frame software gives you most of the options you’d expect, with a relatively easy interface.
The StoryBox Network acts as your connection to the outside world. It lets you download pictures to your frame. (Make sure any pictures you do download are at least 640x480 pixels in size and in JPEG format, with .jpg at the end of the file name.) The network also allows you to share images with other people, send greetings to other users, adjust frame options, manage your online pictures in albums, and modify your channel selections. The current selection of channels includes:
- E! Online Entertainment Headlines, including a selection of movie, TV, industry, celebrity, event, and music news.
- MSNBC Top Stories of the Day and MSNBC Custom Headlines, where you can choose from international news, business, technology, science, living and travel, national news, health, and opinions.
- Weather Channel, which includes weather forecasts for your zip code and temperature maps for the US.
- CBS SportsLine Sports Headlines from a variety of sports and configurable by team and/or region.
- TrafficStation, which is personalized, real-time traffic and traveler information.
- Pictures from Getty Images and soon World Class Art.
The Web site is well-designed and can be accessed either from the frame or from your Mac. It’s a nice way to share images on the Internet. You get up to 40 MB of space for your pictures—roughly 400 images—and you can purchase more space, a code of practice similar to Apple’s iTools, although Apple only gives you 20 MB to start with. You can also order prints directly from the network, allowing you to use higher resolution images than if you were to use the frame directly.
The Final Word
Would I get one for myself? I am tempted, but probably not just yet. I am thinking about getting one for my parents, and although I will have to return my review copy of the frame, I will probably continue using the StoryBox network even without it. For now, though, the frame simply doesn’t satisfy my “high-tech cravings” enough, and the wood just doesn’t fit with my furniture. Maybe if they offered different styles…
The frame makes a great gift for a family member who lives far away and is not quite tech-savvy enough to check the Internet for your images. You can upload the images to their frame remotely, and they can enjoy new family pictures without ever having to do a thing. I rarely have time to watch the news or get a weather report, so the frame’s channels actually proved quite helpful to me. All it takes to get the information is a glance at your frame at the right time.
All in all, I really believe this product is a step in the right direction.
Pluses: Inexpensive relative to competition, easy to use, remotely manageable, good quality.
Minuses: Low resolution, colors change with viewing angle, only one style of frame available.