Picture frames might live in the shadow of the art they present, but they play an important role. Personally, I have 25,000 photographs on my hard drive, but I hardly ever look at them. If I do, it’s only briefly and on a small screen. This is a real shame and doesn’t do the pictures justice. To put it drasically, your precious memories and good photos are drowning in a sea of spam. Picture frames are a great way to counteract this and give your photos the stage they deserve. You’re definitely put more thought in selecting photos and enjoying them more consciously if they’re in a frame – especially if it’s a frame the size of this one.
Before I started working on this review, I was sceptical. Meural’s digital canvas is rather pricey compared to «regular» digital frames of this size. Plus, I would have preferred to see a 3:2 format instead of 16:9 – especially for portrait mode.
But when I saw the frame, I was pleasantly surprised. It displayed an impressionist painting that looked so real I found it hard to believe it was a regular LCD screen. But it is. It’s a 27-inch anti-glare screen with IPS technology that allows for wide viewing angles. Basically, nothing a regular PC screen doesn’t offer.
I didn’t want to carry this heavy and rather bulky thing home, so I set it up in the office. Although I decided against mounting in on a wall, I can say that it comes with two holes on the back that are at a 90° angle from each other, making it easy to change from landscape to portrait mode and vice versa.
My office neighbours reacted just as I did; everyone thought the pictures looked amazing. Even when the screen showed photographs, not paintings. And even when it showed my own photographs.
How is this possible? It’s only an LCD, it doesn’t even support 4K! My first guess was it had something to do with the frame. This might sound slightly weird, but I found no other explanation. I even tried putting the frame on my desk to make sure it wasn’t the white wall that made the screen look so impressive. Trust me, it wasn’t. The picture looked just as great against any background.
My second guess was that you’re usually closer to the PC screen than to this picture frame, so it doesn’t matter if it has 4K or not. From a distance, there’s no difference.
What surely plays a role is that the background light on this frame isn’t as bright as it is on a PC. The brightness adjusts to the environment, although only slightly. In dim light, the screen is rather bright and the picture doesn’t look as natural as if it was on real paper or a canvas. The brightness can be adjusted much more precisely by app.
In my test, I measured a power consumption of 16 watts in rather dark surroundings. In better lighting conditions, the consumption was between 23 and 26 watts. In standby mode, the device used one to two watts.
One special feature of Meural’s canvas is that you can subscribe to artwork: For 39.95 dollars a year or 4.95 dollars a month, you’ll have access to several thousand pictures from a rather (as far as I can tell) sophisticated art gallery that features paintings and photography. All pictures are optimised for the 16:9 format of the frame, and there's enough material for both portrait and landscape mode. Even without a subscription, you'll get access to a few pictures.
The website my.meural.com allows you to upload your own pictures and create playlists that are transferred to the digital canvas. You’d like to define the time at which each picture is displayed or when the screen should turn on and off? No problem.
Another way to transfer your pictures onto the canvas is with the Meural app. Alternatively, there’s a microSD card slot at the back of the screen, but this method only works if you save the pictures in a folder named «meural1». This folder represents one playlist. To add a second playlist, create a folder named «meural2». You get the system, right? It’s definitely not ideal that the canvas only recognises folders with this specific name – and it’s even less ideal that this isn’t described in the manual, but only on a support page that you might stumble across if you search for it. To make things worse, Meural only supports thumbnails in one size: 120 x 68 pixels. That’s rather absurd and outdated.
No matter if you hang up the canvas in portrait or landscape format, there's a sensor at the bottom of the frame that responds to hand gestures. This allows you to navigate through the on-screen menu.
The sensor only reacts if your hand is no more than five centimetres away, making it impossible to call up the menu accidentally. The advantage of gesture control over touch screen is, of course, that you don't end up with fingerprints on the screen.
However, the sensor has a rather long reaction time; sometimes it doesn't react at all. This makes gesture control rather inconvenient. I used it as little as possible.
Setting up the app turned out to be an unbelievably long and complicated procedure. This might have been an exception, I’m sure it usually works without any problems. But I had no chance to verify this.
Before you can use the app, you need to sign up with your e-mail address. Also, your phone and canvas have to be connected to the same WLAN. This usually isn't a problem at home, but if you're in the office, it gets complicated or even impossible. Our office WLAN requires a website confirmation – this can’t be done on the canvas. I finally managed to make it work by setting up a hotspot on a second phone.
What caused further delays was that the canvas was already registered to my colleague who’d given it a try shortly before me. I had to deregister him before I could sign up. But this is only relevant for you if you’re planning to buy a second-hand canvas.
The app (iOS and Android) makes it much easier and more reliable to control your digital canvas than gesture control. It also offers many more features: Set the brightness on a slider, switch the screen on and off at the touch of a button and select images in a quick and easy way – even directly from your phone.
Putting aside my initial frustration when setting up the app – and I do so because it’s irrelevant to others – my final verdict is mostly positive. This digital canvas is without a doubt more than a PC screen with a pretty frame. The art gallery subscription and app control make this product unique. And what’s most important: The pictures look amazing, even though this isn’t a 4K screen.
Is there room for improvement? Absolutely. If you’re impatient, gesture control is going to drive you crazy. App and website control work a lot better, but only work with WLAN. And the restrictions for the microSD card are not worthy of this century. On top of this, the manual is lacking so many details that you’re hardly going to find answers to your questions.
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