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How I got my mom a great gift for Mother's Day that the whole family can use to send her photos, anytime, anywhere
We've all been at a loss this time of year, Mother's Day is one of those holiday's where we need to up the ante and be the perfect husband, son or daughter. There's always the standard, flowers, but somehow I've always questioned why we should spend $50 or more on something that will be tossed in the trash in a week.
A few years ago we started to see something new in our lexicon of home devices, the digital picture frame. These little wonders allowed us to hook them up to our computers, cameras or by inserting a memory card allow us to see images that were shot just moments ago or scans of photos from our grandparents day.
Recently something new has been added into the mix of digital picture frame features, Wi-Fi networking.
I've taken a look at two Wi-Fi networked digital picture frames, the Kodak EX 1011 and the eStarling WFP288B. Both companies try to make things as easy as possible to set up their devices but lets just say if you know someone who's computer savvy, try to keep their number near at hand when you set these frames up.
|Kodak and eStarling|
I don't want to scare you off from buying these frames. For the most part setting up requires you to input both the user name and password to your wireless network router. I should stop here and point out that a rather large percentage of people who have wireless networking in their homes have failed to change the default user name and password to their network making it easy for some stranger to log on and do some mischief to your system or steal your Internet access. So if you're reading this you might want to correct that.
|The Kodak, left, is priced at $249. The eStarling, right is $199|
The only hurdles I had to overcome were setting up sharing in Windows Media Player 11 and uninstalling my network management software, going back to using the original Windows setup.
The Kodak EX1011 is the more traditional looking of the two frames, appearing to have the classic black beveled wooden frame (but its actually plastic). The eStarling is a bit more modern looking with a thick front sheet of plastic/acrylic with the image surrounded by a black matte and outer edge clear. It feels the more solid of the two but I don't think how sturdy these frames feel is all that important. How often do you go around lifting your frames off the walls so you can feel how sturdy they are? Once they're on the shelf or mounted to the wall they are pretty much left alone. I imagine it would be possible to take either frame to a professional to have them mounted in frames to match any décor.
Styling aside, both companies take a slightly different approach to getting your family photos uploaded to the frame wirelessly (By the way, the Kodak unit can also show videos with sound tracks on its frame). Kodak's frame comes with a setup CD which installs their EasyShare software and other needed programs and goodies. A plus is that during the install the software can automatically check for updates online and install those. Once installed it walks you through the setup pretty painlessly. You then go online and set up an account with Kodak Gallery. One area that will slow you down is imputing your email address and Kodak Gallery password using the simulated keyboard shown on the frame's display. You have to use the arrow keys on the included remote. Its back to hunt and peck just like the first time you used a keyboard. With that done, the main page will change to show the newly added Kodak Gallery along with My Frame and Settings.
When first starting the EasyShare software it will scan your drive for images. You then drag and drop the files or folders you want to upload, click the Express Upload at the top of the page, wait a few minutes and then select which images or folders you want to download to your digital picture frame. That sounds more convoluted than it really is. A great feather of the Kodak EasyShare method is that you or selected friends and family can now share their own photo albums with the frame and your wife, mother or grandmother can sit back and live vicariously through everyone's exploits.
The eStarling frame takes a different approach. You go to their website www.SeeFrames.com, and follow their directions which consists of downloading a small program (PC or Mac version) and running it to either semi-automatically or manually set up the device to access your home network.
During this process the frame itself will tell you what's going on or if there's an error. Once done you are ready to upload your images directly to the SeeFrame website. You also have the option to use other methods like iPhoto, Picassa, Flikr, Photobucket, AOL or several other free services. Again your family and friends can share their photos very easily by uploading them to the appropriate website or email address. One nice touch is that you can set it up so that emails are only accepted by accounts you specify. In fact both Kodak and eStarling systems have security measures to prevent images or messages from arriving unexpectedly where they aren't wanted.
The biggest differences between the two photo frames are that the Kodak lets you view video and sound also. The image area is larger with the Kodak frame, 10 diagonal versus 8 with eStarling. Resolution for the Kodak frame is 800x480 (wide screen format) and the eStarling is 800x600 (traditional picture size). If your photo frame is going to be sitting on a table nearby then either frame is great. If the frame is sitting on a shelf across the room or hanging on the wall then the Kodak is a better bet since it comes with a wireless remote control.
Of the two systems of uploading photos to the company's website and then downloading them to the frame I have to say that the Kodak EasyShare website is more feature rich and easier to use. If the eStarling/SeeFrame site allowed you to upload photos in a batch then the two services would be much closer. You do get much of the batch uploading services by using sites like Photobucket but Kodak's is simpler and more intuitive. The eStarling frame can also download content from an RSS feed and there are ready-made feeds you can subscribe to that will show scenic photos from around the world.
Both frames let you hook the frame directly to your computer via included USB cables thereby allowing you to drag and drop photos into the frame. You don't have to re-size your photos before downloading but if you do the frame will be able to hold more images.
The eStarling and Kodak frames allow you to directly connect a digital camera and download pictures that way also. Finally both accept the standard memory card types " Compact Flash, MMC, Memory Stick, and MicroDrive. Both frames have their own on-board flash memory of 128MB, which can hold up to 600 photos. Both frames can be mounted to a wall, and the Kodak has a built-in stand while the eStarling has a snap in stand.
Another very nice feature that both frames have is the ability to set on and off times to save energy. If you go on vacation and forget to turn the frame off you can do it remotely. You can also turn the frames on and off using the buttons located behind the front fascia. There are also easy to reach buttons for other functions such as controlling the slide shows.
|The back of the Kodak|
|The back of the eStarling|
As mentioned before the Kodak frame lets you download not only photos but videos complete with sound, or MP3's. There is a volume control and an audio out jack that accepts a mini-plug for headphones, external stereo, or powered speakers. There is the very handy remote which among its other features has a magnify control that lets you zoom into a hi-res image and pan around.
Kodak also lets you customize your frame by offering several optional faceplates. You can also connect to a PictBridge-enabled printer to print pictures without a computer, although the images should be at much higher resolution than the frame's 800x480 pixels.
Estarling lets you send your photos via email directly from their frame. This way your mom or wife can forward photos to other friends and family members.
Despite some work getting the units connected to my home network, mostly because of interference with security software on my system, once set up it was easy to send photos to the frames in another part of the house. I could have been on the other side of the country or someplace like Japan and it would have been just as quick and easy.
I think both companies could use some online videos demonstrating their product's installation/setup and especially its various features and uses. With other products I've found this to be a much better way to get users up and going quickly.
As I mentioned you can set your (free) accounts up so that friends and family can send their photos, messages or even MP3's and vacation videos (Kodak) to the frames no matter where they are in the world as long as they have an Internet or phone connection. I think that is THE key selling point with these frames and a feature well worth the extra price compared to standard frames. You can call up your grandmother one day and tell her to turn her frame on to see her new grandchild or even send the occasional 'I love you' to your wife while she's at work. The possibilities are endless, its a whole new way to reach out to family and friends that I think is great.
You can find out more about these frames at:
Robert Jensen has spent most of his 55 years in photography, from the age of 11 when he got his first camera (a Kodak Instamatic) to the present, shooting professionally. From 1971 to 1997 he worked in retail selling photographic equipment to people of all skill levels. For most of that period he was also a manager.