The introduction of the Apple iPad in early 2010 triggered a flurry of speculation about the future of many digital products. Among those: the digital picture frame. When it's not functioning as a computer, ebook reader, gaming device or any of its myriad capabilities, reviewers agree that the Apple iPad, sitting in a dock on a desk or table, makes a very good digital frame. With a high resolution of 1024 pixels by 768 pixels, compared to most other digital frames, which have 800 by 600 resolution, the iPad shines when it comes to image quality. In a blog post at ConsumerReports.org, Terry Sullivan of says that the iPad, in preliminary testing, is "overall very good to excellent -- better than just about any picture frame we've tested." The biggest problem Sullivan says he had with using the iPad as a digital frame was loading photos. Since the iPad does not have a USB port or card reader, photos can only be downloaded through an iTunes account or by email. Apple does sell an optional camera connection kit (*Est. $30) to download pictures directly from a digital camera.
Of course at a price starting at $500, digital photo viewing is probably not anyone's number one reason for purchasing an iPad; quality photo frames can be had for as little as $100 or so. That's the point made by the editors at Digital-Frames-Connect-People.com, who say the iPad is only good as a digital picture frame in its downtime – until you want to use it for one of its other functions. "The stand-alone digital frame, with its ability to store and display digital photos (without having to print out and keep them in albums and boxes), will always have a place in today’s homes and businesses," editors add. ConsumerSearch has a separate report on tablet computers that covers the iPad as well as other models from Lenovo and HP.
What competes with digital photo frames?
The iPad, and tablets like it, aren't the only threat to standalone digital photo frames, but it's the most promising. HP and Sony each put out devices that could display pictures and slideshows (among other things), though neither company calls their device a digital photo frame. Critics were underwhelmed. Last fall, HP debuted its DreamScreen, which could pull photos from Facebook and Flickr, play YouTube videos and stream Internet radio. However, one year after its debut, which was met with mostly negative reviews, the DreamScreen seems to have ceased shipping in the U.S. (It's apparently available in India, though.)
The Sony Dash (*Est. $200), which the company calls an "Internet viewer," can receive online content wirelessly, like the HP DreamScreen, but also has a touch screen. In a post on the ConsumerReports.org Electronics Blog, editors say the Sony Dash's 800 pixel by 480 pixel resolution touch-screen is crisp and bright and that "the viewing angle compares favorably to that of the best digital picture frames we've tested, though it's inferior to that of the iPad." The Dash lacks a proper browser making it fall short of being a full-fledged tablet device. Engadget editors say the Sony Dash is "a lightweight connected photo frame with a handful of widgets that pull down glanceable data."
What's next for digital photo frames
In short, we don't think standalone photo frames are going anywhere for the time being. Earlier this year we explored whether the ebook reader would meet its demise at the hands of the iPad and came to the same conclusion. Meanwhile, digital frames are innovating as well. Earlier this year, Fujifilm rolled out A 3D digital frame, the FinePixReal 3D V.1 (*Est. $500). Sullivan says that in tests, several viewers noted ghosting on photos and video. He also reports problems with eyestrain, which he thinks is because the frame does not require 3D glasses. Testers compare the viewing experience with that of a Panasonic 3D HDTV (using glasses). Sullivan says images on the Panasonic HDTV "displayed very clear 3D effect with almost no ghosting at all." For now this frame is more gimmicky than practical.
See our just-updated comprehensive report for more about standalone digital picture frames.