The Plan

I had hoped to give my parents a Wifi enabled digital photo frame for Christmas. For it to be usable by my parents it had to be very easy to use and robust.

Ideally I want to just point it at a set of RSS feeds and have the frame cycle through random images from them. It would be nice if it could fall back to local storage if the Wifi connection isn’t present (my Dad likes to turn off his router when he isn’t using it).

After researching various Wifi frames, I settled on the i-mate Momento 10 inch one. The only people that seem to have it in stock in the UK are PCWorld, who have it for £199. I deliberately bought it from their website rather than in store. That way if it doesn’t suit me I can send it back under the Distance Selling regulations and get my money back.

The Good

Physically the frame is not too bad. It has a very modern look, very Apple-like white and transparent plastic. It certainly feels more solid that many of the frames I have looked at.

Setting up the frame was reasonably straight forward. The only painful part was entering the Wifi WPA key using the remote and an on-screen A-Z keyboard. This step is not made any easier by the sluggish and unpredictable response to the remote.

The 800 x 480 pixel screen is bright and most of the time the picture quality is ok. That however is where the good stuff ends.

The Bad

As I mentioned before the remote is a bit of a problem. It wouldn’t be so bad if the frame just didn’t respond quickly to button presses, that you could work around. The real problem is that it is inconsistent in its response. Sometimes it will respond immediately, other times there will be a fraction of a second delay and occasionally it will stop responding for several seconds.

All this means that you end up pressing a button again, because you assume you didn’t press it properly. Which means you end up in the wrong place on the menu and have to spend time getting back to the right place again.

You’d also better pray you never lose the remote. Without the remote the only thing that you can do with the frame is turn it on and off.

Talking of not responding, this frame crashes and hangs a lot. I have only had it for about 24 hours now and it has already crashed and become totally unresponsive half a dozen times.

None of this is helped by the fact that the UI is just a bit clunky. The clunky-ness is present in just about all areas of the UI, for example:

  • When browsing images in a list of thumbnails you can’t delete them or add them to the favourites (the only way to delete an image is to wait until it appears in the slideshow, press “Info”, select “Delete” and press “Mode”, a total of 5 button pressess)
  • When browsing images in a list of thumbnails there is no “Last” option on the first page, so if the image you want is on the last page you have to navigate through all the pages to get to it
  • When in a slideshow, with the order set to random, pressing “Back” will not show the last displayed image, it just displays another random image

There are plenty of other examples of this…

While much of the time the images don’t look too bad on screen, as soon as you view and image with large areas with a colour gradient across them you realise that the frame doesn’t have the same colour range as an LCD monitor. From what I can tell the frame only appears to be able to display around 256 colours or so at a time. So photos with big areas of skin or other areas with gradually changing colour look like old fashioned 256 colour GIFs.

I thought this might be a limitation of the MomentoLive service or the frame’s downscaling function. To test it I took an image and downsized it to 800 x 480 and displayed it on the frame via a USB card reader. This made no difference, the image still had the same limited colour look on areas with a colour gradient.

There are also a number of bugs that I have spotted:

  • the pause button doesn’t always work
  • sometimes an odd effect is seen, the bottom 90% of an image will jump up and down on the screen
  • thumbnails are not displayed in the correct aspect ratio (they get squashed so they are tall and thin)

There is very little documentation on how the Wifi side of frame is supposed to work.

It appears that there are 50 slots for favourite images and 50 slots for images delivered via the MomentoLive service. Images in these 100 slots are stored on the frame’s builtin memory.

I can’t quite work out how the MomentoLive slots are supposed to work. On the MomentoLive website you can send as many images as you like to the frame.

I had hoped that the frame would continue to cycle through all of the images that had been sent to it via MomentoLive, downloading them when it needed new ones. This doesn’t seem to be how it works.

I sent more than 50 images to the frame yesterday and it downloaded and displayed the first 50 of them. That was all though, it just cycled through the first 50 images and ignored the rest.

I tried deleting some of the images from MomentoLive.com, in the hope that they would also be deleted from the frame and new ones downloaded. This didn’t happen, even when I had deleted all but two new images from MomentoLive.com it still kept showing the same old 50 images.

In the end I had to use the delete function on the frame, which at 5 button presses to delete each image was very painful.

However, even when I had done that it still refuses to download new images from MomentoLive.com, so now it is just cycling through a couple of images that I didn’t delete locally.

The frame also has RSS feed functionality and when the MomentoLive.com side didn’t work well for me I hoped the RSS feeds might work better. The first thing to note about the RSS functionality is that the frame doesn’t do RSS itself. It is all done via MomentoLive.com, you add RSS feeds there and the frame gets the feed and the images from there.

I tried adding my flickr feed first and it did work. However for some reason only low resolution versions of the images were downloaded. This meant that the images only filled a small area in the middle of the screen. Hardly ideal.

I then tried a Google Picasa Web Album RSS feed instead. That worked better, the images were full size images.

There are however another couple of problems however with the RSS feeds. Firstly the frame only sees the first 50 images in an RSS feed. Secondly as it downloads each image from the feed it copies the image into one of the MomentoLive slots on the frame. And as I discovered earlier, once all 50 slots are full it stops downloading new images until you manually delete them on the frame.

The momentolive.com website istself is worth a mention. All the reviews of the Momento frame talk about the momentolive.com website being a subscription service. According to the website itself it is free and you are not asked to enter any credit card details.

Presumably if i-mate went bust or pulled out of the photo frame market the momentolive.com site would cease to exist and most of the Wifi features of their frames would stop working.

I should also talk about the USB/flash side of the frame. It has a card reader slot, that takes SD, Memorystick and some other formats (but not Compact Flash). It also has a USB port so you can plug a card reader into it for other flash formats.

However it is very slow when it is reading full size images from flash or USB. If you are going to use it like this you probably want to downsize all your images to fit the display first, it is much quicker at reading small images.

I had hoped that the frame would be able to show images from the Wifi connection and automatically fallback to images from flash/USB when the Wifi images weren’t available. Unfortunately that isn’t the case, it is very much a manual process of switching from one image source to the next (through it does automatically switch to showing the USB/flash ones when you first plug the flash/USB in).

It can take a long time for changes to come through from momentolive (no doubt this process will slow down even more when the momentolive servers are busy).

The Ugly

I wasn’t expecting this product to be perfect, it is early days still for Wifi digital photo frames. However I had to say I am disappointed in i-mate’s implementation, they have a long way to go to meet my expectations.

I could have forgiven it a number of the issues that it has and put up with it. But there are just so many large and small issues with the frame that I couldn’t live with (and more importantly neither could my parents).

So back to PCWorld it goes.

Edit:

After using it for another couple of days I have another couple of observations. The frame “forgets” the remote on a regular basis, three times now I have had to do the resync process to connect the frame and remote. That is just unacceptably poor.

The other thing is that the limited colour problem is just so much more an issue than I thought. Just about every photo that has sky, a close up of a face or a wall in it has obvious colour banding on it.

I have also spotted a couple of other issues, but I really can’t be bothered to document them. This frame sucks.