We've had high expectations for Kodak's EX-811 8-inch digital photo frame ever since we got wind that the frame would have built-in wireless connectivity that would allow you to tap into your Windows PC, and more importantly, the Kodak's EasyShare Gallery online photo-sharing service. While the EX-811 is also loaded with features such as MP3 and video playback support, the real key feature is its Kodak Gallery integration, because that takes away the main competitive advantage of Ceiva's photo frames, which incorporate an online component to automatically push images onto your frame. The big difference is that Ceiva's service costs money, while Kodak's is free.
With some wireless photo frames, setup has been arduous, and we've run into trouble trying to connect them to our wireless network. We're happy to report that the setup for the EX-811 went smoothly. You first install the company's EasyShare Gallery software (it's a special version designed for Kodak's wireless photo frames) on your Windows PC, enable Windows Media Player 11 to share media, sign up for a Gallery account if you don't have one already, then fire up the photo frame, and run through the setup for wireless networks. The frame automatically detects nearby available networks and asks you for a security key if you're trying to connect to a secure network. You input the code via a virtual keyboard (we navigated the virtual buttons using the included remote control), and while it's a little tedious, it is a one-time setup.
After you've hooked into your wireless network, the frame will go out and look for compatible streaming devices and find your PC on the network. We tested the frame with a PC running Windows Vista, and everything worked quite well, but you can also run it with Windows XP so long as you've installed Windows Media Player 11. Streaming photos from our test PC to the frame worked flawlessly, and you also have the option of copying photos from your PC to the frame's 128MB of internal memory.
There are 12 slideshow transitions to choose from, and you can create slideshows from specific folders (albums) on your PC or from within the EasyShare Gallery. Additionally, you can share your online Gallery albums with other friends or family members who own one of Kodak's Wi-Fi-enabled frames. In this way, the frame offers similar functionality to Ceiva's subscription-based model. For example, you can designate one online album for sharing with friends and family, continually updating it with photos. After a short setup process, friends and family can then view that album on their frames and choose to copy the images to the frame's internal memory. Those images could then be printed out (you can connect the frame directly to a PictBridge-enabled printer) or transferred to a computer for storage.
You can also stream music (MP3 files) and select video file types from your computer to the frame. Files can be viewed or copied from all major memory card formats, as well as thumbdrives when using the included mini-to-normal-size USB adapter. A couple notes for Mac owners: currently, Kodak doesn't provide an application that allows you to stream photos from your Mac to the frame. However, the frame works on the UPnP (Universal Plug and Play) network protocol, and there are third-party UPnP Mac apps out there such as Twonkyvision MediaServer that are compatible with the frame (the same goes for third-party Windows and Linux-based UPnP media server apps). That said, if all you're interested in doing is streaming your EasyShare Photo Gallery to the frame, you don't have to worry what computer you have, because that functionality only requires an online connection, not a PC.
While wireless connectivity is the EX-811's key feature, it would have a solid feature set even without it (indeed, Kodak makes the step-down SV-811 if you don't need the built-in Wi-Fi). True, there are other frames out there with similar-size screens that offer playback of video and audio files. However, Kodak's done a nice job making the frame's interface easy to use, and while the frame isn't ultraslick looking, it comes in a simple, understated interchangeable black outer frame with a glossy black inner frame, which surrounds the 8-inch diagonal, 7.0 x 4.0-inch wide-screen LCD. Kodak says it will offer a selection of optional faceplates (outer frames) in various colors and textures, but at the time of this writing, pricing hadn't been set.
On the back, you'll find keyhole slots for mounting the frame on a wall, and a tripod mount if you want to set it up on a small tripod stand. The flip-out stand on the back allows you to prop the frame up horizontally--but not vertically--but one of the keyhole slots gives you the option of mounting the frame vertically on a wall with a single screw or picture hook (not included).