The biggest complaint some people have about digital photos is that you never get to see them. Some make it to a photo printer, others to a sharing site or social media feed, but many end up sitting on a cloud storage service or a hard drive, unappreciated and never seen. Where the old prints might have ended up in albums or sitting in a frame on the mantelpiece, their digital successors never get their time in the spotlight.
Digital photo frames have fallen out of popularity, but they’re actually a great way to bring your shots out of storage and into the home. What’s more, the best models are a vast improvement on the dull, awkward to use early frames of a decade ago, with brighter screens, smarter power-saving features, better interfaces and even – in some cases – Wi-Fi and cloud connectivity, so that you can publish photos direct from a PC or smartphone to your frame. Go on, get your stills back on the mantelpiece where they belong!
How to buy the right digital photo frame for you
How much do you want to spend? And how big a frame do you want?
Choosing a digital photo frame is fairly easy; work out your budget then decide what size you need and whether you’re willing to pay for extra features or WiFi connectivity. What’s more, the best frames tend to come in a range of sizes, usually starting in the 7in to 8in range and moving up to 10in and beyond, with some models going as big as 18in. Whether you’re looking for something to place on a shelf or something to hang on the wall, you’ll have a few options. Just be aware that not all frames have a traditional 4:3 aspect ratio, with some smaller frames opting for a 16:9 or 16:10 aspect ratio which is great for landscape shots, but not necessarily so good for portraits.
Will my photos look good on any digital photo frame?
Beyond size, you also need to think about screen technology and resolution. Some models use the kind of Twisted Nematic LCD screen technology found in budget tablets, laptops and monitors, often resulting in low levels of brightness and contrast and narrow viewing angles; not ideal for something you’ll rarely look at precisely head-on. Others have moved to IPS technology, giving you much wider viewing angles and a brighter, more colourful image. More saturated colours isn’t necessarily a good thing – some frames exhibit the kind of brash, unnatural colour balance you’d normally find on a bargain-basement telly – but ideally you want something with a little punch.
As far as resolution goes, expect some mild disappointment. Digital photo frames lag behind tablets and smartphones when it comes to pixel density, and 1,024 x 600 and 1,024 x 768 screens are the norm even on larger models. Luckily, this doesn’t matter so much when you’re usually looking at a 7-inch to 10-inch display from several metres away.
How do you get your photos onto it?
This is the next big differentiator. Some have internal memory, and you transfer photos over a USB connection. Most now have an SD or micro SD card slot and read photos directly from the card. Others have a USB port for plugging in a USB memory key. However, a growing number now have built-in Wi-Fi, connecting to your home network or a cloud-based service, where you work through a Web-based interface to upload files. The great thing about this is that you can transfer files from your PC or your smartphone, not to mention popular picture-sharing or social networking services. You can even send photos to your frame while you’re away on your holidays. These models are even adding social features, enabling you to send photos through to friends or relatives while you’re travelling or just making the most of life.
Is there anything else you should look out for?
Many frames have additional features, including clocks, calendars and video and audio playback. Most recent models also have motion-sensing and other power-saving features, so that the frame isn’t using energy when there’s nobody to see it. It’s hard to find a frame without slideshow features, and the more flexible these are the better. A clear user-interface is clearly helpful here, making it easy to get photos on the device, add them to playlists and control how they look.
How much do I need to spend?
Frames start at under £40 with the larger 15in and cloud-enabled models reaching price points between £150 and £200. Inevitably you’ll pay for sheer size and extra features, but you can get a great frame for well under £100 as long as you’re prepared to compromise on one of those two.
The best digital photo frames to buy from £50
1. OXA 8in HD Digital Photo Frame: The best digital photo frame for under £50
Price when reviewed: £50
We could do without the ugly logo in the bottom right-hand corner, but otherwise the OXA HD is a decent frame for the money. With a bright IPS screen and a 1024 x 768 resolution, you get sharper pictures and brighter colours than you might expect given the price tag, and the feature set looks just as good. You can’t expect wireless connectivity at this price, but you do get an SD card, micro USB and USB 2 ports plus 4GB or 8GB of built-in storage. What’s more, OXA fits in a motion sensor, video and audio playback and a reasonable set of options for slideshows. It’s a shame that the frame struggles to display photos shot in portrait format correctly when the frame is setup in landscape mode – it’s best to rotate them manually before transfer – and that the plastics in the frame feel cheap, but even though the instructions and interface could do with polish, this remains a cracking budget frame.
Key specs – Resolution: 1024 x 768; Screen technology: IPS; Storage: 16GB internal; Connections: SD card, micro USB, USB2; Features: MP3, WMA audio playback, AVI, MP4, MOV video playback, motion sensor, remote control; Dimensions: 220 x 5 x 175mm (8in model)
2. SSA 10 inch Digital Photo Frame: A great 10in frame for under £70
Price when reviewed: £68
Don’t get too excited by SSA’s claims of 1080p video playback; its 10-inch frame has a fairly lowly 1024 x 600 resolution, not to mention a TN display, meaning you won’t get the brightness and wide viewing angles of IPS rivals. Despite this, picture quality is actually pretty good, lacking the clarity of the Nix photo frames but still delivering good-looking shorts with vibrant colours. A 16GB USB thumb drive is provided to store and transfer photos, or you can simply plug in an SD memory card. Either way it’s easy enough to setup slideshows or watch videos with the built-in media player app. You can even play MP3 files in the background as your slideshow plays. Other frames pack in more features or a smarter interface, but SSA manages to throw in a calendar function and motion detection energy-saving features. If you can’t quite stretch to the Nixplay Advance 10-inch, this is the next-best thing.
Key specs – Resolution: 1024 x 600; Screen technology: TN; Storage: Bundled 16GB USB drive; Connections: SD card, USB2; Features: MP4 video playback, MP3/WMA audio playback, calendar function, motion sensor, remote control; Dimensions: 275 x 50 x 185mm
3. Nixplay Advance 10-inch: The best 10in digital photo frame for under £100
Price when reviewed: £100
The Nixplay Advance range goes all the way from 8 to 18.5 inches, but the 10-inch version is particularly brilliant value, giving you a 10-inch, 4:3 ratio IPS display with a 1024 x 768 resolution. It’s a simple, well-built frame, standing on a bulging section at the rear where the power, USB and SD card sockets sit, along with a headphone/audio line out. The latter might be useful because the Advance’s party piece is 720p MPEG-4 video playback, complete with tinny sound from the built-in speakers, and you can cleverly mix video and stills within the same photo slideshow. While it hasn’t got the wireless connectivity or cloud capabilities of Nixplay’s pricier Seed series, the clean interface makes it easy to set-up slideshows once you’ve transferred your shots to the bundled 8GB USB thumb drive. There’s even a nice clock and calendar function if you’d like both overlaid. Most importantly, the Advance makes your photos look good, with natural colours, impressive depth of tone and cool transitions. If you’re just after a great way to present your favourite shots, this is the frame to buy.
Key specs – Resolution: 1024 x 768; Screen technology: IPS; Storage: bundled 8GB USB drive; Connections: SD card, USB2, micro USB; Features: MP4/AVI video playback, motion sensor, time and calendar function, remote control; Dimensions: 245 x 33 x 300mm
4. Pix-Star FotoConnect XD 15-inch: The best big-screen frame for under £200
Price when reviewed: £180
If you want to see your snaps at a slightly larger scale, the 15-inch version of the Pix-Star FotoConnect XD is a great option. The 1024 x 768 TN screen is surprisingly bright, though viewing angles could be stronger, with plenty of contrast and some strong, perhaps slightly too punchy colours. Beyond its size, the FotoConnect XD’s biggest selling point is its WiFi and cloud connectivity. You can stream albums from Facebook, Google Photos, Instagram, OneDrive, Dropbox and Flickr, while friends can email photos to your frame for display. You can also transfer photos and albums wirelessly or stream them from a DLNA-compliant NAS. This all takes a certain amount of setting up, and Pix-Star’s interface isn’t as slick or intuitive as Nix’s, but once you’ve got it going it all works fine. Throw in some interesting email, clock and calendar functions and you have one versatile big-screen frame.
Key specs – Resolution: 1024 x 768; Screen technology: TN; Storage: 4GB internal; Connections: 802.11n WiFi, SD card, USB2; Features: MP3/WAV audio playback, motion sensor, email, clock and calendar functions, remote control; Dimensions: 370 x 30 x 280mm
5. Nixplay Seed 10: The best all-round digital photo frame for under £150
Price when reviewed: £150
Like its stablemate, the Advance, the Nixplay Seed does a fantastic job of showing off your photos, with better clarity than you’d expect from a 1,024 x 768 screen, and superb, lifelike colours. The IPS display has wide viewing angles, and there’s a depth of tone here you won’t find in many other digital frames. The Seed goes further, however, thanks to its superb Wi-Fi and cloud connected features. You can transfer photos wirelessly and set-up playlists, drag and drop shots from Google Photos, Instagram and Flickr or even send photos to your frame straight from an iOS or Android smartphone app. Beyond this, Nixplay offers basic photo-sharing and social messaging features, so that you can share photos instantly with Nixplay-owning friends or family. And while Pix-Star’s frame works with awider range of cloud photo services, Nixplay has the cleaner, more intuitive UI, making it easier to use these functions and customise slideshow timings and transitions. Throw in a great design, with a thick USB cable that functions as a stand, plus a choice of colours, and the Seed is the photo frame to beat.
Key specs – Resolution: 1024 x 768; Screen technology: IPS; Storage: 8GB internal; Connections: 802.11n WiFi, USB 3; Features: Motion sensor, clock function, remote control; Dimensions: 238 x 23 x 161mm