When the package arrived and I unboxed a large digital photo frame, my partner, Liz, sniped, “2008 just called; they want their technology back.” I think she’s not the only person who feels that way, but every year around Mother’s Day, the resilient gadgets reappear on the radar screen.
I have a two decades’-old relationship with the Rodney Dangerfield of tech gear. Though the electronic frames get little respect from most people, I’ve always been a fan of them — in theory. I’ve had a couple over the years, and I gave one to my mom one year for her birthday. I found it on a shelf, dark, in the hall closet next time I went home to visit, which I attributed to the lack of grandchildren to view on it.
I haven’t added a silver halide photo to a physical album (or shoebox) in decades, but my photo memories are more meaningful than ever. My most valuable possessions on my PC (and in iCloud) are the virtual drawers full of images of all sizes and formats — some scanned from old black-and-white family photos all the way up to the occasional RAW pic I snap with my iPhone 12 Pro Max that captures more colors than I can see.
Photography may have transitioned over the years, but it’s still about memories, and I like to have my photos with me, whether they’re on my phone, in an album, or on a hard drive. I love to flip through an old photo album a few times a year. I used to fire up the slide projector and painstakingly load transparencies but realized I was the only one who found the shows entertaining.
These days, thanks to Shutterfly, my photos wind up in the darnedest spots: on mugs, placemats, potholders and luggage tags, to name a few. Liz gets a wall calendar every year for Christmas crammed with photos of the year’s most noteworthy events.
Given my love for photographs, it would make sense for me to have a digital photo frame. I don’t know what happened to the one I had back in 2009, the year the devices hit their $1 billion sales peak. I think mine was a Kodak, the once-venerable film brand that was also stamped onto my slide projector back in the day. Kludgy was a word I remember using with the gen-one digital photo frame as I tried to get photos onto the device via a CompactFlash card. I liked the concept but the execution was lacking.
Fast-forward to 2021, and I am tinkering with a PhotoSpring 10-inch digital photo frame. What has changed in a decade plus?
The quality for one thing. The resolution of the PhotoSpring is really sharp at 1280 x 800 — well matched to the quality of the pics I’m taking these days with the iPhone. The slide show feature is smoother than it was in the old days, making it pleasing to look at — not something I have to apologize for because it’s groundbreaking technology.
Setup was a breeze, which is essential in a product like this, although it did take a few tries to get the display to turn on and stay on. Once it settled in and connected to the Wi-Fi network, I could send photos to my phone in bunches — and quickly, too. A bump in display quality and Wi-Fi speeds have meant good things for the old digital picture frame: I uploaded 20 photos and then a 30-second video in under a minute.
Friends and family can upload photos to the display, too, using a personal email address through PhotoSpring. Liz keeps threatening to put compromising photos up, so I’ll have to monitor closely. I can email pics from the frame to others, not something I would do often, but it worked well when I tried it.
But there are some peccadilloes about digital photo frames that tech advances haven’t been able to overcome. Power, for one, is a major issue. A 10-inch IPS screen uses a lot of juice, especially when you have a video or two on loop. I had the frame running with photos changing every 20 seconds. About 2.5 hours later there was a loud ding and a message on the display saying the battery was at 20%.
This is a lifestyle product. It goes in a living space, and you don’t want a power cord detracting from the view. Charging isn’t difficult — a magnetized power cable connects to a receiving magnet on the back of the frame — but it’s a tenuous connection, and with a 3-hour run time, you have to do it often. You might wire a power cord to the back of a wall-mounted TV, but you’re not going to do that with a photo frame. I ended up taking it to the bedroom for charging. Then it stayed there.
The PhotoSpring frame doesn’t come with a remote control. That would be okay if its limited app was an acceptable substitute, but it’s not. I wanted to power off the display, for instance, when I got the low power warning, but I had no way to do that other than to get up, go over to the display, steady it with one hand, press the power button until a prompt came on the touch screen, and then tap either sleep or power off. It would be nice to be able to control portrait and landscape modes and to send a photo email from the app, too.
So, I’d say I’m back to where I started with my impression of the digital photo frame. It’s a nice idea in theory but a little more trouble than it’s worth in practice. Maybe it’s technology only a grandmother could love.