Giving someone a shiny silver frame used to be a good way to avoid hunting down a real present. Not anymore. Thanks to the falling price of liquid-crystal display (LCD) screens and the fact that everybody has a digital camera, electronic-photo frames are popular gifts this year, ones that could earn you points with loved ones.
Don't just run to the store and buy the first one you see, however. Digital frames still cost plenty, and they're not all created equal. I checked out four from Philips, Digital Foci, Westinghouse and PanDigital, ranging in price from $180 to $250.
Each frame has a card reader that makes viewing pictures easy. Just slip the memory card out of your camera and into a frame, and your pictures simply appear. But to get the most out of a digital frame, you will probably want to run a slide show, displaying the pictures one at a time. Some frames let you add music to slide shows for added--though mercifully optional--ambiance.
The biggest difference among the frames I tested was in picture quality. Better LCD screens have vibrant colors and deep black levels; poorer ones display washed-out colors, and charcoal gray instead of black. In this regard, the Philips 9-in. 9FF2M4 frame ($250) stood out.
Another difference among the frames is in how they handle the photos: Is the transition from one photo to the next smooth or jarring? The Philips and the 8-in. Image Moments from Digital Foci ($230) both handled photos smoothly, with pleasant dissolves from image to image. The Westinghouse ($200) and PanDigital ($180) 8-in. frames, which look suspiciously identical, didn't fare well in either department.
If picture quality is your main concern, go with the Philips. Its sturdy design adds to its charm, though it is, compared with others on the market, high in price and low on frills. Digital Foci's Image Moments costs a bit less and comes with a remote control for photo juggling from a distance. It has features like MP3 and video playback. You can even change its style to fit your décor with 10 optional decorative frames ($20 each at digitalfoci.com) If you have already purchased another brand, my advice is, Don't throw out the gift receipt.