EStarling TouchConnect WPF-588
Sometimes it just doesn't seem right to call products like eStarling's TouchConnect WPF-588 "digital picture frames," because manufacturers are adding features that allow such products to do more than simply display digital photos. Like many frames, the TouchConnect WPF-588 can access the Internet, making it more like a Internet kiosk for your living room than a frame. The frame also features a touchscreen interface that has potential, but currently has a few quirks.
The TouchConnect WPF-588 has 802-11n Wi-Fi built in, and it connected to my home Wi-Fi network without a hitch. Once you're on the Internet, you can access a few Internet services: Facebook, Flickr, Gmail, Google Calendar, Picasa, RSS feeds, and Twitter. For Facebook, Flickr, and Picasa, the frame access your photos, which is handy, especially if you've decided to use one of those sites as your central online storage location for your photos. You can play slideshows from those sites and never actually insert an SD Card into the TouchConnect WPF-588.
WIth Google Calendar and Gmail, you have only read access; you can't write an e-mail, nor can you add an appointment to your calendar. With Twiiter, you can see your Twitter feed, and you can post updates as well. But there's no character counter to help you figure out how close you are to Twitter's 140-character limit.
It's probably a good thing you can't write e-mails or create Google Calendar entries. An on-screen keyboard pops up when you have to enter user names, passwords, or Twitter entries, and trying to type long entries can be frustrating. If you type too fast, the character you tried to type will not register, even though the respective key blinks and the frame makes a click-like sound to indicate that the button was indeed pressed. As an example, I created this Twitter entry using the frame; it's supposed to read, "testing touchscreen digital frame that offers Twitter access." I found it best to pause for a beat before pressing the next key to let the frame catch up with me. Using such an approach, I was able to type this Twitter entry without any errors.
At first, the TouchConnect WPF-588's interface was a bit slow to react. It would often take a couple of seconds for something to happen after I made a selection. But a firmware update that was released during testing dramatically improved the response time. According to a eStarling representative, the company is always working on improving the user interface, and will offer firmware updates over the Internet that will address any issues. The frame automatically checks for firmware updates when it is connected to the Internet.
The high point of the TouchConnect WPF-588 is its display. Overall, pictures look very good, with accurate, natural-looking colors, and great shadow detail. If you get very close to the frame, however, you can notice a jaggies through your pictures, but you can't notice them from 3 feet away. The TouchConnect WPF-588 has only a brightness image control; it doesn't have image controls to adjust color, sharpness, etc. But I thought the image quality was so good that I didn't need to make such fine adjustments.
The frame displays only JPEG and BMP images, though it's possible that eStarling can add more file formats with firmware updates. The TouchConnect WPF-588 can also play AVI, WMV, MPEG, and MOV videos, but the videos can only be played if they are sent via e-mail to a Gmail account that's tied to the frame. You can't play videos on an SD card (again, it's possible that eStarling could release a firmware update that fixes this).
Speaking of the SD card, the TouchConnect WPF-588 has only a SD Card slot. It doesn't have slots for a CompactFlash, MemoryStick, xD card, or any other memory card. There isn't a USB port for USB flash drives or connecting to your Mac, either. If you use a camera that doesn't use SD card, your options are to either use a memory card reader on your Mac and transfer your files from your non-SD card memory to an SD card, or to use Flickr, Picasa, Facebook, or dedicated a GMail account to the frame and e-mail you pics to that account.
Macworld's buying advice
The TouchConnect WPF-588 is an ambitious product, offering limited access to social networking sites on the Internet, as well acting as a picture display. But when using the frame, I can't help but think that the product is still a working in progress--the touchscreen interface needs some polish, the image support is limited, and there are restrictions with SD cards. The TouchConnect's image quality is satisfying, however, and the frame is quite usable right now. Hopefully, eStarling will continue to improve the frame through firmware updates.
[Roman Loyola is a Macworld senior editor.]