Pandigital PanTouch Digital Photo Frame Line
Pandigital, a veteran digital photo-frame maker, is doing its best to stand out from the competition by incorporating a variation of the familiar touch-screen interface in its new line of PanTouch digital photo frames. You might call it touch screen "lite"; rather than touching the screen, as you would do with a device like the iPhone or an ATM, you instead touch the edge or perimeter of the frame to call up a menu and navigate. In concept, it's not a bad idea. And in practice, it's not bad, either. But it does take some getting used to.
Pandigital offers 7-, 8-, and 10.4-inch PanTouch models. We reviewed the 8-incher, which represents a good middle ground when it comes to photo frames. Most 10-inch models tend to be a little out of people's price ranges and the 7-inch frames are just a little too small.
Some earlier Pandigital frames came equipped with wide-screen displays, but this model keeps things simple with a 4:3 display, the standard aspect ratio for digital images, which means you won't have to deal with any cropping issues (unless your digital camera happens to have a wide-screen mode). The resolution here is 800x600, and the frame includes an ample 512MB of built-in memory.
As is the case with a lot of these devices, there's an outside border--or, in this case, two borders--around the display, which makes it appear larger than it really is. With its traditional-looking black frame, the styling is a little ho-hum (read: generic looking), though we do appreciate that Pandigital resisted inscribing its logo on the frame itself. We're also a little disappointed the frame only ships with that single outer frame, even though you can swap in new frames.
The flip-out stand on the back lets you prop the frame both horizontally and vertically, and there are four keyhole slots around back that give you the option of mounting the frame on a wall.
On one side you'll find the power, headphone jack and brightness dial. On the other, there are slots for CompactFlash, SD/HC, MMC, xD, and Memory Stick memory cards. The PanTouch supports JPEG photos, some but not all AVI, MPEG-1, and MPEG-4 video files, and DRM-free MP3 audio files. You can choose to leave the images (or video) on the card or transfer as 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.
With some earlier Pandigital frames, when transferring photos to the display's internal memory the frame didn't automatically resize the images to the size of the display, reducing their file sizes in the process. However, this frame does just that, which lets you store around 3,200 photos in built-in memory.
The frame has two separate, parallel menu systems. You access the setup menu via a remote or buttons on the top of the frame's stand. The other you access via touch.
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.