The biggest complaint some people have about digital photos is that you never get to see them. Some make it to a photo printer, others to a sharing site or social media feed, but many end up sitting on a cloud storage service or a hard drive, unappreciated and never seen.
Digital photo frames have fallen out of popularity, but they’re a great way to bring your shots out of storage and into the home. What’s more, the best models are a vast improvement on the dull, awkward to use early frames of a decade ago, with brighter screens, smarter power-saving features, better interfaces and even – in some cases – Wi-Fi and cloud connectivity, so you can publish photos direct from a PC or smartphone to your frame.
Get a digital photo frame and you can put those holiday and family photos you never see back on the mantelpiece – where they belong!
How to choose the best digital photo frame for you
How much do you want to spend? And how big a frame do you want?
Choosing a digital photo frame is fairly easy: work out your budget then decide what size you need and whether you’re willing to pay for extra features or Wi-Fi connectivity.
What’s more, the best frames tend to come in a range of sizes, usually starting in the 7in to 8in range and moving up to 10in and beyond, with some models going as big as 18in.
Whether you’re looking for something to place on a shelf or something to hang on the wall, you’ll have a few options. Just be aware that not all frames have a traditional 4:3 aspect ratio, with some smaller frames opting for a 16:9 or 16:10 aspect ratio, which is great for landscape shots but not necessarily so good for portraits.
Will my photos look good on any digital photo frame?
You need to think about screen technology and resolution. Some models use the kind of Twisted Nematic LCD screen technology found in budget tablets, laptops and monitors, often resulting in low levels of brightness and contrast and narrow viewing angles – not ideal for something you’ll rarely look at precisely head-on.
Others have moved to IPS technology, giving you much wider viewing angles and a brighter, more colourful image. More saturated colours isn’t necessarily a good thing – some frames exhibit the kind of brash, unnatural colour balance you’d normally find on a bargain-basement telly – but, ideally, you want something with a little punch.
As far as resolution goes, you could be disappointed. Digital photo frames lag behind tablets and phones when it comes to pixel density, and it’s not unusual to find 1,024 x 600 or 1,024 x 768 resolution screens even on the larger models. This is, however, changing, and we’re starting to see full HD 1080p and even higher resolution panels creeping in. This doesn’t make a huge difference when you’re looking at a 10in display from several metres away, but it means you can see more detail when you get in closer.
How do you get your photos onto it?
This is the next big differentiator. Some have internal memory, and you transfer photos over a USB connection. Most now have an SD or microSD card slot and read photos directly from the card. Others have a USB port for plugging in a USB memory key.
However, a growing number now have built-in Wi-Fi, connecting to your home network or a cloud-based service, where you work through a web-based interface to upload files. The great thing about this is that you can transfer files from your PC or your smartphone, not to mention popular picture-sharing or social networking services. You can even send photos to your frame while you’re away on your holidays.
These models are adding social features, enabling you to send photos through to friends or relatives while you’re travelling or just making the most of life.
Is there anything else you should look out for?
Many frames have additional features, including clocks, calendars and video and audio playback. Most recent models also have motion-sensing and other power-saving features, so the frame doesn’t use energy when there’s nobody to see it. It’s hard to find a frame without slideshow features, and the more flexible these are the better.
A clear user interface is helpful here, making it easy to get photos on the device, add them to playlists and control how they look.
How much do I need to spend?
Frames start at under £40, with the larger 15in and cloud-enabled models reaching prices between £150 and £200. Inevitably, you’ll pay for size and extra features, but you can get a great frame for well under £100, as long as you’re prepared to compromise on one of those two.
What about the new smart displays?
Amazon, Google and Lenovo are all promoting new smart displays that play music, control smart home appliances and answer questions, much like their smart speaker cousins. The difference is that these displays can show you answers, web pages and videos – and also double up as a digital photo frame.
Amazon’s Echo Show devices can play a photo slideshow from the Amazon Photos cloud photo-storage service, while Google’s Home Hub can play photos direct from Google Photos, which is where your shots tend to end up automatically if you use an Android phone. For this reason, they make excellent digital photo frames – although you’ll pay a fair bit more for them than for a standalone frame.
The best digital photo frames to buy
1. Kenuo Digital Photo Frame 8in: The best of the low-budget photo frames
Price: £52 | Buy now from Amazon
The brand might not be familiar, and the same frame can be found from a range of resellers, all running the same software with the same full HD screen. The user interface is a bit on the basic side, while the rear-mounted controls could be easier to use, though at least a small remote is bundled. All that aside, this isn’t bad for such a cheap frame; the 1080p IPS panel gets bright enough for all but the most sunlit mantelpiece, and shots look more detailed than on some of the older, low-resolution budget frames.
Slide shows have some nice multi-window effects, and it has an auto-rotate function that actually works most of the time. What’s more, it’ll happily read stills in JPEG, PNG and TIFF formats from an SD card or USB memory stick, or MKV, MOV and MP4 video files (but don’t expect much from the built-in speakers). This frame isn’t as slick or feature-packed as the more expensive options, but if you want a cheap way to show and share your photos in style, this one does the job.
Key specs – Resolution: 1,920 x 1080; Screen technology: IPS; Storage: none; Connections: SD card, micro-USB, USB 2; Features: MP3, AAC, WMA audio playback, AVI, MP4, MOV, MKV video playback, remote control; Dimensions: 197 x 20 x 135mm
2. Google Nest Hub: The best smart display for showing photos
Price: £119 | Buy now from John Lewis
Now rebranded as the Nest Hub, Google’s smart display can do a lot more than a photo frame, for less than you’ll pay for most. It has a 7in 1,024 x 600 screen with rich and accurate colours, and a superb automatic brightness control that makes your shots look like prints in a normal frame. It works in tandem with Google’s existing Photos app and storage service. And, as it’s smart, you can just ask to see photos from your recent holiday in Cornwall or your trip to Scotland and the Nest Hub will put them on show.
You also get YouTube Video playback, Google Music and Spotify music and all the benefits of the Google Assistant answering questions, telling you the temperature and letting you know what you’ve got scheduled for the day.
The screen size is a limitation, but when you throw in half-decent sound and a growing selection of smart home control features, the Home Hub makes many standard photo frames look, well, dumb.
Read our full Google Nest Hub review for more details
Key specs – Resolution: 1,024 x 600; Screen technology: IPS; Storage: Not specified; Connections: 802.11ac Wi-Fi; Features: Adaptive screen brightness, full-range speaker, Google Assistant, Google Photos, Google Music, YouTube, Spotify, Google Play Movies, smart home camera and thermostat controls; Dimensions: 179 x 67 x 118mm
Buy now from John Lewis
3. Nixplay Smart 10.1: The best HD digital photo frame
Price: £136 | Buy now from Nixplay
The Nixplay Smart 10.1 is Nixplay’s best mainstream photo frame yet, improving on the fine Nixplay Seed 10 with a squarer 16:10 aspect ratio, 1200 x 800 HD display and a more traditional photo frame styling. Pictures look fantastic, with the IPS screen having wider viewing angles and richer tones than most of the cheaper photo frames. Its infrared sensor cleverly switches the frame on when there’s motion in the room, and off when it’s unoccupied.
Just as crucially, the Smart 10.1 retains the Seed’s Wi-Fi and cloud features, allowing you to transfer photos wirelessly to the 8GB of internal storage and set up your own slideshows and playlists. You can also set up photo streaming from Google Photos or drag and drop shots from Dropbox, Facebook and Instagram using Nixplay’s website. The smartphone app allows you to share photos instantly to your own Nixplay frame or one owned by friends or family.
Some might not like the 15 second limit on video playback, but this actually makes sense given it’s all about the memories, not the movies. Nixplay’s UI remains the best in the business and – below £200 – this is the best photo frame around.
Key specs – Resolution: 1,200 x 800; Screen technology: IPS;Storage: 8GB; Connections: 802.11n Wi-Fi, integral USB 3.0 cable; Features: Motion sensor, clock function, magnetic remote control; Dimensions: 187 x 31 x 268mm
4. Tenswall 10in Digital Photo Frame: A bigger frame on a budget
Price: £57 | Buy now from Amazon
There are dozens of budget photo frames selling at around the £60 mark, but the Tenswall 10in is a cut above. Sure, the design is basic and there’s nothing luxurious about the plastics. And any networking or cloud features are entirely off the menu. Yet the Tenswall has relatively small bezels, which are free of unsightly logos, and the bundled remote and simple software make it easy to control.
You can set slideshows to display your favourite shots for anywhere between three seconds and an hour at a time, complete with a choice of transitions. You can also listen to music and watch videos in a wide range of formats – and the sound, while thin, isn’t totally unlistenable. Claiming it’s also an ebook reader is a bit of a stretch, though, particularly as it only supports the most basic text files.
The best reason to get this frame is that its image quality is great for the price. It’ll read photos from SD card or USB (although only cards and drives of up to 32GB are supported) and the 1,280 x 800 IPS screen is bright, with decent levels of contrast and punchy colours.
If you have the budget, Nixplay’s frames give you more natural-looking images, but this is a good, highly affordable way to show and share your snaps.
Key specs – Resolution: 1,280 x 800; Screen technology: IPS; Storage: None; Connections: SD card, USB 2, headphone out; Features: Clock and calendar functions, video player, ebook reader, remote control; Dimensions: 255 x 165 x 30mm