i-Mate and its Momento Wireless Picture Frame-Review
Overall, the model exceeds my expectation for a product concept that is still evolving. From a hardware perspective, its contemporary-looking, white and acrylic frame shell meshes well with my living room furniture, and a decent LCD resolution (800x480) is adequate for most of my photos. But for a number of high-resolution photos I received from my friends (God knows what cameras they use…), the visual effect was less stunning than on my Sony VIAO laptop. The only shortfall on the hardware side, in my opinion, is the model’s lack of internal memory. I have to plug in my camera’s memory card or a flash drive, which is more a hassle of inconvenience than cost. Even a mere 128MB internal memory will help.
The user interface is a bit confusing at the start. I have to refer back and forth from user manual to remote control to screen menu to understand each RC button’s function and how the UI is organized. Each photo source is highlighted as an icon at the top of the UI menu, but navigation to these different photo sources wass not as straightforward as I thought. I figured it out after several attempts. I like the feature that allows a user to select photos to display based on tags, folder names, star ratings, etc. They will come pretty handy for those who are into meta-labeling photos, like my wife. Overall, UI still needs a bit tweak to make it more intuitive, especially for people whose only RC experience is with a TV remote control.
Photo display software has my biggest complaint. My family and I are part of the blame too. Since my wife and I are not good shutterbugs, we do not always end up with photos that have people’s faces/figures in the middle of the shot. What makes me edgy is that the frame honestly tells the viewers how incapable we are. It becomes worse when the frame’s software auto-crops the not-well-shot pictures to fit the screen. As a result, my daughter was without her favorite hat in one shot and half my father’s right leg is gone in another family portrait. In fact, such problems occur to many other frame models I have seen or tested. “Intelligent cropping” should be an area for all frame vendors to make improvement.
What I had the most concerns with prior to the review turned out not a hassle at all. Maybe I am an avid network user, or thanks to my digital media adapter experience, configuring wireless network and connecting the Momento 100 to my home network is a no-sweat job. Although I struggled a bit through the keying-in-the-network-key session with the remote control and on-screen keyboard display, wireless connectivity was quickly established. I certainly appreciated the reminder message telling me that I need to turn on my PC and enable the Windows Media Player’s media sharing function, even it cost me several trips back and forth between my study and living room. My wife was very delighted when she saw all her pictures on PC can now be displayed on the frame.
Next I tested the Momento Live service. The user manual provides detailed account set-up process and I followed it religiously—it didn’t give me headache at all. But I began to realize that the user interface on the live account might be a bit foreign to new users. It has all the tabs, like Account Management, My Pictures, and Search. But some of the sub-menus of these tabs did not give a concise explanation of what these functions can do. I intentionally asked my wife to navigate through the account website. She paused, tried several tabs, tested a few functions, and apparently became confused and cautious about what these features can give her what kind of experience. Under the “Search” tab, she turned back and asked me what a RSS feed is and what the drop-down menu is for. After I showed her how to get pictures from Flickr, she became much relieved and excited about these features. Maybe describing the features in plain language with clickable links to these partner websites will help consumers out of the guessing game.
But many features enabled by this network connectivity did amaze me and my wife. I was able to set up Flickr photo streaming, tested linking my Frame Channel account to the frame, and displayed photos sent to my Momento Live account through email. Each time, the service was fairly easy to use and set up. Best of all, all these services are free to users.
So the bottom line is: the Momento 100 is a well-functioning digital photo frame ideal for technology-savvy consumers. At $299.99, it is not positioned as an entry-level product but even tech guys might hesitate to put down their money immediately. The frame’s software still has room for improvement, and I would love see its LCD resolution improve to at least 800x600. I gave its connectivity and network features an “excellent” rating, but if i-Mate hopes to extend the frame’s target market to mainstream consumers, user interface and account navigation on Momento Live have to be more convenient to use, and a bit more explanation about these service features will be helpful too.
The photo frame market is currently dominated by simple, unconnected frames. Network connectivity definitely opens the door for many innovative Internet features and services. But such knowledge is still largely limited to a small group of technology-oriented users. From my wife’s experience and reaction, I can tell that the wireless photo frames can have a much bigger market share in the future, IF consumers are made aware of the benefits of these value-added content features and services enabled by network connectivity. Parks Associates envisions that by 2012, 73% of all frames sold will have embedded networking functions. To make this happen, the price point must be right, so are the user interface and services. For years, we talk about digital home lifestyle through connectivity but applications like digital media adapters and Apple TVs have failed so far. The digital photo frame might give consumers a good reason to embrace such a lifestyle in earnest.