If you need something smaller and less expensive than Meural Digital Canvas that I recently reviewed, I might just have the solution for you. Not long after publishing my Meural reivew, a company called Nixplay got in touch with me and asked if I would like to check out one of their cloud-connected digital frames.
One thing stood out immediately from that email: They had clearly read my extremely honest, and often very uncomplimentary review of the Meural frame, which means they must be very confident in their own products if they are that keen for me to scrutinize them! I get quite a lot of emails from marketing people who want me to take a look at their products, and due to a lack of time I have to be quite selective. Nixplay’s confidence had me intrigued though, so I said yes!
The first thing I did was to go to their website to check out their lineup of frames. Frankly, it was so confusing that I just emailed them back and basically asked them to choose one for me. I later sent a link for their site to a friend of mine, and within minutes he came back and said the exact same thing. Very confusing!
What I ended up with is the 10 inch Seed Picture Frame which is part of their Wi-Fi Cloud Frames collection. In other words, you can connect it to your local wifi network at home to send photos to it wirelessly from your mobile device, or to play them directly from Facebook, Dropbox, Instagram, Google Photos or Flickr. There’s also a secondary collection of frames which are just called Digital Photo Frames, and these ones require the use of an SD card or a USB stick to get photos onto them. Within those two collections – Wi-Fi Cloud Frame and Digital Photo Frames – there’s a variety of sizes, colours, aspect ratios and styles available.
Aesthetically, some of them look great, like the Seed frame that I was sent. The bezel is nicely proportioned, and the angular design on the back is very modern. Others, such as the Edge Frame, don’t look great. The Edge, for example, has a larger bezel on the bottom, making it look extremely awkward in a vertical orientation. In fact the aesthetic difference between the Seed and the Edge frames are so great, that I would believe you if you’d have told me they were made by different companies.
Nixplay would do well to simplify their lineup and create a more continuous aesthetic look for their frames, but nonetheless, my first impressions of the little 10″ Seed frame that I tested were extremely positive. In fact, I actually had to go to the website and double-check the price one I’d had my hands on it. It’s built well, designed well, comes with a remote control (something the expensive Meural was sorely missing), an IPS screen with reasonable viewing angles and a well thought out mobile app companion (iOS and Android). For $179.99 ($139.99 for an 8″ version) this seemed like excellent value to me. At this point I also noted that the Seed has over 2,200 reviews on Amazon, and is sitting with an average score of 4.4/5. Very impressive indeed! Clearly is wasn’t just me who was happy with this product.
Physical Features and Power
The Seed frame is a simple but elegant design, with power being provided by a supplied USB adapter. Adding greatly to the quality feel of the product is the thick, braided USB power cable that plugs into the back of the frame. Rather uniquely, the power cable plugs directly into the frames flexible stand, creating a seemingly continuous cable into the frame. The stand itself can be bent into whatever shape you need, in order to prop the frame up either vertically or horizontally. If you want to prop the frame up against a wall or other object, the bendy arm “stand” can simply be folder out of the way.
The fact that digital picture frames need a power cable is definitely something that I think holds them back from greater adoption. It’s not as easy to slot a digital frame onto a mantlepiece amongst your other frame and ornaments because you’re always going to have to deal with a cable. That said, this solution from Nixplay is about as elegant as you could hope for. You might not be able to place it on the mantle over a fireplace, but you shouldn’t have any issue finding a great spot for it on a bedside table or side table in your living room.
Setup is extremely simple, and I breezed through it in a couple of minutes. The screen walks you through the process, and all you need to bring to the party is your WiFi password. The physical remote control really comes in useful here because when you start the process you don’t yet have control over the frame through the mobile app.
Once the frame is connected to Wifi, download the mobile app and follow the prompts on the screen to pair your device to the frame. You can easily pair multiple frame to the app, and even pair a frame to the app before giving it to a loved one as a present, thus allowing you to constantly update the photos on their frame from wherever you are in the world. Don’t tell my mum, but I’m definitely doing this for Christmas this year…
Now your frame is connected to Wifi, and your mobile device is connected to the frame, you can begin to set up playlists of photos. Since this is part of the Nixplay WiFi Cloud Frame collection, there’s the option to pull photos from various social media channels, or you can just upload them from the camera roll of your phone which is what I decided to do. It’s all perfectly straightforward and I had multiple playlists up and running in a few minutes.
Once the playlists are sent to the frame, you can use the app to control things, or you can use the physical remote control. The remote allows you to pause the automatic slideshow settings, advance back and forth manually between the photos, or access your list of playlists. Once I had completed the initial setup using the mobile app, I simply used the physical remote control to switch playlists during my several weeks of testing.
After the terrible app and connectivity issues I experienced with Meural frame earlier in the year, I approach this whole section with a certain amount of trepidation. It turns out that I had nothing to worry about though. Everything worked perfectly first time and every time. I’m sure this kind of connected, wifi and app-based control is tricky to implement, so hats off to Nixplay for this stuff, they really did an incredible job.
A Trick for Lightroom Users
If you’re an avid photographer who uses Lightroom to edit your photos, I do have a cool trick to share! In Lightroom you can set up a Dropbox Publish Module that allows you to drag and drop freshly-edited phots quickly into a specific Dropbox folder. A quick press of the sync button in Lightroom sends all the new photos up to the cloud. With the Nixplay Seed Frame, you can set one of your playlist sources to be synced dynamically with Dropbox! Just log into the Nixplay Web App and connect your Dropbox account. Then select the folder where you sent the photos from Lightroom. It will ask you how many of the photos from the folder you want to sync, and once the playlist is created, it will be automatically updated as soon as you send new photos to that same Dropbox folder.
This is awesome! Of course you could also do this with a Dropbox folder on your computer, and simply drag new photos into it, but I personally like to skip that step and control things from Lightroom. If you don’t use Ligtroom though, you can still just export photos from your chosen editing application into a Dropbox folder on your computer. These so-called “Dynamic Playlists” are only available with Dropbox at the moment, but Nixplay are working on adding it to Facebook, Instagram and Flickr in the future.
Long Distance Remote Control
Once the frame is paired to your mobile app, you don’t need to have your mobile device on the same wifi network as your frame to take control of it. I’ve already hinted at the possibilities that this gives you in terms of staying connected with family members, but I felt this was worth underlining again. In order to remotely control the frame, or add photos to a playlist, all you need is a special pairing number from the frame, which is put into your mobile app. This means that you could either set up a frame for a loved one before gifting it to them, or if they have already bought one, you just need the pairing number from them to add their frame to your app.
For family members that live far apart, I think this is such a wonderful way to share photos! Imagine being able to send new photos of your kids to a picture frame in their grandparent’s house every week! Or sending seasonal family portraits and updates of important moments. What a wonderful Christmas gift this would make. Nixplay actually have a section of their site that helps to underline this feature even more.
The Nixplay Seed is a wonderful digital picture frame, and given that I’d never even heard of Nixplay before I tested this, it vastly outperformed my expectations. Not only does it looks great on my bedside table, but they also nailed it when it comes to the difficult software and connectivity side of things. It’s simple to set up, simple to browse photos and simple to add new photos from a variety of sources. For really avid picture takers, the previously explained dynamic Dropbox syncing is worth the price of admission alone. Really, the only gripe I have with it is the lack of a 3:2 aspect ratio frame to match the aspect of photos from almost every DSLR out there. I know this won’t trouble everyone, but it’s the only thing I could think of that would make a great product even better. That said, they do at least offer a variety of interesting ways to either crop or letterbox your photos to overcome this. I’m also thankful that they make 4:3 aspect frames and not just 16:9 widescreen frames, as this keeps the letterboxing or cropping down to a reasonable minimum if your photos are shot in 3:2. Overall, this is a fantastic product at an excellent price.