Digital art frames: They're like Pinterest or Instagram — for your wall

That coastal image on the wall by Folkert Gorter? It's digital and can change on a whim.
That coastal image on the wall by Folkert Gorter? It's digital and can change on a whim.

Some bill digital art frames as the "next best thing in home décor." But after living with the technology for nearly a year, I'm not convinced all homes can tolerate yet another screen.

Unlike those old tabletop photo frames designed to parade family photos, digital frames have gone upmarket, many selling for around $300 and up. Today's devices are designed to display works of art, including paintings and photographs. (Many frames offer licensed art from major museums, included with purchase.) Ambient light sensors automatically calibrate brightness based on available room light, or levels can be manually adjusted. And you can also display video, your iPhone photos and GIFs –– all uploaded for display via apps and browsers.


The digital art frame manifesto goes something like this: We live in a new, visually oriented world where most of our images are locked inside phones, tablets and laptops. So why not liberate and smartly frame those works on walls where they can be enjoyed, and swapped out with a click? Think of the technology like a curated version of Pinterest or Instagram, uploaded to your wall.

The screens are billed as "calm technology" since they passively exist on the periphery and require minimal interaction. But be forewarned: These displays provoke conversations. You'll be asked how you've acquired that framed, electronic copy of Gustav Klimt's "The Woman in Gold" that hangs above your couch. You'll spend 15 minutes showing off innumerable looping GIFs — from the meditative to the manic.

And you'll most definitely turn off your digital art frame while watching television. A room can handle only so much luminescence.

"It glows," said a friend upon entering my living room. "It's the first thing I noticed."

"You should see it at night," I told him.

There's the major rub: digital art frames pull focus — even given the screens' matte finish and ambient light sensors.

I hung two digital art frames in a single room, and then lived with that arrangement for a week.

A standard, framed artwork may work if hung on any number of walls. Framed digital art, however, requires careful placement. I believe the devices work best in entryways, alcove spaces, or hallways where novelty is perhaps more embraced.

Last week my living room screen was lighted with Katsushika Hokusai’s “Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji.” This week I’m viewing Dorothea Lange’s 1930s photographs of migrant workers and sharecroppers. After David Bowie died, my kitchen screen displayed Helen Green’s looping GIF, showing 29 colored pencil drawings of Bowie in rapid succession.

A different week, day or hour signals a fresh mood and its corresponding image.

Digital natives — said to be more restless, and hungry for images to mirror shifting moods — may be more comfortable with this technology. Increasingly, however, the world forces us all to become visually literate, given omnipresent screens.

Surrender then, and welcome another screen into your home to display favored images — or safeguard your home from additional electronic glow. The choice is yours.

Putting 2 models to the test

While visiting downtown's Broad museum, I admired a Takashi Murakami painting. Five minutes later, it was displayed on my living room wall in Los Feliz.


Call me a sleight-of-hand art thief, but smartphones linked with digital art frames make this feat possible.

We put two digital art frames to the test. Both featured 1080p LCD screens with a matte finish. Resolution on each display is crisp and accurate. Both devices consume about 35 watts of power and would last six to seven years if put into sleep mode at night.

Here's how they stacked up:


Electric Objects digital art frame. By Jenny Odell, right.
Electric Objects digital art frame. By Jenny Odell, right.

The EO1 is skewed to younger users; GIFs and motion art are popular uploads. The device feels fun and casual — less studied than screens that attempt to mimic actual framed art. The EO1 could be placed almost anywhere in a home, but a tighter, alcove space or wall would be optimal given the frame's smaller size.

Setup: Ten minutes after unboxing the EO1, I was displaying images on the device via the app. A screen walk-through instructs users how to connect to Wi-Fi.

Mounting: The EO1 thoughtfully includes a frame-size poster to help determine wall placement, as well as a level built into the plastic mounting bracket. The device weighs 14 pounds.

Frame: Black or white devices are offered, with an interchangeable black or white magnetic face frame, which easily pops out like a mat board,. The EO1 also includes a metal stand that slides into the screen's back. A touch button on top of the frame turns the display on and off.

Dimensions: Screen: 23-inch diagonal. Frame: 21.75-inch height by 12.98-inch width by 1.71-inch depth. The screen is designed for portrait orientation only, with an aspect ratio of 16:9.

Insides: The EO1 contains a dual-core processor with 1 GB of RAM.

The experience: The EO1 is inherently social: Public galleries can be browsed on the app, and then added as favorites to your own list. You can follow other users whose taste you admire. Accounts can be set to public or private. Playlists can be created and shared. Image duration can be set on playlists, and sleep and wake times can be scheduled. Personal images are uploaded via a browser. The EO1 includes Art Club, a curated collection of original works from select artists. Curated museum artwork can also be uploaded.

Price: $299,


The Meural Canvas comes in three designs: Lightbox, left; black; and white, right. Frames are made from Pennsylvania soft maple, and are assembled in the U.S.
The Meural Canvas comes in three designs: Lightbox, left; black; and white, right. Frames are made from Pennsylvania soft maple, and are assembled in the U.S.

The Meural, with mat and lightbox frame styles, conveys a formal appearance, much like an expertly framed museum piece. Classic and modern artworks are emphasized in available galleries. The Meural feels mostly suited to a living room wall.

Setup: Wi-Fi is connected to the device via a multi-step process, which is a bit cumbersome. Security blocks on some AT&T routers may prevent Meural from connecting, but a hotspot workaround exists.

Mounting: The 20-pound screen is hung on a metal clip screwed to the wall.

Frame: The maple wood frame ships in black or white finishes. A white inset mat, made of composite, mimics the look of framed art. A lightbox-style maple wood frame is also available.

Dimensions: Screen: 27-inch diagonal. Frame: 29.5-inch width by19.125-inch height by1.75-inch depth. The lightbox frame is slightly larger. The device, with an aspect ratio of 16:9, can be hung in portrait or landscape orientation.

Insides: The Meural contains a quad core processor with 4 GB of RAM.

The experience: Swiping a hand a few inches in front of the lower frame controls a gesture-activated screen, enabling gallery browsing, image selection, pop-up details about images, and access to sleep and Wi-Fi functions. The screen can also be controlled via an app or browser. Galleries can be set to play during various time slots. Sleep and wake times and image duration can also be set.

A collection of art licensed from image libraries is included with purchase: photography, motion art, and classic and modern paintings.

Price: Starting at $495,