The digital picture frame market got off to a rough start; early frames were clunky, had tiny screens, very few features, and required you to manually update the pictures. Read on as we review the Nixplay, a next generation digital picture frame with Wi-Fi connectivity, cloud-based photo sharing, and a pile of user-friendly features.
What Is The Nixplay?
The Nixplay is the first Wi-Fi enabled digital picture frame from the Nix company (although their first networked offering, they’ve been in the digital picture frame business for quite awhile). As of this review, the Nixplay lineup consists of one model, the W08A which sports an 8″ 800×600 pixel screen; the company has plans for additional Nixplay units with larger and higher resolution screens.
The frames support JPEG/JPG images and video in the H.264 format. The frame is a matte black rubber and the screen surface is matte. There are two visible protusions on the front of the frame: the larger dome on the left hand side is a motion sensor (used to turn the frame off when no one is in the room) and the smaller centered plastic window is the IR receiver for the unit’s remote control (seen in the photo below).
Although every Nixplay unit has an SD card slot and USB port for local file loading, the frame’s killer feature is the cloud-based photo management. Each Nixplay unit comes with a free standard Nixplay account that allows you to upload photos, import photos from Facebook, Instagram, and Picasa Web albums, as well as accept photos via email (each Nixplay account has a custom email address). The free standard account is good for one frame, up to 5,000 photos, and 10 unique slideshows (essentially the Nixplay equivalent of categories/albums).
Users who want to manage multiple frames and/or increase their storage can subscribe to the Nixplay Plus plan for $3.99 a month, which will allow for up to five frames per account, 30GB of cloud-based photo storage, 50 unique slideshows, and all photos will be stored in their original resolution. Given that nearly every internet-enabled digital picture frame requires a paid subscription for full functionality, we’re quite pleased to see that the Nixplay only requires a paid subscription for users who actually, well, use the service a lot. It’s perfectly reasonable to have a small fee when the bandwidth and storage demands go up.
So how does the Nixplay work? Let’s take a look at the setup required, how to send photos to the frame, and then get down to the good, the bad, and the verdict.
How Do I Set It Up?
Setup is very straight forward and should take less than ten minutes (most of that time will be spent letting the device boot and update its software). We suggest setting it up at your computer (or have a laptop handy to finish the process if you wish to place the unit where you want it right out of the box).
Unpack the unit, attach the frame easel piece, plug the unit in, and unwrap the remote. Press the power button on the remote or the back of the unit to start it. Once the unit has finished booting, you’ll be presented with a list of available Wi-Fi nodes. Even if you have no intention of using the cloud-based service, you will still need to connect to the servers at least once to initialize the unit and check for updates.
After your Nixplay picture frame is connected to your Wi-Fi, it will download any available updates, apply them, restart itself, and then present you with a simple white screen with a 16 digit serial number. Take that serial number and head over to the Nixplay website.
Click on Activate Frame in the upper right corner and follow the activation instructions. You’ll need to supply the 16 digit serial number, your last and first name, a valid email address, and then you’ll select a username for the Nixplay service (this will be the email address that people can send photos to email@example.com so pick a practical one like firstnamelastname). Once you’ve provided all the necessary information, the Nixplay servers will send a confirmation word to your Nixplay frame which you then enter into the sign up page. Ours was, rather cheerily, “Happiness”.
Once you enter the word prompt from the Nixplay screen, you can hop over to your Nixplay web account and start loading pictures. Before we do that however, we want to point out one of the fantastic little touches that really sells the Nixplay photo frame as the photo frame to get for all those aunts, uncles, grandparents, and great grandparents in your life: they included a remote management tool for all the settings. From the unit itself, you can go into a settings menu to adjust things like when the unit sleeps, how the motion detection works, whether or not the unit should display the most recent photos or start from the beginning each time, etc. Realistically, if you’re giving this photo frame to a relative specifically because they’re not heavy social media/computer users and you want a way to share digital photos with them, it’s great that you can also remotely manage the device. When you’re logged into your Nixplay account, all you have to do is click on Frames and then the specific frame you want to manage and you’ll see this panel:
That’s every single adjustable option sans the Wi-Fi settings and the screen brightness. We can’t tell you how pleased we are that they included a way to adjust the frame remotely; this way when Great Grandma calls and says the pictures are changing too fast, we don’t have to walk her through navigating the menus, we can just adjust it and ask if she likes the new speed.
Now that we’ve drawn your attention to that great feature, we’re ready to start putting pictures on the frame.
How Do I Use It?
At this point, you can return to the main Nixplay page and log into your account for the first time. You’ll be greeted with an empty control panel. On the left hand side of the screen you’ll have shortcuts to albums, slideshows, individual frames (these are the physical frames you’ve activated with the service), and general settings and subscriptions. By default, you have one empty “demo” album. We’ll return to that demo album in a moment. Now remember, the Nixplay unit does have an SD card slot and a USB port so you can always just load pictures on some flash media and stick it into the picture frame; what sets the Nixplay apart is the cloud-storage, however, so that’s what we’re focused on.
On the right side of the screen you’ll have a list of all your slideshows. Don’t be confused here by the fact that they named the sample photo album “Demo” and the sample slideshow “Demo”, albums and slideshows are separate things.
Just about everything in the Nixplay control panel is drag and drop friendly. If you want to get started right away, you can drag some sample photos from a folder on your computer right onto the Demo album, then turn right around and drag the Demo album right over to the Slideshow column:
At this point, you should notice a little cloud icon blinking in the upper corner of the display on your Nixplay picture frame; the unit is communicating with the servers and downloading your photos. Because there were no photos to display when you first set it up, the unit should still be idling at the menu screen like so:
Press the “slideshow” button on the remote or use the arrow keys located on the back of the frame to select slideshow and click OK. Your photos should load up:
At the very start of the slideshow, a little box displays at the bottom which indicates how many new files have been added to the slideshow that day. That’s a nice little touch, especially if you’re setting up the picture frame for a relative; they’ll be notified that new photos will be appearing in the slideshow that day.
In addition to manually uploading images to Nixplay, you can also have Nixplay automatically pull photos from albums you’ve created on Facebook, Picasa, and Instagram. For example, let’s say you use Facebook primarily as a tool for keeping up with friends and family via sharing family pictures and you want to share those family pictures with an older relative who isn’t on Facebook. You could simply add either your Timeline Photos album or a specific album of family photos to your Nixplay picture frame by clicking on Albums -> Facebook and logging in to authorize Nixplay to access your photos.
Once you’ve authorized Nixplay to access your Facebook photos (or Picsasa/Instagram photos), it’s the exact same process that we outlined above. You simply drag and drop the whole photo album from that service (or open the album and select specific photos), over to the Slideshows sidebar just like we did with the Demo album (keep in mind that if you want automatic updating between your photo account and the frame, you need to add the whole album and not just some pictures from the album):
The final way to add pictures from the cloud is to use email. By default, Nixplay has an email filter enabled; only those email addresses you whitelist can send pictures to the frame. While you can turn the filter off, we think whitelisting addresses to allow them to automatically send pictures is a wise idea. To enable email sharing, click on Albums -> Email Albums. At first, you’ll have nothing to look at as there are no albums; click on “Manage Settings” in the corner of the Email Albums pane to change that:
Click on “Add New Contact” and add any email addresses you wish to whitelist. At minimum we’d recommend whitelisting your own, even if you don’t intend to enable other friends or relatives to use the feature, simply so you can always use the email gateway to upload pictures. It’s super handy, for example, to be able to BCC: your Nixplay address when sending vacation photos to your mom or brother so that those photos also end up on Grandma’s Nixplay frame.
When you enter a new contact, including yourself, you have the option to have the photos either sit in a holding pen waiting for you to sort them, or automatically send them to a slideshow. The email function is a great way to extend the reach of the picture frame to many relatives, while having one person do the actual management; if you give a frame to Great Grandma, for example, you can add the email addresses of grand children, great grand children, etc. and have all of them send photos to the frame.
The Good, The Bad, and the Verdict
We’ve played with it, we’ve emailed it photos, we’ve dumped social media albums onto it, we even took it over the river and through the woods to Grandma’s house and left it with her. What’s the verdict at the end of the day?
- Multiple methods of sharing photos with the frames; you can share them via the Nixplay webpage, via email, and from Facebook, Instagram, and Picasa albums.
- Includes both an SD card slot and USB port for fast local loading (and with those external slots, even if the company folds you can still keep using the frame sans cloud-sharing functionality).
- Motion detection and time-based-sleep minimizes power use and keeps the frame on only when someone is around to look at it.
- Simple setup and remote album management makes it perfect for less–than-tech-savvy relatives.
- The $99 price point is very reasonable for the quality of the product and the number of features included; it’s currently the best value in the Wi-Fi enabled picture frame category and offers so much more than other email-only picture frames; the free-for-the-first-frame business model is also superior to other companies that require $5-15 accounts for even a single frame.
- It’s fast; photos sent by email or transferred from the web portal appear on the Nixplay unit within around 5 seconds.
- While adequate for the task, the 800×600 resolution screen is rather low-resolution in the age of retina display tablets and razor sharp computer monitors.
- The screen is 4:3 ratio, but most digital camera photos are 3:2; as such there is a black band at the top and bottom of photos that aren’t manually cropped. The picture frame does include a function, found within the settings menu, that allows you to switch from shrink-to-fit to fill-the-screen, but the fill-the-screen function isn’t a crop-to-fit but a fill-and-pan function. This is an awkward solution when it would be more appropriate to simply not crop vertical shots and crop horizontal shots just enough to remove the letterbox effect.
- We’d asking for extras now, but we’d love for the the ability to append photos with a short 160 character Twitter-style text tag. We’ve already seen that the frame can overlay a message in a light gray box (like it does when it tells you that there are 20 new photos from that day, for example). It would be great if we could hijack that function to add a small meta-data text overlay so that we could add information for those relatives we’re sharing photos with like “John tasting ice cream for the first time” or “First trip to the county fair”.
The Verdict: Despite our complaints about the lower resolution of the screen and the slightly kludgy built-in cropping, the Nixplay’s benefits far outweigh the minor problems. It’s a great value at $99. You get free everything for a single frame and a very reasonable $3.99 a month for multiple frames. The Nixplay web portal is very user friendly and it is very easy to set up automatic picture sharing via email and Facebook/Picasa/Instagram albums. It’s a near zero-configuration/zero-fuss photo frame that’s perfect for giving to relatives so you can share photos with them automatically. And, as we mentioned earlier in the review, we’re thrilled with the remote-management functionality where you can adjust the actual frame settings from afar. To date it’s our favorite digital photo frame and we’ve already planned to purchase one for all the grandparents and great grandparents that need their grandkid-photo-fix every day.