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Cheapism: Best digital picture frames under $80

Nov. 22, 2011 at 7:18 PM ET

By Kara Reinhardt

Cheapism.com

For all the time we spend saying “cheese” over the holidays, we seem to spend little time admiring the photos that result. Family portraits that don’t make the cut for the Christmas card wind up languishing on a memory card. A digital picture frame lets you put all those photos on display. It can also make a thoughtful gift, even for someone who’s not very tech-savvy, if you preload it with a selection of favorite snapshots. Respected brands such as Kodak and Sony offer plenty of features -- and, more important, excellent image quality -- for less than $80.

Look for resolution of at least 640x480 for a 7-inch frame. Larger frames require more pixels to display crisp photos. Experts recommend an aspect ratio of 4:3, the automatic setting on most digital cameras, or 3:2, which is standard on digital SLR cameras. Widescreen may be the way to go in an HDTV, but in a digital frame, an aspect ratio of 16:9 can make photos appear distorted or cropped.

You can fill a digital frame with pictures in a few different ways. Probably the simplest method is to insert a memory card or USB flash drive. Loading photos from a computer using a USB cord is a common alternative. Most models come with some internal memory so you don’t have to leave an external memory source in the frame all the time. A more sophisticated option is to transfer photos wirelessly, but low-cost frames seldom offer that capability.

Extra features available in this price range include a remote control, a slide show function, and built-in speakers and support for audio files, so you can set your photos to music. Many frames also double as a clock, alarm clock, and calendar.

Below are Cheapism’s top picks for affordable digital photo frames.

  • The 7-inch Pandigital PAN7000DW (starting at $60) earns praise from experts and users for its ability to support not only image files but also music and videos. It offers 800x600 resolution, 1GB of internal memory, and a remote control. It also comes with a timer that can be programmed to turn the display on or off. (Where to buy)
  • The 7-inch Kodak EasyShare P750 (starting at $77) can be found on sale for as little as $60. It boasts 800x600 resolution, a remote control, and 2GB of internal memory, at least double the amount of any other frame on our list. It’s also the only model efficient enough to earn Energy Star status. Reviewers recommend it for people without a lot of technical know-how. (Where to buy)
  • The 7-inch Sony DPF-D710 (starting at $67) features a remote control and a timer and automatically rotates images to the proper orientation. It comes with 128MB of internal memory and a 16:10 aspect ratio but uses black bars to keep from stretching or cropping photos to fit the screen. Its 800x480 resolution is lower than our other picks’, but experts and users rave about the image quality. (Where to buy)
  • The Tao Digital Photo Keychain (starting at $10) makes an appealing stocking stuffer. It comes in eight colors and packs 16MB of memory and three to four hours of battery life into 1.5 inches. Reviewers admire the vivid display. (Where to buy)

One final tip: PCMagpoints out that there’s no need to buy a device to display your photos if you own an iPad. You already have a $500 frame.

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