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Product Review: Digital Foci Image Moments 6 Photo Frame

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The holidays are upon us, and here you are again, not sure what to get that far-away loved one. Want to send someone all the pictures of your vacation, or update the grandparents on what the kids are doing, Kodak-style? Sure, but original photos are fragile and can get bent or damaged during shipping. Instead, pre-load a digital photo frame with the images, ship it off, and you're done. The Digital Foci Image Moments 6 digital photo frame is one such frame you could use for this very purpose.

It should be that easy, at least. Just to get new images into a playlist, you're going to have to spend a good bit of time reading the manual and making sense of the frame's often-inconsistent setup and unreliable buttons.

Full specs on the three different models in the Image Moments product line can be viewed here, but let's cover a few of the bases now. The six-inch (5.7" viewable) frame's brushed two-tone chrome plating and overall small footprint combined with the sharp backlit screen and built-in speakers get it off to a good start.

The frame comes standard with ports for many compact media formats, including Memory Stick Pro/Duo, Compact Flash/Micro Drive, SD/MMC/xD, and a mini-USB port for connecting to a computer for transferring from any other format you might have. However, a computer is not required for operating the frame or importing images. You can transfer them from the memory cards onto the 450MB of internal memory in the frame, or leave the card in the frame and display images directly from there. It also has a tilt sensor inside it to know whether it's oriented horizontally or vertically, and will display pictures accordingly, as well as stretch them to fit or display original size, depending on how you set it up.

Unfortunately, there are a number of drawbacks once you actually start using the frame and managing the content you want to display. Navigating the software within the frame can be confusing, especially for people not comfortable with technology. If you pre-load it for the grandparents and set it so all they have to do is plug it in and turn it on, they should be fine. However, if they hit any buttons on the frame, you might soon be getting a phone call asking how to "make it work again."

The interface can be learned, but it never quite felt intuitive to me, and I've been tearing apart and rebuilding gizmos for years. While being a little tech savvy helps somewhat when dealing with the frame, it's got more to do with the interface software and the inconsistent responsiveness of the buttons and navigation joystick.

For example, the joystick has some wobble to it when at a neutral position. You have to "click" the joystick by pressing it in to make selections in the menus. The wobble makes it tricky sometimes to make the desired selection without moving up or down at the same time. Also frustrating is the response time certain actions have. Sometimes they go through immediately, or even too fast, causing you to select two or more things in a row with one press. Conversely, some clicks take at least a few seconds to register, and you may think nothing processed, click again, then have all the clicks go through at once and be in a mess. Worse yet, some selections don't register at all, though you definitely heard it physically click.

On some pages of the menus, the + and – buttons navigate you forward and backward. On others, tipping the joystick to the right and left sends you forward and back a page, respectively. This makes it confusing as there's seldom enough page-specific help at the bottom to know which buttons do what.

The frame comes with a remote control (battery included), which could be handy for those who don't want to get up to change slide intervals from 30 seconds to 24 hours, but given the relatively small size of the frame, unless you have amazing vision, doing anything more than pausing or turning it on and off from across the room is nigh impossible, though it includes a full suite of buttons for fully operating the frame. You'd think this would solve the problems with the built-in controls, but the buttons on the remote have to be pressed firmly and completely down to make something happen, and coupled with the occasional lag when processing different clicks and functions, navigating doesn't get a whole lot easier.

Another irritation with the interface came when trying to group-select photos to add to a playlist. You can select them, but choosing "Add to playlist" only adds one of them. Or none. This creates a ton of excess clicking required to customize things, and with the aforementioned issues with clicking and flaky controls, get ready to be frustrated.

On the other hand, if you just pile all your photos into a single folder, you can tell it to display everything in that folder, but then you can't sort by date, relevance, or anything else. It's just one big alphabetical photo dump.

Bugs don't end with the interface, either. While trying to create a photo playlist, the frame's software locked up to the point that I had to pull the plug from the wall (required, no apparent option to run on batteries) to get it to do anything. Later, the on-screen text for slide transition timing partially got stuck, leaving half of a purple letter permanently on the screen as the photos scrolled on by. Another visual glitch occurred when inserting a SD card while the frame was in display mode. It brought up a file list with the last image still in the background rather than either staying in display mode or fully exiting to a menu screen.

On the upside, the frame supports a number of image, audio, and video file types. For photos it can display JPEG, BMP, TIFF, GIF, and raw image files from many DSLR cameras. Video includes MJPEG, MPEG-1, and MPEG-4 SP. MP3, AAC, and WMA audio files can be played back during a playlist as well (and sounds reasonably good, given the tiny size of the speakers). Of course, there are some notable omissions here, video being one of the largest offenders for neglecting MOV, AVI, standard MP4, Flash, and WMV formats.

The technology behind this frame is certainly respectable, but it needs improvement in several areas – primarily in button responsiveness and the software interface – before I can recommend plunking down the $150 asking price. Once you get it working, it's a nice digital photo frame, but the legwork required for any sort of customization is a bug-ridden chore. I know one of the big selling points is "No PC required!" but if they'd included a disc with software that allowed you to create and modify playlists on your PC and then port them directly to the frame, that would have been a tremendous help.

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About Mark Buckingham