Setting up a PicturePlan account online is relatively easy, though complete novices may run into some difficulties. On the most basic level, the idea behind the service is that you upload photos from your Mac, PC, or even a mobile phone, into an online-based photo album or albums. You can then choose which photos to send--or remove--from the frame and have new updates delivered daily or even hourly. Ceiva currently has 22 "channels" from which to choose. Subscribe to a channel and new pictures from that channel will be sent to the frame on a daily basis, providing fresh content and some potentially useful information. For instance, there's a weather channel that gives you the daily forecast and a horoscope channel that delivers your sign's daily horoscope. Another delivers vintage images from yesteryear. Needless to say, some channels are more useful than others.
Setting up the wired Ethernet connection was a snap--the dongle plugs into the USB port, so you will give up the use of that port while the Ethernet adapter is connected. However, we found that the wireless setup was trickier. While we expected it to be a little cumbersome to enter security keys via a virtual keyboard on the frame, we didn't expect to run into some menu selections we didn't really understand. In other words, the process appears more techie than it should, and this is coming from reviewers who are pretty tech savvy. Luckily, Ceiva customer service is very good, so if you run into any snafus with setup, they should be able to guide you through the process. Still, to cut down on those calls, Ceiva should do some work to make the wireless setup a little less intimidating.
We had a couple of other gripes. We test frames with a variety of image sizes, and the one thing we noticed is that if you have large images on your card--say, from a digital SLR camera--load times from the card can be a little sluggish. We also noticed that, contrary to what the manual states, when you're using Ceiva's PicturePlan service, you can't import and convert very large images (file sizes greater than 4MB) for storage in your online photo album. In other words, you have to manually reduce the image to have the service accept it for conversion to a frame-friendly size. Since JPG compression results in varying file sizes, a very complex scene might result in a file size greater than 4MB, even with a camera that doesn't usually top 3MB. That's serious issue, one that Ceiva needs to do something about , since more and more folks--and even relative novices--are buying cameras with very high megapixel counts.
On a more positive note, if you subscribe to the PicturePlan service, the company can--and will be--updating the firmware on the frame and making little tweaks to improve the frame's functionality. If you don't subscribe to the service--or just let your subscription lapse--you can still update the frame's firmware manually by going to the Ceiva site and downloading the firmware upgrade.
In the final analysis, Ceiva has done a decent job updating both the look and the features of its frames, really bringing them into the 21st century. That said, the company will face stiff competition from Kodak, which has similarly featured frames that tap into Kodak's online Picture Gallery service. While Kodak may not offer the special channel system that Ceiva does, the Kodak service does enable you to remotely send pictures to the frame--and the service is free. That would appear to present a bit of a problem for Ceiva.
That said, if you're a fan of the Ceiva service, you should strongly consider upgrading to this 8-inch model. However, if you just want a frame that accepts memory cards and don't care about remotely sending photos to the frame, the Philips 8-inch model is probably a better option. Kodak's new frames also seem like an attractive alternative, but as of this writing, they hadn't quite hit the market, so we'll reserve final judgment until they do.