Hands On with the Sungale Widget Photo Frame

Mari Silbey —  June 23, 2009

Sungale Wi-Fi photo frame with widgets

UPDATE: Sungale has let me know that there will be another firmware update before the frame officially hits retail. The company is graciously letting me hold on to the frame until the update, and I plan to post again.

I’ve had something of an obsession with Wi-Fi photo frames ever since eStarling brought the first one (disastrously) to market. So naturally I jumped at the chance to get my hands on the new Sungale touch-screen, Wi-Fi, widgetized photo frame – colloquially known as the ID800WT.

Sungale’s attempt to create a photo-displaying widget station is ambitious to the say the least. I’ve seen other manufacturers add wireless connectivity, limited access to Web content, and touch-screen capabilities, but not at the level that Sungale attempts. Everything on the screen is touchable, and the widget menu includes weather, news, Picasa, Gmail, YouTube, and Internet radio access. Alas, the execution doesn’t currently live up to the vision. The Sungale ID800WT is decent as a standard digital photo frame, but it’s not the tablet of the future that it aims to be.

Full review, specs, and photos after the jump.

What Works
Set-up with the Sungale picture frame is extremely easy. Step 1: Take it out of the box. Step 2: Plug it in. A quick touch-screen toggle over to the Settings menu and you can easily locate your wireless network and get connected to the Internet immediately. The  automated slideshow of demo photos also starts up right away, and the resolution – 800-x-600  – is perfectly acceptable (if not wow-inducing) for household photo viewing.

The most impressive feature of the device is the touch screen itself. Instead of the touch bars I’ve seen on some other digital frames, the Sungale screen is responsive anywhere you touch it. I’m not in love with tablet computers, but for a home display that requires no typing, touch screens are clearly the way to go. Sungale nails the feature, making the device menus simple to navigate and fun to browse.

Sungale Wi-Fi photo frame weather widget

Of the photo frame’s widgets, I like the weather info the best. It’s easily customizable by zip code, and responds pretty quickly. In fact, the weather widget is part of what shows up the rest of the frame’s Internet functions. It’s easy to access. Unfortunately the same can’t be said of Sungale’s other widgets.

What Doesn’t Work
The most frustrating thing about the ID800WT frame is the execution of  the Internet media widgets. In the several times I tested out the YouTube and Internet radio features, I got each to work only once or twice. The other times I attempted access I was left with a “Connect Network” screen or a cache meter that never quite filled up enough to play any music. I had similar luck with the Picasa widget. After creating an account online (I use Snapfish regularly), I couldn’t get the frame to connect to my pictures at all.

Sungale Wi-Fi photo frame gmail widget

The Gmail widget is virtually useless. Once you plug in your username and password, you can see only a few lines of each of the emails in your inbox. The text-based news widget is okay, but it’s not terribly visually appealing, and certain type characters don’t seem to render accurately. Likewise with the calendar widget, it’s serviceable, but nothing to write home about – no syncing with your own online calendar.

Closing Thoughts
I don’t want to come down too hard on the c because at least it’s making an attempt to do what other frames should really be able to do by now. But I did find the frame to be something of a disappointment, if only because I want it to be so much more. I want the execution to be on the level of my Squeezebox, which continually impresses me with its wealth of features (updated regularly) that just work. I want it to be what GiiNii promised back at CES, and what Archos looks set to deliver later this year. I want the next Wi-Fi photo frame to be my home tablet – a screen that provides a beautiful picture, immediately-useful information, and fun access to online entertainment. Sungale isn’t there yet. I’ll wait for version 2.0.

Detailed Specs:

  • Aspect ratio: 4:3
  • Resolution: 800 x 600
  • Internal memory: 512 MB
  • Image formats: JPG, TIF, PNG, BMP
  • Music formats: WMA/MP3
  • Video format: AVI
  • USB connection
  • Cards: SD/MMC/MSXD/CF
  • Pricing: $229.99 $164.85 (so says my invoice if I don’t return the review unit)
  • Availability: Targeted for August. Expected soon? Sungale put out its announcement on the release of the ID800WT late last month

6 responses to Hands On with the Sungale Widget Photo Frame

  1. Such a cute little lamp. We gotta compare this to a more convergent device like the Verizon Hub. Where’s our review loaner?

  2. Mari, Thanks for the review.
    I too am searching for the perfect photo frame. The Western Digital I bought for the mother-in law still goes unused. Try pyTiVo. It’s clean and simple.
    Another Squeezebox related item seems to be in the works, a ‘squeezebox touch’ (http://forums.slimdevices.com/showthread.php?t=64706).

    Enjoy

  3. I have one of these. It’s called a Chumby. I can add whatever “frame” I want to to it…

  4. Does it support RSS photo feeds? I’m really hunting for a nice photo frame that can handle RSS. It would be perfect for letting grandparents far away view recent baby pictures. :-)

  5. ryaninc- It does in the sense that you can upload to Picasa and grandparents can access those photos from the frame. The Picasa widget didn’t work for me, but I’m told now that there will be another firmware update before the Sungale frame officially hits retail. I plan to post an update here when the update happens.

  6. This frame seems very suitable for me. I’ll buy it in the near future