We've reviewed other digital photo frames in the past, but this is the first one we've seen from SmartParts and certainly the first one we've seen to include a built-in dye-sublimation printer. It's an interesting concept, but $300 is a lot to spend on what is essentially a digital photo frame with a supplementary printer attached to the back. There's actually a lot of common features missing in the photo frame as well, including MP3 playback, a touch screen, and wall-mounting capabilities. Also, considering the proliferation of inexpensive, full-fledged inkjet printers, we can't see the value in paying a couple hundred bucks for the SmartParts SP8PRT.
Design and features
Looking at the photo frame, you won't notice much differentiation between these and all the other frames on the market. The 8-inch LCD screen is bordered by a cheap-looking cardboard enclosure with faux wood paneling on top of that. The front panel also has a small hole for the remote control's infrared receiver. The left side of the frame has all the hard buttons you'll need to scroll through photos and change settings, including a "print" button. For $300, you'd think there'd be a functional touch screen, but instead we're stuck turning the frame to the side every time to check which button to press. The other alternative is to use the included IR remote, which we found to be much more useful.
The other side is reserved for paper output and the rear has a multimedia card slot (it supports SD, MMC, Memory Stick/Pro/Duo/xD), a USB 1.1 port, and a power switch. The fact that these ports are in the back of the device means you can't mount it on a wall or push it up flush against a surface, adding to the already large footprint of the unit. It's these kinds of design flaws that make us question this frame's worth. Other notable hardware omissions include a lack of PictBridge port, headphone jack, and a paltry 128MB of internal memory.
The user interface lets you display a slide show, an individual photograph, or six thumbnails with the option to choose between 10 slide show transitions, five transition speeds, brightness/contrast, color/tint, or copy a picture to the internal memory. After scrolling through almost 50 pictures, we found ourselves looking for a way to change the amount of thumbnails per page--no luck. Once a picture is up on the screen, you can digitally zoom into the photo by either going through settings with the hard buttons or pressing the dedicated zoom button on the remote control. Similar to the display on a digital camera, hitting the directional key moves the image up, down, left, or right. Another convenient onscreen feature is the "Set Print Num" function, which lets you specify the order of the print queue.
Print speed will vary depending on the photo resolution, but our speed tests averaged about one minute per photo, a respectable amount of time for a dye-sublimation printer. The printer makes four passes through the machine, laying down a separate layer of color each time. We recently tested the Canon Selphy CP760, another 4-inch by 6-inch photo printer powered by dye sublimation, and oddly enough, the SmartParts SP8PRT is much louder and emits a noticeably funky smell from the holes on top of the LCD.
Print quality on the SmartParts SP8PRT needs significant improvement. We printed out several types of photos including landscapes, portraits, and night scenes and we were disappointed with all of them. There's significant blurriness throughout the image and the color balance is so off center that it's difficult at times to distinguish yellows from reds and vice versa. The pictures also come out much darker than they appear on the screen, which is disappointing since they look so vibrant on the SmartParts' 800- by 600-pixel Super VGA screen. Additionally, the photos coming out of this printer are slightly bent because of the spool of paper built into the print cartridge. You can purchase the cartridges themselves from SmartParts Web site for $20, and it claims that one cartridge can print 36 photos. In other words, each photo costs 56 cents--double the cost of the standard cost per page on an inkjet printer, which typically fall at 30 cents and less.
Service and support
SmartParts protects its digital photo frames with a 90-day period for defects in materials or workmanship. Its Web site features FAQs and troubleshooting topics to help mitigate connection, interface, and hardware issues. Toll-free phone support is available through SmartParts at 1-888-796-2749.