eStarling wifi photo frame review

eStarling frame and JeremyWe bought my Dad an eStarling Wifi Photo Frame for his birthday. I picked it out, after specifically looking for a frame that worked over the wifi. In my experience memory-card based units are disappointing – you update the images regularly for a couple of months, then the novelty wears off. I wanted a frame that would be constantly changing.

Sadly, no consumer frames were capable of grabbing images from a networked computer1, but the eStarling comes close – it downloads its images from your account on the eStarling website. The site can grab images from RSS feeds, email or direct upload, and resizes them to 800px for the frame. This is a free service, but means you’re locked into their system. However, if eStarling ever go under the frame can work from memory-cards too (although not both at once).

Verdict after a couple of months: it’s ok.

The good:

  • The website picks up Flickr / Picasa Web Album RSS feeds pretty well, updating them every 6hrs (ish – it’s occasionally taken much longer). Or you can ‘push’ a manual update.
  • Emailing photos to the system has worked every time. You get a (somewhat garbled) confirmation response, and there’s a filter to prevent obvious hijackings.
  • The quality. Images are resized to 800 pixels and look terrible on the web interface, but pretty good on the frame itself. Viewing angles aren’t wonderful, but I’ve been spoilt by my fancypants LCD monitor. They’re good enough if you can put the frame at an appropriate height.
  • It’s a nice looking frame. Black and sleek, it looks good on the shelf. It’s not too deep, is heavy enough to be stable, and is completely silent.
  • It has a sensible 4:3 aspect ratio. This is the same as my parents’ digital camera. Mine’s a 3:2, and the frame puts bars on the edge rather than cropping. Plenty of other ‘widescreen’ frames might look nice, but they must either display *tiny* photos or crop them to hell.

The bad:

  • It originally crashed a fair bit, but turning it off overnight seems to have helped with that. It has a built-in activation/deactivation timer, but if it crashes overnight it just never turns back on. A bit of googling suggests this is common.
  • There’s no random mode, so images loop in the same order. This is a shame, and quite odd – the website lets you view/add/delete images, and I can’t think it’s too much database work to (roughly) randomise a list. It’s fair enough that the frame doesn’t support automatic randomising, but it’d be nice to do it manually.
  • It doesn’t remember all its settings. It can change images every 10s, 60s or 180s. I prefer 180s, but it reverts to 10s each restart.
  • The website claims ‘unlimited storage’, which is a bit OTT. Even at 800px, that’s quite the claim from a company I’ve never heard of.
  • Flickr’s RSS feeds are limited to 20 images. Not a problem with the frame, but annoying when you’ve added a batch.
  • The transitions are a bit…1980s corporate training video. And can’t be changed.
  • I couldn’t connect to WPA2 security, but to be fair I’m can’t see this explicitly supported anywhere.
  • It wasn’t cheap. ~£200 is pretty expensive for something with all these problems.

The ugly

I logged on last week and spotted a new feature: Facebook / Flickr integration. Great! I hoped that would get around the 20 RSS-image limit, so I clicked the button to link into my accounts (via the API so it doesn’t need any passwords). Nothing happened. I figured it was broken, and forgot about it.

A few days later I arrive at the house when nobody’s in. I’m walking through the kitchen and do a classic double-take. Why is the frame displaying drunk people in bars? Who are these people? Has the frame been hacked? Is the website broken? It’s not like Mum and Dad will mind, but it’s not exactly the intended use, and I have no idea what could appear next…So I log onto the website.

It turns out, they fixed the Facebook / Flickr integration. But it doesn’t grab my images, it grabs my friends’ images.

If you’re on Facebook, you’ll appreciate why this is Not A Good Thing.

So I turned that off pretty sharpish. The ‘organise’ section isn’t that great, and it took a while to manually delete each shot, but I got there in the end.

Verdict

The eStarling, as I said, is ok. I’ve managed to work around most of its little quirks, and my research suggests none of the consumer frames are any better2. I’m not sure it’s really really worth ~£200, but it’s not a total rip-off. Mum and Dad like it, which is the main thing.

I really like the idea of wireless photo frames. If I had one I’d set it to show images from my flickr contacts, updating every 5 minutes or so, and I’d probably waste half my day looking at the thing. I imagine the technology will improve and they’ll eventually be cheap and cheerful, but right now it’s way more effort than it should be.

  1. a couple had some kind of Windows Media Player link, but they all had major issues []
  2. which is weird, if you ask me – making one is obviously much more difficult than you’d think []