Review: Sony Vaio Frame CP1
November 11, 2008
It's back to the drawing board for Sony. This Wi-Fi-enabled digital picture frame is pricey ($299), difficult to use, unattractive, and offers limited Wi-Fi capabilities.
Sony Vaio Frame CP1
Pros: Rich colors; connects online to Picasa albums; 85MB for onboard photo storage; works with Memory Stick, CompactFlash, and SD/SDHC cards.
Cons: Difficult onscreen controls; doesn't include a USB cord to load directly from a computer; limited Wi-Fi support (on a home network, it only works with the Vaio Media Integrated Server); RSS feeds don't display well.
Well, the press release made it sound good.
We wanted to bring you news of a luxurious Wi-Fi-enabled digital frame just in time for the holidays, but we were let down. The Vaio CP1 displays brilliantly colored pictures, but that's where our praise ends. Tragically, it even fails the grandma test, but more on that later.
The Vaio CP1 contains a 7-inch screen capable of displaying over 16 million colors. The screen is surrounded by a black frame, with no other frame styles available. What really bothered us about the appearance, though, was the clear plastic base, which shows WLAN and Standby lights, and which proudly displays the name "Sony." When it comes to frames, we'd prefer something more elegant, more discreet, not something that hits us with a brand name every time we look at it.
The frame offers access buttons on the rear and also comes with a small remote. We used the remote all the time, since reaching behind the frame was awkward. Slots on the bottom of the frame let you insert Memory Stick, CompactFlash, or SD/SDHC cards.
The on-screen controls, however, are also awkward, and aren't nearly easy enough. Here's where the frame fails the grandma test. A lot of frames are bought for grandparents, so that they can see constantly updated pics of the kids. Get a connected frame, like this one, and those grandparents should never have to bother loading pictures, since the frame can download shots from the Net. The controls, however, need to be iPod-easy, so that even a non-techie can get exactly what they want with no hassles. The Vaio CP1's interface is simply too challenging. To view your photos, you need to load them into "frames," which are sets that combine a photo library, transition style, and music. It would be far easier to let users set those elements individually. Moving between menus is confusing and surprisingly slow.
The Vaio's Wi-Fi options are limited. You can download photos stored online, but only if they're stored in Picasa. Forget Flickr, SmugMug, or any other library you might prefer.
You can have the frame display results from RSS feeds, but this, again, sounds better than it actually is. If you create an all-info frame, with just RSS results displayed on the screen, each line will get cut off so most headlines won't display correctly. You can also have one line at a time scroll underneath your photos. This is easier to read, but in both cases you can't click on the text to read the full story. It's more like a news tease than actual news.
Connecting the frame to our home network was easy enough, but the online time-server didn't work during our testing, so we had to set the time manually.
The frame has about 85MB of internal memory for photos and 15MB for music. If you want to listen to music while your photos display, you'll have to load your own. You can connect to ShoutCast online radio stations through the frame, but you can't view photos while a station is playing. ShoutCast offers hundreds of stations for every taste, but we still wish the frame connected to other music services.
The Vaio comes with a USB port, but not with a USB cord. Too bad, because that would have made loading photos easier. The frame can connect with the Vaio Media Integrated Server installed on Vaio computers, but that leaves the rest of us out for wireless transfers. We weren't able to use this service and loaded photos from a Memory Stick.
If you're looking for a Wi-Fi-enabled frame, there are better choices available. Consider a Kodak model. Ease of use is crucial for a frame, especially if it's going to grandma's house.
Troy Dreier is a regular contributor to Wi-Fi Planet, as well as to Web Video Universe, PDA Street, Intranet Journal, and Laptop Magazine. He also writes a weekly consumer technology column, which is published in the Jersey Journal newspaper and distributed by the Newhouse News Service. His first book, CNET Do-It-Yourself Home Video Projects: 24 Cool Things You Didn't Know You Could Do was published by McGraw-Hill.