Technology

Kodak: Halt at the Border


0619_kodak
Editor's Rating: star rating

Kodak's digital picture frame with a touch border still has lots of wrinkles that need to be worked out

Introduced in March, the 10-inch EasyShare M1020 is among the first digital photo frames from Kodak (EK) to feature a touch-enabled border—the latest, hippest trend in electronic picture frames.

The border is a narrow strip positioned between the digital screen and the frame. It responds to touch, so you can order the device to play slide shows, videos, or music without having to grope for buttons in the back of the frame (as has been the case with Kodak models in the past). The border's coolest feature is that it allows for swiping: You can fast-forward through slide shows, songs, or even video clips by swiping your finger along the bottom border. I also loved using swiping to zoom in on my videos or photos.

Difficult to Use

Problem is, like many pioneering gadgets, this frame is difficult to use. For almost the same money—a pricey $230—you can buy a frame that will be as capable and a joy to use (BusinessWeek.com, 5/8/08), even if it may not be touch-enabled.

My biggest gripe: The device's supercomplicated digital menus. The border features 12 digital touch buttons that pop up depending on the application to let you do such things as go to the next slide or change your settings. Nine are located on the bottom border, and three on the right-hand side border. To complete even the simplest operation—for instance, to launch a slide show—you have to press a touch button at the bottom, then a button on the right. It seems that for simplicity's sake, these buttons should have been grouped together.

Even after hours of use, I couldn't anticipate where the buttons I'd need to press would pop up next. Why? The menus lacked consistency. Say, I want to scroll through a multimedia slide show. To go through slides one by one, I'd press an arrow button on the bottom border. But that button would pop up in one place for photo slides, and in a different place when a slide happened to incorporate a video clip. The frame was playing hide and seek with me. You have to be in the right mood to find that delightful.

Border Stress

That wasn't the only frustration. Some menus had a "back" button, while others only had a "close" button meant to shut down an application. Swiping only worked on the bottom border but not on the right one. As a result, when I went into a "viewing options" menu, I had to scroll down through it not by moving my fingers up-down, as I longed to do, but by swiping from left to right. (Kodak folks say they didn't want to enable swiping on the right-hand border for fear that such swiping would wobble frames standing on desks.) But it all contributed to my mounting frustration and confusion.

I also have a couple of bones to pick with the hardware. Even though it costs $230, this device didn't come bundled even with a USB cord, necessary for transferring photos and other files from the home computer. Kodak says its studies show that most people use only memory cards, and this frame pretty much accepts all of the most common varieties of those.

That may be, but for $230, I thought this device was short-changing me.

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

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