When the smartphone arrived and put easy access to thousands of photos in our pockets, it rendered digital photo frames mostly obsolete. They’ve since become a niche product but Netgear thinks that could change by turning digital photo frames into another product that failed to keep up with changing technologies: the comic strip desk calendar.
Before even digital photo frames were a thing, calendars featuring popular newspaper comic strips like Garfield or The Far Side put 365 daily cartoons on your desk, giving you at least one reason to come to work every morning. How else could you find out what a cat thinks of Mondays or why aliens were so fascinated with cows? Decades after they all but disappeared from most desks, Netgear has resurrected the idea.
For a few years now Netgear has been one of the last companies keeping the digital photo frame alive by repositioning the product as a “modern digital art frame” in a larger format (using 27-inch displays) designed to be hung on walls and used to not only display a slideshow of your favourite photos, but also a curated collection of fine artwork. The new Meural WiFi Photo Frame is a return to the desktop format that originally made these types of devices popular, but with modern features that Netgear thinks will help it compete with smartphones and tablets as media consumption devices. The new Meural features a smaller 15.6-inch 1920 x 1080 LCD display and while it can be mounted on a wall like the previous products in the line, it’s designed to more easily sit on a desk or table in landscape or portrait orientations thanks to an adjustable kickstand on the back.
An ambient light sensor automatically darkens the screen so it isn’t going to blind you or keep you awake when it’s dark outside when used in a bedroom, and while a built-in motion sensor allows users to interact with the frame using touchless gestures to keep fingerprints at bay, the content it displays is curated through an accompanying smartphone app. Images and short videos users snap themselves can be uploaded to the service, but also accessible is imagery from pre-approved friends and family. If you’ve got grandparents always bugging you for photos of the grandkids and don’t want to push them towards Facebook for obvious reasons, you can send images directly to their frame even if they’re on the other side of the world.
What makes the Meural system even more appealing is that Netgear has put together an official art gallery featuring over 30,000 works from famous fine art paintings to iconic images from celebrated photographers that can also be displayed if you’re tired of seeing the artful-looking hamburger you snapped at lunch two months ago. Out of the box the $US300 ($418) Meural WiFi Photo Frame has access to 100 samples from this gallery, but with an optional $US70 ($98)/year subscription you get access to everything, including artwork and movie posters from Game of Thrones. Marvel Comics, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Along with the Meural WiFi Photo Frame, today Netgear is also revealing that the Charles Schulz Peanuts archive, featuring over 18,000 comic strips, will soon be available to Meural users through the annual subscription, or as standalone content for $US30 ($42)/year. It effectively turns the Meural frame into the comic strip calendars of yesteryear, and while Charles Schulz’ is certainly an American icon, there’s always the hope that other comic strip artists will eventually agree to play ball with Netgear too. Is it worth paying $US300 ($418) to see Charlie Brown miss a football kick every other day? Maybe, but it would be a lot easier to justify spending that much money if it meant you were greeted with a new Calvin & Hobbes’ adventure every morning instead.