Technology

Panning the PanTouch Photo Frame


0519_pandigital
Editor's Rating: star rating

Pandigital's frame is a hassle to use, from its need for a separate Wi-Fi adapter to its poorly designed software, which requires too much user input

You know how early cars needed to be hand-cranked to start up? That's the image that came to mind as I played around with Pandigital's new 8-in. digital photo frame.

The PanTouch PAN8002W02T, priced at $170, is chock-full of cool capabilities. With 512MB of internal memory, enough to hold up to 3,200 photos, the PanTouch offers more storage than many rival frames. The PanTouch also features novel touchscreen buttons on the border of the display for easy access to pictures on your computer's hard drive or albums on Google's (GOOG) Picasa photo-sharing site. These screen controls, which also let you schedule times for the frame to turn on and off, are a nice convenience. Most frames require you to press buttons on the top or can only be operated by remote control.

Wi-Fi Woes

So, what's my problem? Well, nearly every cool feature this gadget offers requires a bit of hand-cranking to work. To wirelessly download photos to the frame from your computer or the Internet, you have to buy a Wi-Fi adapthnter. The AirLink101 adapter I used sells for $40 on Amazon.com (AMZN), bringing the total cost to $210—enough to buy comparable products from Kodak and others with Wi-Fi built in.

A Pandigital product manager says the company's market studies show most customers still don't want Wi-Fi. If you wish to buck this purported trend, though the AirLink adapter is tiny, it still sticks out from the side like a blue, blinking sore thumb, spoiling the frame's looks. Worse, with the adapter plugged in, inserting memory cards is a bit awkward, as the card slot sits right next to the adapter. The alternative to wireless is to connect the frame with your computer using a USB cord.

The design goofs don't end there: This frame's stand for sitting it on a desk or shelf tends to collapse with the slightest touch. And the remote control has to be pointed precisely at the bottom of the frame to work.

Unnecessary Complications

There's also plenty of awkwardness involving the frame's software. An example: I love that this frame can play video and music files. But I couldn't figure out how to make it work, even with the manual, so I had to call the company for help. Here's where I'd gone wrong: I downloaded a video clip and a music file onto a memory card and inserted it into my frame, expecting the device to take it from there. After all, the frame's main menu contains folders marked "music" and "video," so I expected the device to recognize the file types and feature them under the right headings.

Nope. At first, I couldn't find them at all. I had to do some more hand-cranking. First, I had to go into "set-up," choose an option called "select media," and then scroll down to my memory card. Only then did the music and the video clip show up in their respective folders. Distressingly, I had to perform this setup every time I inserted a memory card—the very same one.

There were more unnecessary complications even when using the most basic of features. For example, some people like to hang their frames on a wall vertically and others horizontally (there are plenty of hooks on the back for either orientation). Well, typically you just tell a digital photo frame that you are going to hang it in portrait or landscape mode, and it displays all the photos the right side up. Well, not so with this frame. Here, you have to rotate photos with the remote (landscape is the default). Likewise, if you are viewing a slide show, and you'd like the slides to change faster without starting over, tough luck. To change speed, you have to exit the slide show completely and make the change from the device's main menu.

I hate to be a crank, but all this cranking added up to one big annoyance. There are better digital frames out there.

Kharif is a senior writer for BusinessWeek.com in Portland, Ore.

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