The 100 best digital picture frames on amazon
The 100 best digital picture frames on amazon
The 100 best digital picture frames on amazon
The 100 best digital picture frames on amazon

The ulti­mate 10-Point check­list for buy­ing a dig­i­tal pic­ture frame

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Dig­i­tal pic­ture frames are fan­tas­tic. They will trans­form your home, or help you increase busi­ness rev­enues. But how do you know which one is best for your require­ments and bud­get?

This post will pro­vide you with a com­pre­hen­sive guide­line to sup­port you in mak­ing the best and most informed choice.

Why most prod­uct reviews suck

When you look up prod­uct tests by mag­a­zines or online pub­li­ca­tions, they typ­i­cal­ly declare a win­ner like "The best," "The one to buy," The best in 2019" or what­ev­er vocif­er­ous words are being used.

I believe that this approach has always been flawed. It may be easy to sell, and peo­ple usu­al­ly fall for it. But in the end, what is best is a mat­ter of your eval­u­a­tion cri­te­ria.

There is no such thing as the best dig­i­tal pic­ture frame: It has to be right for you. Fea­tures that some peo­ple don't care at all may be cru­cial for oth­ers.

That is the back­ground why I have com­piled a check­list that you can use to make an informed pur­chas­ing deci­sion.

You will learn which spec­i­fi­ca­tions and fea­tures are essen­tial and for what rea­sons. You can then make an informed deci­sion if a cri­te­ri­on is rel­e­vant for you or not.

The weight of each cri­te­ri­on is up to you. If you don't need it, you leave it out. But in the end, you will come up with a score that will help you make that buy­ing deci­sion.

As an added ben­e­fit, you may dis­cov­er fea­tures that you hadn't thought of before but may deem to be very use­ful.

This check­list is also the foun­da­tion for any prod­uct tests that I will pub­lish on this blog. So if you read my prod­uct reviews, you can always come back to this arti­cle to get more back­ground.

Design & Appear­ance

A dig­i­tal pic­ture frame is like a piece of fur­ni­ture in your home. It, there­fore, must blend in with your over­all dec­o­ra­tion style.

Espe­cial­ly women have a keen eye when it comes to decid­ing if an object works with the rest of your inte­ri­or.

Frame mate­r­i­al and col­ors

It starts with the hap­tics: The frame mate­r­i­al will either be alu­minum, wood or plas­tic. Which would you want in your liv­ing room?

What are the col­or choic­es of the frame? Can the frame ele­ments be changed?

Mat or not

Does the frame come with a mat (Passep­a­rtout) or not? Many dig­i­tal pic­ture frames have a mat to make it look less like a com­put­er mon­i­tor and more like a framed pho­to­graph.

Depend­ing on your taste you may pre­fer the mat look, oth­er peo­ple may think it looks old fash­ioned.

Pic­tures Frames like Samsung's The Frame even come with the option of a dig­i­tal mat which does look quite real.

I have seen dig­i­tal frames where the out­er dimen­sions were huge but the actu­al dis­play rather small in com­par­i­son. Although this may look good in art exhi­bi­tions when you have very small paint­ings, I think that frame and mat should not be larg­er than the dis­play.

Vis­i­ble sen­sors and lights

Are there any vis­i­ble sen­sors or but­tons on the frame? Many dig­i­tal pho­to frames have an 8 mm round and quite con­spic­u­ous motion sen­sor in the mat area (the use­ful­ness of which can be a sub­ject of debate, I think there are bet­ter ways to save ener­gy).

Oth­er vis­i­ble sen­sors can be infrared sen­sors for the remote con­trol and lumi­nos­i­ty sen­sors to con­trol the bright­ness of the dis­play rel­a­tive to the room bright­ness. How­ev­er, they are typ­i­cal­ly only 1-2 mm wide.

Vis­i­ble sen­sors tend to give away that it is not a sta­t­ic pho­to but a dig­i­tal frame. Some man­u­fac­tur­ers do a bet­ter job at hid­ing them than oth­ers.

The same is valid for but­tons which should not be vis­i­ble at all. Nor any pow­er LED.

The Dis­play

I have writ­ten an exten­sive arti­cle on choos­ing the right dis­play for your do-it-your­­self pic­ture frame project.

Let me focus on the cri­te­ria that you should look at when you pur­chase a dig­i­tal pic­ture frame.

Dis­play size

If you want to mount your dig­i­tal pic­ture frame on the wall, I would rec­om­mend opt­ing for 21 inch­es as the small­est size. From there you can go to much larg­er screen sizes, like, e.g., Samsung's The Frame at 65 inch­es.

I like the size range 24 to 30 inch­es for a liv­ing room envi­ron­ment. But I am also impressed by the ultra-large screens, but it is cru­cial to have enough space so that peo­ple don't sit or stand too close to the dis­play.

If you are look­ing for a sim­ple stand-up pic­ture frame to put on a desk, there are plen­ty of small­er screen sizes avail­able, like, e.g., the NIX dig­i­tal pho­to frame col­lec­tion.

Dis­play qual­i­ty

The qual­i­ty of a dis­play is defined by the num­ber of pix­els per inch (PPI). The more pix­els there are, the sharp­er the screen will appear.

To give an exam­ple: A 24 inch­es screen with a res­o­lu­tion of 1920 x 1200 will have a pix­el den­si­ty of 94 per inch. A 30 inch­es screen with the same res­o­lu­tion only has 75 pix­els per inch. You can find a Pix­el Size Cal­cu­la­tor here.

The dif­fer­ence isn't imme­di­ate­ly vis­i­ble when you do not have a side by side com­par­i­son. But once you get used to high­er screen qual­i­ty, you don't want to set­tle on a low­er PPI val­ue.

It's called the "Reti­na Screen Effect." When Apple intro­duced its iPhones and lat­er Mac­Books with a high­er PPI val­ue screen and called them "Reti­na," peo­ple start­ed notic­ing the dif­fer­ence a high-qual­i­­ty dis­play can make.

If you are look­ing at a screen size of more than 27 inch­es, you should prob­a­bly get a 4K mod­el which will deliv­er a real crispy image.

An accept­able PPI val­ue for a pic­ture frame is around 90. High­er is bet­ter. The fur­ther you stand away from the screen, the low­er the PPI val­ue can be.

Aspect ratio

The aspect ratio of a dis­play is the ratio between the longer side to its short­er side. Most dig­i­tal pic­ture frames sold today have an aspect ratio of 16:9.

I find this high­ly unfor­tu­nate. But there is a rea­son.

Great pieces of art and most pho­tos were cre­at­ed with an aspect ratio of 4:3 to 3:2. As videos became more pop­u­lar, the mon­i­tor man­u­fac­tur­ers mim­ic­ked the for­mat of movies and made screens wider.

16:9 became the stan­dard for­mat that was adopt­ed. You can still get 16:10 dis­plays, but their avail­abil­i­ty is dwin­dling, espe­cial­ly when you go high­er than 24 inch­es.

This means that pho­tos that have been tak­en with 3:2 in mind have to be cropped sub­stan­tial­ly if used on a 16:9 screen unless you accept let­ter­box­ing which is even worse.

While most peo­ple may not even notice it that much, it is not great at all for us pho­tog­ra­phers that have an eye for these details.

You may argue that the old 3:2 for­mat is bound to change as the mobile phone screens are all wide but so far that hasn't hap­pened. Most images tak­en with a smart­phone are 4:3 which is even fur­ther away from 16:9.

If you have the choice between a 16:10 and a 16:9 dig­i­tal pic­ture frame and you want to dis­play pho­tos or art, I would always rec­om­mend the 16:10 mod­el. But they are becom­ing extinct.

Glossy vs. mat­te

Dis­plays come in two vari­eties: They are either glossy or mat­te. Glossy screens typ­i­cal­ly mean that the col­ors will look vivid. Mat­te screens will have few­er reflec­tions.

Mat­te screens car­ry an anti-glare coat­ing and are there­fore bet­ter at pre­vent­ing reflec­tions. How­ev­er, their ren­der­ing of col­ors is con­sid­ered to be some­what less bright.

My per­son­al expe­ri­ence is that mat­te dig­i­tal pic­ture frame is prefer­able for a liv­ing room sit­u­a­tion. The col­ors are great and not as exag­ger­at­ed as glossy dis­plays. And a mat­te dig­i­tal pic­ture frame blends in nice­ly into a social set­ting with­out draw­ing too much atten­tion.

But this is a mat­ter of taste and intend­ed appli­ca­tion area.

View­ing angle

I am adding this point for the sake of com­plete­ness although the over­all qual­i­ty across dis­plays is such that is isn't much of a dif­fer­en­tia­tor any­more.

The View­ing Angle defines how well you can see the image on the screen from a mul­ti­tude of view­ing direc­tions. The image may become dark­er, gar­bled or show strange col­ors if the view­ing angle is low.

Espe­cial­ly in a liv­ing room or a pro­fes­sion­al set­ting, you want to have a screen that can be viewed just as well from about any direc­tion. The the­o­ret­i­cal max­i­mum view­ing angle is 180 degrees both hor­i­zon­tal­ly and ver­ti­cal­ly.

The indus­try has made a lot of progress in this area so that most mod­ern IPS dis­plays allow for view­ing angles high­er than 160 degrees hor­i­zon­tal and 140 degrees ver­ti­cal which are excel­lent for any liv­ing room appli­ca­tion.

But it always helps to check!

Wall mount

Final­ly, I would look at how a frame can be mount­ed on the wall if that is what you intend to do.

There are mount­ing devices that allow you to rotate the frame from land­scape to por­trait ori­en­ta­tion which may be very use­ful in a busi­ness set­ting.

Com­put­er hard­ware

A dig­i­tal pic­ture frame is noth­ing else than a dis­play and a small com­put­er.

In most cas­es, you will have no idea what the CPU or main­board of your dig­i­tal pic­ture frame is. There are no "Intel Inside" stick­ers.

And it doesn't mat­ter. The chances are that you have an Android board or a Rasp­berry Pi run­ning some light­weight open source oper­at­ing sys­tem.

Noise

I would first want to make sure that the sys­tem is noise­less, 0 dB. This means that there is no fan.

WiFi

Then comes the ques­tion of the WiFi pro­to­col sup­port­ed. 5 GHz is much faster than 2.4 GHz if you have a router and the cor­re­spond­ing Inter­net down­load speed that goes along with it.

The num­ber­ing scheme of the Wi-Fi Alliance can is hard­ly con­­sumer-friend­­ly; it goes by 802.11a, 802.11g, 802.11n, and 802.11ac for the most com­mon spec­i­fi­ca­tions.

So look for 5 GHz, that is the fast one.

It will come in handy when you upload new images to your frame local­ly but also when you have a pic­ture frame which streams (i.e., down­loads from a cen­tral serv­er) the pho­tos of a playlist like, e.g., the FRAMEN Play­er.

Con­nec­tors

If your frame sup­ports stream­ing, then your com­put­er hard­ware will not have an SD card or a USB slot for image stor­age. In some cas­es, you may still find a USB slot, but it will be suit­able for main­te­nance oper­a­tions only.

Speak­ers

Speak­ers may come handy for Dig­i­tal Sig­nage appli­ca­tions in adver­tis­ing, espe­cial­ly for video play­back. For use in a pri­vate set­ting, I find them less rel­e­vant.

Exter­nal hard­ware

One last impor­tant point: There are pic­ture frames that that are very slim, but require an addi­tion­al hard­ware box. Samsung's The Frame is such an exam­ple.

The pro­mo­tion­al images always show the sleek frame but rarely the con­troller box.

Also, you may end up with an exter­nal pow­er sup­ply that you need to store away some­where.

This is some­thing to under­stand before the pur­chase. Is every­thing includ­ed in the pic­ture frame?

Pho­to man­age­ment approach

As impor­tant as the dig­i­tal frame hard­ware is, you will find the soft­ware side even more essen­tial in your dai­ly inter­ac­tion.

This is why I am split­ting this part into three chap­ters: Pho­to Man­age­ment, View­ing Options, and Gen­er­al Con­trol.

Pho­to Man­age­ment refers to the ease of use con­cern­ing adding and edit­ing pho­tos of your dig­i­tal pic­ture frame.

Adding own images

What are the options for adding images? Is there a mobile app which you can use to upload images direct­ly from your iPhone? Can you send pic­tures to your frame via email? Can you allow oth­ers to add images as well? Can you edit your pho­tos from your local com­put­er? Can you link it to Drop­box or Apple/Google Pho­tos?

Mak­ing this easy and con­ve­nient is of the biggest chal­lenges that the man­u­fac­tur­ers of dig­i­tal pic­ture frames face. I am often sur­prised how clum­sy, un-intu­i­tive and crash-prone the soft­ware solu­tions of major com­pa­nies are.

This issue is so vital because edit­ing your images often will keep the lev­el of enjoy­ment with your dig­i­tal pic­ture frame high.

Imag­ine you can use the wait­ing time at the air­port after a nice vaca­tion to already upload your favorite images to your pic­ture frame at home. Or chil­dren can send their par­ents new images that appear instant­ly on the image frame in their liv­ing room.

Using third-par­­ty images

Anoth­er aspect is access to third-par­­ty image libraries.

Maybe you are not into pho­tog­ra­phy your­self, but you still enjoy great images. In this case, it would be a big plus to be able to stream pho­to or art playlists that oth­ers have curat­ed for you.

Video play­back

The use of pic­ture frames as Dig­i­tal Sig­nage typ­i­cal­ly requires video capa­bil­i­ty, so this would be some­thing to check. I con­sid­er it less rel­e­vant in pri­vate set­tings, but maybe I am not enough video focused. Let me know what you think!

Image view­ing options

This top­ic is described in much detail in my arti­cle "5 essen­tial tips I learned from build­ing dig­i­tal pic­ture frames," but I will sum­ma­rize here.

Image tran­si­tions

An often neglect­ed aspect when eval­u­at­ing pic­ture frames are the types and qual­i­ty of images tran­si­tions avail­able.

Image tran­si­tion refers to the way how the frame switch­es from one image to the oth­er. In the sim­plest case, there is just a hard cut from pic­ture to pic­ture.

A hard cut caus­es quite a dis­tur­bance, espe­cial­ly with a larg­er screen.

There may be a sud­den change in bright­ness which is uncom­fort­able, some­thing which dis­tracts, some­thing which doesn't feel right espe­cial­ly in a social set­ting.

Some pic­ture frames come with a vari­ety of ran­dom image tran­si­tion types. This can be amus­ing ini­tial­ly, but the nov­el­ty may wear off after a while.

In my expe­ri­ence, the best tran­si­tion is a slow cross­fad­ing effect. If your pic­ture frame can do this, it's a big plus.

Playlists and fil­ters

Just like with music, a playlist allows you only to show images that you have either added by hand or that meet spe­cif­ic rules.

Man­u­al playlists require the user to add images to a playlist like vaca­tions, birth­days or wed­dings. This is use­ful for exam­ple when you have events where you only want to show a spe­cif­ic set of images or in busi­ness set­tings when you want to run a pro­mo­tion­al cam­paign based on pre-defined images.

Many of you will know the rule-based playlists that you can define in iTunes where only music that meets spe­cif­ic cri­te­ria is auto­mat­i­cal­ly includ­ed in the playlist. With regards to images, this could be EXIF based data like the date range when pho­tographs were tak­en (for hol­i­days or events) or auto­mat­ic face recog­ni­tion to only show fam­i­ly images.

While this isn't too hard to imple­ment tech­ni­cal­ly, I have not seen rule-based playlists in dig­i­tal pic­ture frames.

If your pic­ture frame play­er sup­ports playlists, it is essen­tial to have a Shuf­fle switch to keep up the sus­pense of which image is com­ing next.

Also, it should be pos­si­ble to select mul­ti­ple and all playlists. In my expe­ri­ence, playlists are a use­ful fea­ture but it's nice to be sur­prised by an image that you haven't seen for a long time in your 1000+ images col­lec­tion.

Gen­er­al frame con­trol & oper­a­tion

This point refers to the dif­fer­ent ways how you can con­trol your dig­i­tal pic­ture frame.

It may have an Alexa or Google Home voice inter­face, a ges­ture con­trol where you wave in front of the frame for spe­cif­ic com­mands, an infrared remote con­trol, a motion detec­tor or auto­mat­ic pres­ence detec­tion to turn the frame off when you leave the house or when you go to bed.

Ease of use is para­mount. Every­body in the house (or office) must be able to oper­ate the pic­ture frame with­out any­thing more than two min­utes of train­ing.

Ener­gy Man­age­ment

A 21 - 24 inch­es dig­i­tal pic­ture frame will typ­i­cal­ly draw about 10 - 20 Watts per hour. Depend­ing on where you live, this comes down to some­thing like $ 1 - 3 per month in elec­tric­i­ty costs assum­ing your frame is pow­ered on dur­ing 16 hours every day.

But every lit­tle thing counts. Every elec­tron­ic device should draw as low ener­gy as pos­si­ble, espe­cial­ly if there is no added val­ue.

This means for the dig­i­tal pic­ture frame that it should turn itself off when it is not need­ed.

Very com­mon are motion detec­tors or lumi­nos­i­ty sen­sors. I am per­son­al­ly not a fan of either method. But a ful­ly fletched pres­ence detec­tion may be too com­pli­cat­ed to set­up for the mass mar­ket.

Cabling options

This point is close­ly relat­ed to the over­all design and appear­ance of your dig­i­tal pic­ture frame. Hav­ing a cable pro­trud­ing from your cas­ing doesn't look great.

This issue was rec­og­nized and is being addressed by the man­u­fac­tur­ers. Most often they will sell flat cables in grey or white that you can paint over, so check if they are avail­able for your frame mod­el.

I have described a few oth­er options in my arti­cle "5 essen­tial tips I learned from build­ing dig­i­tal pic­ture frames" if you want to go fur­ther.

Man­u­fac­tur­er

Is it rel­e­vant who makes your dig­i­tal pic­ture frame? Should you only buy from large estab­lished com­pa­nies?

I don't believe it mat­ters. Sev­er­al small­er com­pa­nies have advanced the dig­i­tal pic­ture frame mar­ket sig­nif­i­cant­ly. FRAMEN has devel­oped state-of-the-art soft­ware for con­trol­ling images and pic­tures frames, and the com­pa­ny has only been in busi­ness since 2018. Sam­sung offers amaz­ing hard­ware with "The Frame" but their soft­ware is the sub­ject of much cha­grin in sup­port forums.

And just as small­er com­pa­nies may decide to shut down, large com­pa­nies may dis­con­tin­ue prod­uct lines as well, so there is no guar­an­tee.

What counts for me is that the pic­ture frame meets as many of my require­ments. It's a low main­te­nance prod­uct with­out mov­ing parts, so unless you drop it, it should have a life expectan­cy of 4 - 8 years or even longer.

Pric­ing and sub­scrip­tion ser­vices

The last point is the pric­ing struc­ture.

Is there a one-off pay­ment for the pic­ture frame or does the soft­ware come with a sub­scrip­tion mod­el that you need to enter into to do more than the very basic stuff?

This may also include access to stock pho­tog­ra­phy or art col­lec­tions (like, e.g., Meur­al offers).

I am not against sub­scrip­tion ser­vices pro­vid­ed they have a real and ongo­ing val­ue.

If the man­u­fac­tur­er offers to store your images in the Cloud (like, e.g., FRAMEN) and by that is mak­ing it much eas­i­er to share playlists, use mul­ti­ple frames or run a pro­mo­tion­al busi­ness cam­paign, then there is a real val­ue that needs to be com­pen­sat­ed.

Con­clu­sion

Every pur­chas­ing deci­sion is dif­fer­ent. Some peo­ple will val­ue price over design; oth­ers are look­ing for a spe­cif­ic fea­ture.

I hope you will find this list use­ful when you look at get­ting your dig­i­tal pic­ture frame.

This check­list will also be my guide for my prod­uct reviews; so you can always come back here and read up on the details.

I'd be very inter­est­ed in hear­ing your feed­back. If you have any com­ments, please let me know by click­ing here.