Next-Gen eStarling Picture Frame Hands On: Did They Fix It?


Remember the eStarling? It's the $249 digital picture frame from Think Geek that promised Wi-Fi connectivity, RSS downloads and the ability to email pictures directly to it, but ruined the Christmases of thousands of people who were sucked in by its false allure. It simply didn't work, so all of them were recalled. Now it's five months later, and we're the first ones to receive the new and improved model. Did they fix it?

At first we were startled to see a picture of the new eStarling picture frame on the front of the box, again showing that ugly eStarling logo that so marred the first iteration of the frame, except now it was on the bottom middle of the frame instead of the top right as it was before. But once we got it out of the box, it there was nary a logo to be found. In fact, it looks great. It has an attractive piano black finish that looks simple, elegant, and nearly perfect. Come on over to the next page, and we'll tell you what else we noticed about this eStarling 2.0.

Also gone was that horrendous Wi-Fi antenna that stuck out the top like a stupid-looking sore thumb. Its 480x234 screen, measuring 7 inches diagonally, looked sufficiently big to be seen from a distance. Aside from the fact that there was no documentation or CD included in the package whatsoever, it was a promising out-of-box-experience.

But wait a second here. That screen has almost a 16x9 aspect ratio, and it's not 4x3 either. It's neither one nor the other, and that gave us pause. It won't fit 4x3 photos which are the shape of most shots taken by consumers these days, nor will it fit 16x9 pics. There are going to be black bars on the screen somewhere in most cases. Uh-oh.

We loaded up some photos on a CompactFlash card and took a look at them in the frame, and were immediately disappointed in its low resolution. Not only were the pixels easily visible, the viewing angle of the screen was severely shallow. As we moved more than 45 degrees off-axis, the picture got significantly dimmer. Not good. Even looking at it straight on, the pictures looked noticeably dim.

Eager to set up the eStarling and explore its Wi-Fi and RSS feed capabilities, we went to the website, which serves as the repository for eStarling photos as well as the coordination point for RSS feed and emailed pictures that go directly to the frame. We set up the frame by downloading a small application from this website, and then connected the frame to a PC via its USB port. After noting our Wi-Fi network's ID, in choosing an e-mail address, the eStarling congratulated us you, telling us that "your frame is get connected and ready to use." Great, now we have set up us the bomb, and all your base are belong to us.

We entered the address of our Flickr RSS feed on this website, and also emailed a few pictures to our brand-new email address given to us by eStarling's site, and then it was time to sit back and wait for the pictures to appear on the frame that was connected to our Wi-Fi network. A few minutes later, there were a couple of the pictures from our Flickr RSS feed. The photos that we had emailed hadn't yet appeared, though. Anyway, it appeared that the Wi-Fi reception and connectivity problems of the ill-fated first version of the eStarling pitcher frame had been solved.

However, never mind that. The piss-poor image quality of this LCD panel made all that completely unimportant. The eStarling's screen is absolutely unacceptable. We tried displaying digital pictures of all different resolutions and aspect ratios on it, and all of them looked like we were viewing them on a cheap TV set. Yes, the images were in color, but that's about it. The display was just downright dim, blurry, and you could see scanlines and jaggies all through images that are normally tack-sharp. This display was so bad that it almost hurt our eyes to look at it.

The eStarling has improved since its first version, but until its manufacturer sees fit to put a display on board that has higher resolution than what you might find on a disposable kid's toy, we'd say you'd be making a big mistake to buy this eStarling picture frame. It has the worst LCD display we've ever seen—bad enough to make you want to send it back immediately. And that's just what we're going to do, again.

Product Page [eStarling]

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