No fewer than six of my friends and family received digital photo frames for Christmas last month. For the record, no, I was not the one to give them. I expect that number to be even higher next Christmas, unless a large number of my favorite people on the planet get them for their birthdays or run out and buy them for themselves. As a basic digital frame, Aluratek's 10-inch ADMPF210 performs well. However, given that it is one of last year's models, it finds stiff competition when compared with the latest crop of frames that were announced at CES, some of which offer larger screen sizes and Wi-Fi capability.
Pleasingly simple in design, this Aluratek has a wooden bezel around its LCD screen. An on/off switch and some control buttons are tucked behind the bezel on the right hand side of the frame, while a CompactFlash slot, SD/MemoryStick/xD Picture card slot, and USB jack are in a similar spot on the left side. Like so many digital frames, this one has a fairly deep back behind the screen, which means that it'll stick out from the wall if you try to hang it up with the keyhole slots on the back. The keyholes only let you hang the frame in the horizontal position. Of course, it's kind of heavy to hang on your wall and since you have to plug it in (there's no option for battery or wireless power), you'd have to have a power cord trailing down your wall, which isn't too attractive.
A stand folds out from the back so you can stand the frame on a table, but there's no provision for it to stand vertically; you'll have to set it up horizontally or not at all. The stand has a tendency to close up if you try to slide the frame backward, so be careful when positioning the frame. It's best to lift the frame and place it down when changing its position on a table.
Since the frame comes fully assembled, unlike frames that require you to attach the table stand or bezel, the Aluratek ADMPF210 is pretty easy in terms of setup. However, the only way to get into the frame's menu is through the small remote control that comes with the frame, so if you lose it, you're in trouble. It would've been a good idea for Aluratek to include a button to access the menus on the frame itself, since small remotes like these are easily lost. Also, every now and then you'll have to replace the not-so-common CR2025 battery in the remote, and it'd be nice to be able to change something in the menu in these instances.
Among the things you can do in the menu are connect the frame to a PC or printer, copy or delete files to/from the internal memory or a memory card or USB flash drive, set color, tint, brightness, or contrast, and set slide-show speed or transition effects. You can choose from nine transitions or none at all. There's no option for random transitions, but since almost every frame I've seen has at least one transition that I find hokey, I don't mind this much. One last menu option is strangely called "Separate Windows," which means that up to four images can be displayed at a time in slide-show mode. You don't get to choose how many, but the frame will occasionally place a vertically oriented image on the right side of the screen where two horizontal images might otherwise be displayed in Separate Windows mode.
In addition to displaying images, the ADMPF210 is supposed to be able to play video files. I tried to play video clips shot with a number of different compact digital still cameras with mixed results. While the frame did play back video shot with some Fuji, Samsung, Panasonic, and Pentax cameras, it choked on video files shot with Canon, Kodak, and Casio cameras. It also intermittently had trouble moving from one video clip to another, sometimes freezing up in the process. While some of the rejected clips I tried yielded a "codec not supported" error, others just made the frame hang, forcing me to turn the frame off and then on again to get it to start doing anything again. This might sound bad, but more often than you'd expect, digital photo frames have trouble playing back video created by digital still cameras, even when the frames' manufacturers say that they can.
If music's your thing, the ADMPF210 can play back MP3s, though the built-in speakers won't do your music justice. To say that they're tinny doesn't even start to describe their inability to reproduce a wide range of tonal frequencies. Put simply, if you want your music to sound like it's being played on a cheap boombox blaring in the backyard, then try playing it on this frame. Like the video playback, though, this is typical of digital photo frames, so you can't blame Aluratek too much here, despite the fact that it'd be nice for a frame to be able to play back some soft music during a photo slide show.
One feature I did find nice is the calendar and clock, which let you set times for the frame to turn on and off. Since most people use too much electricity as it is, it's nice to be able to set the frame to shut off at night, when you won't be awake to look at it anyway.
The most important part of a digital photo frame, in my opinion, is the screen. In this case, it's a 10.5-inch, 1,024x768-pixel LCD screen. With brightness and contrast set properly, the screen can display a wide range of colors and grayscale, though I did notice some banding in photos that have subtle gradations from color to color. By banding I mean that a photo that includes a smooth movement from a bright yellow to a dark orange doesn't make that transition in a smooth way. Instead this transition appears as jumps in brightness similar to stair steps. In the case of the ADMPF210, this stair stepping is subtle, so it's not nearly as bad as I've seen in some frames.
One more thing to note is that when copying files from a card or USB drive to the frame's 256MB of internal memory, the frame doesn't size the images down. While I didn't notice any real slowdown in slide shows because of large image files, you'll have to size images down in your computer if you want to be able to store a large number of images in the frame itself. On the other hand, if you plan on sharing your images with friends by letting them copy images from the frame to their own memory cards or USB drives, you may not want to size them down too much, and you definitely shouldn't size them below 1,024x768 if you want to maintain the pleasing image quality that this frame's screen can deliver. Also, if you plan to print directly from the frame, you'll have to make sure that the image files have enough pixels to make the size prints you want.
As a basic digital photo frame, the Aluratek ADMPF210 doesn't disappoint. It does a very nice job of reproducing digital photos and can present slide shows with pleasing transitions and even multiple images on the screen at the same time. But, like so many frames, it has trouble playing video clips from still cameras and the speakers don't do justice to MP3 music files. What's worse, it doesn't include Wi-Fi, which means that the frame is an island unto itself. Kodak's EasyShare EX1011 offers a 10-inch screen with similar image quality and is able to link to a free online EasyShare image gallery, making it simple to update the images that appear on the frame from anywhere that you can access the Internet. While Kodak's frame doesn't have quite as nice of a wood bezel as this Aluratek, it still offers a better value in my book, thanks to the versatility of its wireless connectivity. Of course, if you don't have wireless Internet access at home, then the Kodak's wireless advantage becomes moot.