Wi-Fi, a ten inch screen, and the ability to share it with your friends. Surely the makings of a winner?
We’re big fans of digital picture frames. The ability to sit down on a sofa with your friends and family and flick through an entire albums worth of photos on an elegant, simple to use device beats rummaging around for a laptop or passing round your digital camera, any day. Moreover, rather than having two dozen photo frames bunched up in the corner of your living room or adorning the walls along your staircase, just a couple of strategically positioned digital frames will provide you with all your family favourites – or in some cases embarrassments! So, digital picture frames are the way forward, but what of this particular model from the relatively unknown Momento?
Well, the i-mate’s big selling point is inbuilt WiFi, which can be used to receive photos either directly from your PC or, using the MomentoLive service, via email, MMS, or from RSS and Flickr feeds. You can even invite other people to access your frame and send pictures to it. Just imagine coming home to find brand new pictures, of your friend’s holiday or your grandchildren taking their first steps, already loaded onto your picture frame ready for you to look at. So long as you trust who you give access to the facility, it makes for quite a fun feature.
Unfortunately, you only get a three month free subscription to these online services, after which you’ll have to pay £19.99 a year. Obviously this isn’t a huge amount but, as you’ll see later, when the functionality of the frame takes a dive without these services, the value of the frame itself comes into question.
First impressions are very good with a simple matt white inner frame nestled in a clear Plexiglass outer frame making for a suitably sleek yet unobtrusive look. Given it’s nearly identical to the Philips frame we looked at back in February, the design can’t exactly be called original but it is certainly a classic that should look good in almost any setting.
Build quality isn’t quite so impressive and the frame lets off the odd squeak and rattle as you manhandle it. It won’t fall apart anytime soon, I’m sure, but for a device that’s meant to be held and passed around, it’s these little tactile elements that make all the difference. Also, the stand is attached by a screw, which requires undoing if you want to flip the frame from vertical to horizontal. This is a cumbersome solution and I don’t see any reason why a single corner stand, like that on the Philips frame, couldn’t have been used instead. There’s also no options for wall mounting but, considering you’d need to have an unsightly power cable hanging from the bottom, this isn’t a major oversight.
Round the back you’ll find a multi-format card reader, which supports xD, SD, MMC, MemoryStick, and SmartMedia, but not Compact Flash (the favoured memory format for professionals and enthusiasts). Sockets for full size and mini USB also enable you to attach USB storage devices to view images and, as the audio output jack hints at, playback mp3s. However, bizarrely you can’t connect the i-mate to a computer using USB. If you plug it in you’ll just be greeted by a message asking you to unplug it.
There are no actual controls on the frame and all the i-mate’s functions are controlled by a neat little RF remote control. It has four directional buttons, which control both menu and picture navigation, and half a dozen other buttons that perform functions like opening the menu, selecting menu items, showing tooltips, pausing the slideshow, and displaying photo information. The remote is quite intuitive to use and the range is impressive – certainly far enough that you’ll lose sight of the pictures long before you lose control of them. However, even though the frame has a holder on the back, it doesn’t charge the remote while it’s being stored and, given the remote uses not-easily-found-round-the-house button cell batteries, this could prove quite inconvenient. Furthermore, given the i-mate’s lack of controls on the frame, if the remote battery does die and you don’t have a spare to hand, the frame is unusable. The icing on this already half-baked cake, though is that the menus are decidedly sluggish, and the unit will sometimes crash, so navigation and setup takes an age. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s a chore but neither is it a slick seamless experience.
One of the greatest pleasures of digital photos frames is that you can pick them up and sit down with your mates to show them your holiday snaps. This is why we like to see at least some form of battery power, because it’s a pain to have to trail the power cord across the room to your sofa. Unfortunately, Momento has forsaken this pleasure and the i-mate’s lack of a battery means it’s firmly tethered to its plug socket. This does explain why there are no controls on the frame itself (what’s the point if you can’t move it?) but that still doesn’t really excuse the omission.
The i-mate had some trouble connecting to our 128-bit WPA encrypted Wi-Fi but WEP encrypted and unencrypted worked without any problems. Once connected the device will pick up any Windows Media Player shared libraries and it’s a simple case of selecting the one you want to view. However, you can’t just view standard Windows shared folders, which is a great annoyance if you don’t use Windows Media Player to organise your photos.
A fairly measly 32MB of memory is all you get internally but, considering the relatively low 800 x 480 resolution of the display, if you resize and compress images before adding them, there should be room enough for several hundred photos. However, there’s no way of directly putting photos on the internal memory without using the online services. Instead, you have to select each image individually from your memory card and add it to the frame’s favourites one by one. With the slow menus this is painfully tedious.
As you would expect, the i-mate has plenty of slideshow options, including nine transition effects like barn door and diagonal slide, as well as settings for transition frequency – the maximum is one hour. Of course, you have full control over all these so you can turn all the fancy effects off, if you like. There’s also power saving options that enable you to adjust brightness level and power the frame down over night and mp3 volume can also be controlled. It’s all very easy to use and you should be ready to go in no time.
The ten inch screen is fairly low resolution, at about half the pixel density of a normal monitor, but it is very bright and when viewed from a distance makes images really come to life. Colours are incredibly strong, much more so than you’d be comfortable with on a monitor, but this is great for a potentially well lit room where there’s bound to be all sorts of reflections. Viewing angles are also good enough for having the frame sat in a corner – where the horizontal angle should never exceed 90degrees – but beyond that the image quickly darkens. Also, the panel does have a tendency to exaggerate image noise, particularly on fine gradiants of colour, so you’ll have to make sure you edit those pictures just right.
This brings me nicely back to my main gripe with the i-mate. All this Wi-Fi wizardry may be quite useful but the lack of any simple drag and drop way of getting photos onto the device means you’re left having to either view pictures unedited, straight from the memory card, or resort to using Windows Media Player to organise all your files. When you consider the hefty price of £165 and average usability and screen quality, the i-mate doesn’t make for a convincing whole.
The momento i-mate 100 has some really innovative Wi-Fi enabled services that make sharing photos with family and friends easier than ever. However, the fact you have to pay for these services combined with mediocre screen quality, sub-par usability, and a high initial outlay, means the i-mate is hard to recommend.
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Author: Edward Chester
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