Pandigital PanTouch Digital Photo Frame Line review: Pandigital PanTouch Digital Photo Frame Line

We generally like the new touch interface on the frame, but it doesn't exactly revolutionize digital-frame interfaces. It takes a while to get over the urge to touch the onscreen icon instead of the edge of the frame next to it. That aspect of the interface is a little strange and slightly jarring, but there's just something convenient about being able to walk up to the frame and touch it to get to its onscreen menus. If you can discipline yourself to stick to touching the white perimeter frame, navigation becomes a lot smoother.

To test the frame's file-playback capabilities, we loaded up a USB thumbdrive with audio, video, and image files. We were able to play back most of the video files from digital cameras, but an MPEG file captured with the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H10 paused every few frames. Also, we wanted to play back a video file from a Flip Video camcorder, but the frame didn't see the file. Translation: Don't expect every kind of video file to be supported, even if it seems like it should. Also, don't expect great sound from the built-in stereo speakers. Still, it's a nice plus that you can not only see your videos (most likely shot with your digital camera or cameraphone), but hear them, as well.

As expected, photos do look a bit softer scaled to the frame's 800x600 resolution, but they load significantly faster. Playing a slide show of relatively large (4MB or so) JPEG files is reasonably smooth, though--many frames get bogged down by big files--but in part that's because the frame doesn't scale them on the fly, instead just displays the middle of the images. It does seem to lose the rotation flag on some files when they're copied over, and if you rotate a portrait-orientation photo that was incorrectly displayed as landscape after it's been copied into the frame, it doesn't rescale it, just displays the middle portion.

Overall, we were pretty pleased with the image quality. Its 800x600 resolution may not be super sharp, but there's ample pixel density to keep in check the stair-stepping issues we've seen exhibited on lower-resolution frames. (On some frames, where there's a curved line in an image, such as the outline of a person's shoulder, that line isn't a smooth curve but a slightly jagged one). Color accuracy was also fairly decent, though, like other photo frames, the PanTouch displays 16-bit (thousands) rather than 24-bit (millions) color. Unsurprisingly given the limited color range, many shades of purple display as blue and bright reds desaturate. The glass is also quite reflective, so watch your placement; dark photos viewed at eye level can look like mirrors.

We also appreciated that Pandigital included a clock, calendar, and alarm-clock functions, which makes it more bedroom and office friendly. In calendar mode, the frame displays a reduced-size slide show in the top right corner. You can also program the frame to go on and off at set times. That's all good stuff.

Fans of Ceiva photo frames, which allow you to automatically push photos to them via the Internet--a good options for those who want to send regular photo updates to a grandparent or other family members--will note that this model doesn't offer that feature. Nor does it have built-in Wi-Fi to tie to an online photo gallery like Kodak's wireless frames. However, you can buy a USB Wi-Fi accessory that lets you stream images from your PC, using Google's free Picasa photo organizer. Alas, Pandigital didn't send us the accessory, so we didn't get a chance to test it.

At its current price of less than $200, the Pandigital PanTouch 8-inch digital photo may not be a bargain, but it offers an attractive feature set, decent image quality, and a novel user interface that has more positives than negatives. If it weren't for a little quirkiness, we'd give it a stronger recommendation. As it is stands, however, we'll just give it a warm reception.

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