You may know the Royal brand from its typewriters and paper shredders, but you probably didn't realize that the company now makes digital photo frames. Yes, Royal's serving up several budget models, such as the PF56, which sports a 5.6-inch screen (measured diagonally) and can be had online for around $100.
Like a lot digital photo frames, the Royal PF56's frame itself, made of basic black plastic, is significantly bigger than the display itself. Technically, this model measures 7.5 by 5.9 by 1.4 inches (WHD), but the display's real dimensions are approximately 4.5 inches long by 3.45 inches tall. A support arm around back swivels to allow you to orient the stand vertically as well as horizontally. And on the bottom of the frame, you'll find a threaded hole for a tripodlike stand (not included). A 12-volt AC adapter plugs into the back of the unit and powers it. The promo copy on the box says the frame is wall-mountable, but we weren't sure how you'd go about doing that without the key-hole slot we've seen on some digital photo frames.
What's interesting about the PF56's design is that the outer frame is actually removable. We assumed that meant you could swap in another frame--and Royal's Web site says that three of them come with the product--but the manual makes no mention of optional frames, and none arrived in our box. The manual did help us figure out just what the obtruding half-circle on the top of the frame is: It's where the frame's infrared sensor would be housed if the frame was indeed equipped with a sensor and came with a remote. (Our model did not include one, but the step-up PF80 does.) If you're thinking the PF56 is made in China, and that it's probably being sold under another brand somewhere else in the world, you probably wouldn't be wrong. Alas, the PF56 isn't high design, but it is functional.
While the interface is not at all slick--for example, the first thing you see when the display boots up is the firmware version--we found it easy enough to find our images (JPEG only) and video files (AVI only, no sound) on the various memory cards we inserted; the frame accepts SM/SD/MS/MMC/xD and CF cards. You can also transfer images to the frame via USB, but since there's no internal memory, you have to have a memory card inserted into the frame to save the photos. One caveat: if you've shot high-resolution photos (read: 4 megapixels or higher), the frame does take longer to load each photo as file sizes increase. But this becomes less of an issue if you're interested in leaving the frame in slide show mode, which inserts delays between images anyway.
Beyond that slide show mode, the frame offers a few other basic features, including the ability to delete, rotate, and zoom in on photos in the display, as well as adjust brightness, contrast, and color settings. Again, this is a no-frills frame, but if you can live with its ho-hum styling and design quirks, your images will look pretty decent on its screen. This model doesn't have the higher resolution of the Philips Digital Photo Display 7FF1, but the alleged 800x600 resolution is higher than that of some entry-level frames. It also doesn't hurt that, because the display is small, standing back just a few feet from the frame will make you your images appear sharper.
Bottom line: If all you have to spend on a digital photo frame is $100, this is an acceptable choice. However, it would have been nice if it had indeed come with a couple of extra outer frames and didn't have a protruding half-moon for an infrared sensor that doesn't exist.