Kodak EasyShare EX-1011 Digital Picture Frame review: Kodak EasyShare EX-1011 Digital Picture Frame
Earlier this year, we reviewed Kodak's EX-811 8-inch digital photo with built-in wireless connectivity and were generally very impressed with the product.
More recently, Kodak sent us a sample of the larger, 10-inch model in the same series, the EX-1011, which sells for about $250. Except for its size, this step-up model is identical to the EX-811 in every way, so we apologize if this review sounds awfully like the review for that model. Even though they share so many features, it's still important for us to take a look at the image quality on the 10-inch EX-1011 before slapping an official rating on the frame.
Like we said with the EX-811, what's compelling about the EX-1011 is that it has built-in wireless connectivity that allows 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. 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-1011 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 already have one, 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 slide show transitions to choose from, and you can create slide shows 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 of 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 requires only an online connection, not a PC.
While wireless connectivity is the EX-1011's key feature, it would have a solid feature set, even without it (indeed, Kodak makes the step-down SV-1011 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 in its looks, it comes in a simple, understated interchangeable black outer frame with a glossy black inner frame, which surrounds the 10-inch diagonal, 8.8-by-6-inch wide-screen LCD.
Kodak offers a limited selection of optional faceplates (outer frames), to change the look of the frame, for about $20 on the company's Web site, though we had trouble finding them from online retailers so you might have to buy them directly from Kodak.
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). If you plan to hang it on a wall, remember that you still have to plug it in, since the frame doesn't run on batteries.
The EX-1011 screen resolution is the same as the EX-811's. The 800x480 display has 128MB of memory built into it. On the side, you'll find slots for Compact Flash, SD, MMC, xD, and Memory Stick memory cards, which gives you the ability to display hundreds or even thousands of photos, as well as play back AVI, MOV, MPEG 1, and MPEG 4 video files, and MP3 audio files. As noted, you can choose to leave the images (or video) on the card or transfer however many will fit into the display's remaining internal memory. Another option is to upload photos from your camera or computer to the display via a USB cable.
When transferring photos to the display's internal memory, some photo frames, including the Philips 9FF2M4, automatically resize the images to the size of the display, reducing their file sizes in the process. However, this model doesn't do that--yet--so if you've shot images at a high resolution, you're going to eat the internal memory up pretty fast (with even snapshot cameras producing images in excess of 3MB per image, you're looking at only storing 40 photos or so on the frame). Of course, if you know you're shooting photos to store on the frame, you could reduce the resolution setting on your camera or, better yet, resize the images yourself before transferring them to the frame.
To test the frame's file playback capabilities, we loaded up an SD card with audio, video, and image files. We had no problem locating the various types, using the included small remote control to navigate the menu system. The frame was able to play back the majority of the AVI and MPEG 4 files we threw at it, and Kodak says it tried to make sure the frame was able to support video output from most major still cameras (many camera phone video formats are supported, as well). Just don't expect the built-in stereo speakers' sound quality to blow you away. It's passable, but the EX-1011 isn't designed to be a tabletop stereo.
As for the remote, it's one of the better ones we've seen ship with a photo frame, with clearly labeled buttons that activate key functions (there's a set of buttons on the top of the frame itself, but it's much more convenient to control the frame with the remote). We also appreciated that Kodak includes a plastic remote holder that snaps into the keyhole slots on the back of the frame (so long as you aren't using them for mounting purposes). Since the remote is small, it's good to have a place to store it when you're not using it so you won't misplace it. We should note that you have to point the remote directly at the IR sensor on the frame at fairly close range (within 5 feet or so) to get it to respond to your button pushes.
As for picture quality, the EX-1011's was on par with that of the EX-811. Images appear sharp and detailed, with accurate colors, and only a little stair-stepping in images where there are curved lines, such as the outline of a person's shoulder. In other words, those lines may not be totally smooth curves, but they aren't clearly jagged, either (the jaggie phenomenon is because of lack of pixel density).
As noted, the display is a wide-screen LCD, with a resolution of 800x480 pixels. While some cameras can now offer a setting that enables you to take wide-screen pictures, most cameras still serve up 4:3 images that would fit perfectly on a 640x480 display.
When you go up to 800x480, the display ends up cropping some of the image. Kodak claims that its frame does this with utmost care to preserve as much of your original photo as possible, but inevitably, some of it will be missing. You can choose to display your photo in native 4:3 aspect ratio with black bars on either side of the photo, but most people will find it preferable to fill the screen with their images, even if it means losing a little bit of the image (sometimes, of course, a little cropping is good).
It's worth noting that you do lose a little bit of detail when streaming images from your online EasyShare Gallery. This reviewer set up the frame to view pictures from his gallery, as well as his brother-in-law's gallery (it's easy to toggle between various albums). Images are already compressed for online viewing, so you're not getting the native image streamed to the frame.
That said, because the frame doesn't offer superhigh resolution, so long as your photos--or your friend's or family member's photos--are of a decent quality to begin with, they'll look just fine when streamed to the frame. We should also point out that in some of the early frames that Kodak shipped, your Gallery images wouldn't fill the whole display and ended up with a 1-inch black border around the whole picture. Kodak has since fixed the problem with a firmware upgrade (yes, the frame is firmware-upgradeable) and pictures now are displayed correctly, filling the whole screen.
Minor gripes aside, the EX-811 and EX-1011 are still the Wi-Fi frames of the moment to beat, though that may change, as a number of new Wi-Fi frames come out in 2008. While neither the EX-811 nor EX-1011 are ultrastylish-looking, their key competitive advantage is their online integration with EasyShare Gallery--and it also doesn't hurt that Kodak's done a good job of making it easy to set up the frame to work with your wireless network and interact with your PC, as well as your EasyShare Gallery.
If you're trying to decide between the 8-inch model and this 10-inch model, it really comes down to what your budget limitations are, and where and how you plan on displaying the frame. If you're looking to make more of an impact and have your photos seen from farther away, the 10-inch model is significantly bigger and probably worth the extra $50 or so.
Editor's note: Along with this 10-inch model, Kodak also makes an 8-inch Wi-Fi-enabled frame, the EX-811 model, as well as four models without wireless connectivity, the 10-inch SV-1011, the 8-inch SV-811, the 7-inch SV-710, and the 5-inch S510.