There are only so many ways to make a digital picture frame stand out in a sea of off-brand, no-name manufacturers making cheap LCDs available to the masses. Wireless Web access is one, as is design and options for changing the frame to suit your decor. Smartparts went the ease-of-use route with the SPX12, using software it calls SyncPix. The software, preinstalled on the frame, takes images off a camera's memory card or a USB flash drive, shrinks them, and stores them in the frame's memory--all without you ever pressing a button. The SyncPix software installed on the frame also includes a bunch of presentation and slide-show options that sadly don't work as smoothly as the transfer process. However, the SPX12 gets points for its good looks and a motion sensor that automatically puts the LCD to sleep when there's no one around to see the pictures.
The frame is quite nice looking. The 12.1-inch LCD is surrounded with a white mat and a real-wood frame that you can easily remove by taking off four thumbscrews on the back--oddly, Smartparts doesn't offer alternative frames, though you could conceivably make your own. In the middle of the back of the display there's a rotating disk that lets you wall mount the frame vertically or horizontally, or you can slide on the included stand and again swivel it into landscape or portrait mode. There are two speakers on back as well for playback of MP3s and audio from motion JPEG video clips.
On the frame's top when in landscape mode is a directional keypad and Menu button for navigating settings and images. Down the right side are two card slots: one for CF cards, the other for SD, MMC, xD, and all varieties of Memory Stick. Next to the slots are a power switch, a mini USB port for connecting the SPX12 directly to a computer, and a full-size USB port for use with thumbdrives. Below those is the power cord jack.
Below the screen set and into the mat are sensors for the remote control and motion detection. The included remote is about the size of a book of matches, which is really just too small since it easily can be lost, plus it's a little uncomfortable to use. I recommend using the frame's integrated controls as they are more responsive. Unfortunately, the remote is the only way to control the volume without diving into the frame's menu system.
Inserting a card filled with images--JPEGs only, please--immediately brings up a screen with the choice of copying your images to the SPX12 or viewing them off the card. Select Copy and you get to pick which images to transfer and into which folder: Vacation, Holidays, Family, Birthday, Sports, and General. If you don't do anything after inserting a card, the SyncPix software goes into action, optimizing and saving all of the pictures to the frame into the General folder. During the import process there's a handy countdown box telling you elapsed time, time remaining for the transfer, and the amount of free space left in the frame's 256MB of memory. This screen also gives you a preview of the images and what folder they're being saved to. Once stored, the images will begin to be displayed.
Manually transferring images can be done with the included USB cable. However, by doing this it skips the optimization process for storing images on the frame, so you'll either want to avoid this by using a USB flash drive to add images when not using a memory card or decrease the resolution of your images before you drag them over to the frame's memory. The SPX12 comes with a small Windows-only application for use with the USB connection. It's basic, but it works.
The display is first-rate with saturated colors and appropriate brightness, which is good since neither is adjustable. What can be changed are SyncPix settings--the controls for slide shows. You can set the speed each image is shown (3 seconds up to 30 minutes), the number of slides on the screen at one time (one to four or a mix), pick from nine transition effects or random or none at all, slide-show order (in the order they are in the album or random), sleep delay for use with the motion detector (from 15 minutes to 9 hours), and the volume for the speakers. Getting around the interface can be a little tricky, but in the end it's pretty simple if not entirely logical.
Unfortunately, the frame has some performance problems. First, copying and optimizing our set of 27 test photos (99MB) took 52 minutes from a fast (300X Lexar) CompactFlash card, or about 2 minutes per photo; unfortunately, we couldn't do a comparison time for SD because despite clearing out all the photos from the frame, using two different SD cards, renaming the files, and disconnecting the power, it considered the files on the SD card duplicates and refused to copy them. However, a different set of 14 photos (40MB) took 105 minutes (7.5 minutes per photo). Part of the problem is that the frame seems to randomly get hung up on a photo for no discernible reason.
Furthermore, during playback, processor-intensive effects that require the image to move off screen such as Motion, which is sort of a zoom-and-pan Ken Burns effect, causes images to stutter as they move and appear wavy; at best it's not fun to watch, and at worst borders on annoying. Stick with the simple Fade, Inward, and Outward effects, or leave them off all together and you'll be fine. Also, while you can listen to an audio track during a slide show, the frame's processor doesn't seem to be able to handle the task. The slide show slows to a crawl and the frame stops responding to the remote control with exception of the volume. Oddly enough, the small speakers can actually get quite loud and sound pretty good.
Buyers only get a 90-day warranty from Smartparts, which is on the short side; better competitors generally offer six months or a year. On top of that, the company's Web site support area is weak, though they do have an 800 number and e-mail listed should you need help or a repair.
It's attractive and displays nice, saturated photos, but given its speed deficiencies and short warranty, the Smartparts SPX12 is overpriced for what it delivers.