THE GADGET IN QUESTION
I have read enough digital photo frame reviews here and elsewhere to assume that the general format of this product will be familiar to most. However, without wishing to state the obvious, the BT eFrame 1000 8" is an 8 inch digital frame on which you can view photographs.
This is a market flooded with similar products now, so presumably in order to appeal, you have to offer a unique selling proposition (USP). As you will discover a little later, I bought this product rather on impulse - an offer I could not refuse indeed. Unusually for me, I had done remarkably little research on the subject and was therefore rather ignorant of this item's rather handy "USP".
WHY BUY A DIGITAL PHOTO FRAME?
Again, maybe the answer seems rather obvious, you take digital photographs on your camera and then wish to display them, but surely, you can do that either on your laptop, PC or even television screen.......
......well yes, indeed you can. All of those media however require a 'captured audience' in a sense, i.e. you heard family and friends in front of whichever screen you've chosen and they are trapped in front of it until you cry halt.
Now, I don't know about you, but in my experience at least, on the whole, two things occur to me about such screenings:
1) The photographs that you are subjected to are either:
a) technically poor, or
b) excruciatingly boring to watch, or indeed often both!
2) The whole experience lasts far too long, the guests are bored to death and have an unusual tendency to be 'otherwise engaged' upon repeat invitations.
In the old days of course we all sat around the fireside and looked at photographs either neatly filed in a proper album, or shuffled from a pack stored in an old shoe box. Either way one could carry on making polite conversation about nothing in particular whilst feigning an interest in the photographs......
......no prizes for guessing where I'm heading here now!
Buy a digital photo frame then because it is actually a great and discreet conversation starter, rather than killer. For me it has replaced the photo albums, only it is even more low key, if sensitively positioned, people can choose whether to take notice of it or not.
As an additional bonus of course, your precious photographs do not become encrusted with fatty, salty finger marks from the Cheesy Whatsits.
Fine, I have sold myself the idea of buying a digital photo frame, what next?
THE PURCHASING DECISION
Last summer, we presented - well sent along with a family member in our stead actually - a very attractive looking 7 inch HP digital photo frame as a wedding gift for a friend in Poland. This cost about twice as much as I paid in March this year for the BT eFrame reviewed here. Whilst the HP had many good reviews, and an attractive choice of two 'snap on' frames, it was relatively basic. It did just as described - showed photos from digital memory cards from the camera, no more, no less.
However, for us, a digital photo frame was one of those things that, unless presented with as a gift, was a very low priority. I had been eying them up in ASDA, the £99.99 Sony one looked good, there were a couple of cheaper (and nastier) alternatives there too and, naturally, a whole host of internet bargains only a few clicks away.
I knew what I was prepared to pay for a digital frame for our own home, unless ASDA knocked that Sony one down to half price, then we were going without, until, one day, quite out of the blue, an email pinged into my inbox from the BT Shop......
RICHADA'S RASH ANDTOTALLY OUT OF CHARACTER PURCHASE
......in truth I am one of the least susceptible people to advertising that anyone has ever met. Dubious of many special offers and always of the mind that something is 'cheap for a reason', I purchased the BT eFrame before I had even had a chance to call Mrs R and say "come and have a look at this!"
An 8 inch photo frame for £39.00 including free registered delivery - with a choice of days (2-4 Working Days between 7am-6pm) on which delivery could take place - seemed too good to pass up.
Indeed there was a cynical thought in my head; at this price, if we didn't actually decide to keep it, that this would make an excellent Christmas or birthday present.
I tend to reason that BT does not put their name to any old cheap rubbish, after all that would be a fine way to loose business for all of their other highly profitable services. I had also read some good reviews of their on-line shop, from whence the tempting email had come. At £39.00, clicking "order" was one of the easiest decisions that I have made on the internet, this had "bargain" written all over it - at this price, in reality, it would have to be pretty poor to disappoint.
According to the BT on-line shop this same frame had been selling for around £130, bearing in mind its' features, that did not actually surprise me.
A SURPRISINGLY BIG BOX.....DELIVERED ON TIME TOO!
We were staggered at the size of the box that our, gifted, HP photo frame arrived in, so were therefore not surprised when the BT one arrived in a box large enough to have contained a small portable television!
The contents are fairly simply packed, but cleverly wrapped to prevent damage in transit, both box and contents were totally factory fresh. All materials used, including the Quick Start Guide are recyclable.
Like it or not, if you want a proper instruction manual you are going to have to download it via Adobe and print it yourself, mean or ecologically conscious on BT's part? I'll let you be the judge that.
As far as the hardware goes, the box contains the surprisingly large photo frame itself, the screen may be 8 inches (200mm), corner to corner, but the surround is another 2.5ins (60mm), making this a fairly large frame. Weighing in at 785 grams (yes, I did just weigh it!) this frame is no lightweight either.
The remote control, batteries included, is small and light, along with it are packaged the mains power lead, USB lead and CD ROM containing the Manager Software.
RICHADA, A KID WITH A NEW TOY.....ALMOST!
Resisting, in my short lunch-break at home, the temptation to rush into setting up the eFrame, apart from screwing its' simple and secure stand in place on the back of the frame, I placed the contents back in the box to be set up at leisure in the evening. Having a natural fear of "gadgets" as my mother refers to all such items, I was convinced that setting it up would take for ever.
In actual fact, the BT eFrame allows you so many different options that setting it up can be as simple, or complicated, as you want to make it. The more complicated the set up that you choose, in practice, the more simple and un-demanding it proves in later operation.
In its' simplest form this can be used immediately, straight out of the box. Plug it in to a mains supply, take whatever type of memory card your digital camera contains......
......and providing you have some photographs on it, plug it in to one of the slots on the side (it accepts: SD, MMC, Memory Stick Pro, Compact flash or USB memory stick) and they will start showing immediately on the screen......
WOW! WHAT A PICTURE!
......be prepared to be simply blown away by the picture quality at this point. Full size files from your (for example) camera's SD card, or (more complicated set up) downsized from your PC, are really shown off to their best affect on the BT eFrame's screen. The colours are superb, no matter which camera took the original image. I have been admiring my own photographs for over a month now and am still amazed at the picture quality on this screen.
For me, the first picture that I saw on this screen scotched any ideas whatsoever of giving this photo frame away as a present!
NOW FOR THE EXCITING BIT - READ THE QUICK START GUIDE!
OK, so we have done the easy bit, proved that the frame actually works and has a superb picture. In practice the simplest functions are entirely intuitive, at £39.00 it would do what many frames more than twice the price will without even consulting the instructions at all.
However, the BT eFrame has that USP, it can be set up to work wirelessly from your computer. You are going to need a wireless router in order for it to do this - there is no Bluetooth option. By lucky coincidence, our internet is 'broadcast' to us wirelessly via a BT Home Hub, how much this aids the set up in terms of compatibility I cannot tell you as I have not set it up on any other router.
TRY PRESSING ALL THE RIGHT BUTTONS - AND NUMBERS!
The set up is done entirely using the small and simple remote control supplied with the eFrame. Like most set up operations with new digital devices, it is the first things that you do with it that are the most taxing and complicated.
A single press of the OK button brings up the Setup Wizard; this allows you to follow the screen prompts to input current time and date information, letting you get used to the remote control input method before the more serious stuff starts to appear on screen.
The eFrame automatically scans for local wireless networks - ours found three, presumably our own, plus those of our neighbours! Usefully the strongest signal is shown at the top and is highlighted in blue, if that is not your own network, then simply scroll up or down on the up or down arrows until your own network is highlighted blue, upon which select OK.
The most technical part of the whole process is finding and entering your WEP encryption key, before getting in a flap, as I did, have a look at the back of your router - chances are it is printed on a label there - enter it and hey presto! The eFrame will, providing you have entered your key correctly, show "CONNECTING" and then tell you that you are successfully connected to your computer.
A useful tip here is to have your eFrame and computer screen in the same place whilst doing this, it will save a lot of time and effort running from one room to another to see what is going on. Once set up to work wirelessly of course the frame can be placed anywhere within wireless range of the hub.
LOAD THE SOFTWARE
The very simple operating program for the BT eFrame 1000 8 will take up a mere 4KB of your valuable disk space. In my opinion the BT software is the weak link of this set up, simple to operate it may be, but it also limits the functions - particularly the wireless options - that one feels this frame SHOULD be capable of performing.
Once loaded, clicking the BT eFrame icon brings up a menu of six buttons; Copy Photos, Copy Music, Manage Flikr Albums, Find Photos on my Computers and Software Update.
This one gives you the option of copying digital photographs from your PC to the small internal memory on the eFrame. To be honest I have not used this one as it seems rather pointless, when either the wireless or card option will allow a much better and longer lasting slide show.
MANAGE FLIKR ALBUMS
OK, hands up, I do not have any Flikr albums to screen in this way, but the BT eFrame will pick up photographs from the on-line photo sharing site.
COPY MUSIC?.....THAT'S THE FIRST WE'VE HEARD OF THAT.....
.......and once you've gone to the trouble of setting it up you'll probably wish that you hadn't heard it in the first place! I had to convert my iTunes MPEG4 to MP3 files and then download them (wirelessly) onto the eFrame. Problem is that, restricted by that tiny onboard memory, you can only get around twenty average length tracks onto it.
What I fail to understand is why you are not able to wirelessly "broadcast" music from your PC to the eFrame the way that you can photographs.
However it is not the size that I'm beefing about here, but the quality of the tinny stereo speakers on the back of the frame. My argument would be that if it cannot provide better sound quality than this, BT would be better off ditching the audio capability altogether.
Personally, thanks to the mediocre sound quality, I run silent picture shows on the eFrame.
FIND PHOTOS ON MY COMPUTERS......
......now we're talking. Opening this icon allows you to select photo files from wherever you have them stored on the computer. Having done that you can wirelessly broadcast as many photographs as you wish to the eFrame.
Some experimentation, and a liking for varied picture shows, lead me to setting up a dedicated file for this on my desktop. When I download a batch of photographs from my camera to the PC, I copy and downsize a few of the best for storing in the "eFrame File" on my desktop. Currently I have around 250 photographs in the file, which take a couple of hours to complete a full cycle.
You may wish to set up separate files for screening dependant upon mood or your guests' preferences. However you choose to set this one up, I recommend downsizing your photographs - I use the standard MS "Web Large" size i.e. 640 x 480px, which keeps the file size down and the quality more than acceptable. I also advise you to turn any vertical format photographs up the correct way, nobody wants a stiff neck from looking sideways at photographs.
Incidentally, if most of your photographs are in portrait (vertical) rather than landscape format, you may wish to alter the eFrames stand to allow the frame to "stand-up", you will of course then need to turn your horizontal pictures to suit.
Changing the picture alignment can actually been done on the remote control, although it is a lot less fiddly and a lot more professional looking if they appear on the screen correctly in the first place.
ANYTHING ELSE I'VE LEARNED ALONG THE WAY?
Once you get used to using the remote control, you will find some useful "extra" features. One of my favourites is that you can zoom in on a photograph in three stages, then move about the picture at the enlarged size, great for finding yourself in a crowd shot!
Another useful feature is that via a USB lead - probably provided with your camera, you are able to screen photographs directly from your camera to the eFrame.
Through the on-screen menus, using the remote control, you can choose various "effects" between photographs, oddly the only one that I would actually like to choose - a fade in and out - is not an option.
USUALLY IMPRESSIVE THEN, ANY DRAWBACKS?
Nothing in life is perfect, and at £39 I certainly was not expecting the BT eFrame to be. In, almost, daily use I have found its performance to be rather temperamental. 75% of the time it works perfectly, then you will find that upon switching it on, it simply refuses to "hook up" to the computer saying that it cannot find a wireless network. On other occasions it simply freezes mid picture show, such I guess are the vagaries if the otherwise excellent wireless technology involved here.
The remote and on screen menus allow you to select the length of time that the photographs appear on the screen.....theoretically. In practice the on-screen time depends entirely on the downloading of the pictures to the eFrame, some appear to stay on the screen for ever, others are gone in a flash - I have set the duration at ten seconds, this seems to have little affect on their actual on-screen time though.
I have not checked the extreme of the wireless range, our BT eFrame sits in the far corner of the lounge, the PC on which I write this, and that the picture file is located, is some fifteen feet away through a brick wall containing a fireplace.
IS THIS A GADGET WORTH HAVING, WAS OUR £39 WELL SPENT?
Oh yes! In all honesty I would have been quite happy to have paid twice as much for the eFrame, it rapidly became my favourite toy. On each occasion that we have entertained since its arrival, we have found it to be a great and discreet conversation starter.
I tend to sit mesmerised by its stunning images, in a way that I have never done so on a computer slide show - simply because the colour and depth to the pictures are so very good.
OK, THE CRUNCH - MARKS OUT OF 10 TIME!
EASE OF SET-UP: 8
EASE OF USE: 9
PICTURE QUALITY: 10
SOUND QUALITY: 3
VALUE FOR MONEY: 10
An 80% score then - a very high recommendation indeed, Richada's "toy" is an official hit then!
This item is currently showing as "Discontinued" on the BT Shop site, it is however available on eBay for between £50 and £60, even at that price, personally, I would purchase it.