Revisiting digital photo frames with Memento’s Smart Frame

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We give digital photo frames another chance with the Memento Smart Frame(Credit: Simon Crisp/New Atlas)

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Digital photo frames are pointless gadgets which stopped being relevant in 2007 and are now only useful as Christmas presents for grandparents, right? Well, that's what we thought until we were sent the Memento Smart Frame to try. Now we can't imagine the living room without one. Read on to see how the whopper of a 35-inch digital photo frame changed our opinion.

The Memento Smart Frame was launched on Kickstarter last year with the aim of proving that digital photo frames are not dead. Coming with large 25 or 35-inch screen sizes, packing what's billed as a 4K resolution (but is 3,249 x 2,160 to be precise), Wi-Fi connectivity and a premium finish, it's a world away from digital photo frames of old.

We were sent the large US$900 35-inch Memento frame to try, and pulling it out of the box we soon realized it was quite a beast. The physical frame, which includes a mount border around the 3:2 screen, measures 99 x 73 x 5 cm (38 x 29 x 2 inch) and, at 12 kg (27 lb), it's both big and heavy.

A sturdy metal bracket is also included in the box. This screws to the wall with chunky protruding prongs then clipping into the back of the frame, allowing it to be used in landscape or portrait orientation. While this mounting method is reassuringly solid, you'll still want to ensure the wall you are mounting the frame on can take the weight.

By default, the Memento smart frame is then powered via a cable which plugs into the rear of the screen and a power outlet. We tried this but felt the black cable ruined the otherwise quality aesthetic of the device. The idea of the frame is that it's high quality and unobtrusive, but this black cable was a constant reminder that it houses an LCD screen.

Luckily, Memento also offers an optional flat-wire kit which is a power cable in an adhesive tape not much thicker than masking/duct tape. The $80 kit includes a 4.5 m (15 ft) strip of the flat wire, and a mount for making a 90-degree turn. This cable can also be painted the same color as the wall to help it be even less noticeable.

While this method of powering the frame takes a bit longer to set up (it took us about 45 minutes to get it right) it offers an instant aesthetic improvement, and even more so after it's painted. Though the slightly raised tape is still just about noticeable, it's such an that we'd say it's almost a must-have upgrade from the standard cable if you are investing in the frame anyway.

Turning the frame on, it shines with a bright glow as it runs through the setup which involves connecting to your Wi-Fi network, and can all be done via an iOS or Android app. With text on the screen and the bright glow we instantly thought the frame was not going to live up the hype … it looked a bit too much like a TV mounted in the middle of a photo frame for our taste.

However, that changed as soon as the text was replaced by images and the ambient light sensor kicked in, automatically adjusting the brightness of the pictures so that they looked like a well lit photo. The (almost) 4K resolution makes images pop, and if I hadn't recently been spoiled by a concept 8K screen from Canon at Photokina, I'd probably have been making the same cooing noises as the other people who watched the sample images scroll by.

Because the size of the frame demands that you step back to take in the full image, you don't notice individual pixels. In this regard it makes the digital images look surprisingly similar to high quality prints. The screen has also been optimized and uses a brightness algorithm to make still images look their best, and almost print-like.

With no physical controls on the frame, all settings are managed via Wi-Fi using the apps for iOS/Android smart devices or PC and Mac computers. Here you can further adjust brightness settings, make color adjustments and upload images. There's no input such as HDMI, so you won't be connecting a Chromecast or anything like that, and the 3:2 ratio screen wouldn't be ideal for watching video anyway.

Uploading images is as simple as selecting them on a smartphone or computer and letting the software do the rest. They will automatically be cropped to the 3:2 ratio of the screen and resized to the 3,249 x 2,160 resolution. However, because the cropping is not content aware, it might not be the crop you would have selected yourself, especially if your subject is not in the center of the frame.

For this reason, and to make sure the colors of our selected images looked just right and work together, we opted to manually crop and adjust image colors before uploading. We'd certainly do this if having large prints done, so it seemed only right to do the same here as the images were going to be the same size on the living room wall. With storage space for 3,000 photos you'll probably be able to upload as many as you'll ever want to display on your wall.

Once images are uploaded, they can be organized into different playlists, which can then be activated via the apps, and you can select how long each image should be displayed for. Durations range from 5 minutes, to days, weeks and forever. An "Evening" playlist can also be set to automatically activate when the room reaches a certain level of darkness, and works best when loaded with darker images which aren't going to glow too much and be distracting as the sun goes down.

However, it's not only at night that the ambient sensor, hidden in a small dot at the bottom right of the frame's border, kicks in. It is actually constantly monitoring ambient light and adjusting the brightness of the frame between 400 settings. This means that in bright sunlight the images will also be bright, while if the room is darker, so will the images. We found that this worked well. We didn't have to constantly adjust the brightness of the frame, it just worked, and did so in a way which wasn't too noticeable.

It's safe to say we were smitten by the Memento Smart Frame. Photos looked great in the high resolution, and it was nice not to be looking at them on the small screen of a phone or tablet. While some will argue you could see images just as well on a 4K TV, it's not the same. Our Memento frame was put in the same room as a 42-inch 4K LG TV, and we hardly ever use that to look at photos. Having them constantly showing in a more traditional-looking frame offers a more natural photo viewing experience.

The frame was also a big hit with my 5-year-old photography-mad son (who already gets more Instagram likes than I do). He loves seeing his images big on the wall, rather than on a phone, and we've created a playlist of his best images which can be easily activated from the app whenever he wants to view them. Even though he shoots with a basic Nikon S33, the quality of the images look great on the frame.

However, the best test of the Memento Smart Frame was arguably what other people made of it, and their response was just as positive. It was commented on by all visitors who saw it, most of whom assumed it was an illuminated photo until the image changed. At that point they'd typically jump up to give it a closer inspection, and ask where they could get one, and how much it cost.

Indeed, the cost is one of the few negatives we have with the Memento Smart Frame. At $600 for the 25-inch, and $900 for the 35-inch offering, it's not going to be for everyone, but it is a premium quality product. The screen is expected to last around eight to 10 years … so you'll probably have upgraded to a future 8K model by then anyway.

We tested the Memento Smart Frame just before a series of updates are due to be available. These will introduce additional features including support for portrait oriented images. The frame will also be made available in four more colors (silver, walnut, dark brown, and auburn) in addition to the current black.

Typical buyers are expected to be photo enthusiasts and families who want to display images of their kids in the house, but realize how fast they grow-up, and don't want the hassle of constantly updating physical prints. We can certainly see the Memento Smart Frame performing well for those users, and consider ourselves digital photo frame converts since using it.

Product page: Memento Smart Frame

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