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Gadget Review

Ceiva Digital Photo Receiver

By Kailas Narendran

staff writer

As our world spins into a digital cataclysm, those silver-haired wonders we call grandparents (and sometimes parents) are left behind the technological divide.

Despite the best laid plans of software giants, I don’t really see many seniors leaving their comfort zone, embracing and leveraging opportunities presented by the internet. It seems like when you become a grandparent (or a retired parent), the only thing you love more than golf and sunshine are your offspring.

The million-dollar question is how to keep in touch with your beloved elders -- without buying tickets to Florida, sending snail mail, or making those calls before their bedtime of 8 p.m. The folks at Ceiva have answered the call with their Digital Photo Receiver.

Internet enabled photo frame

The Ceiva Digital Photo Receiver is a brilliant solution to the perfect problem of this age. I like to call it an “Internet enabled photo frame.” The unit, with a subscription to the service, allows you to send digital pictures to the frame through the Internet.

Every night, the unit uses a standard phone line to access a local dial-up number to keep its collection of pictures up to date. The beautiful part is that it requires almost no technical knowledge from the person that is using the receiver.

Right out of the box, the device looks like a nicely matted 4-inch-by-6-inch picture frame.

What I liked most about this product was the simple installation. All the recipient has to do is plug in the phone line, plug in power, and hold down the white button on the back of the unit.

Upon initial power up, the LCD lights up as the unit calls a toll free number to download its configuration information, entered through the Ceiva Web site with a subscription to the service. From that point onward, the device calls a local number to automatically download new images every night.

This device is an amazing blend of various technologies that push the burden of knowledge onto the giving party, who is responsible for uploading pictures to the frame via the Web, and for configuring the device. I think the design of the control Web site is a bit cluttered, but with a little searching you can find everything important. In the end, however, the ease of use of the control site isn’t as important as the ease of use of the receiving frame, since the “administrator” of the frame, if you will, can be someone who is comfortable navigating the Web.

Remotely administering frame settings

From the Web site you can control which pictures are showing on the frame, settings such as slideshow pause time, what time of the day the frame turns off, dial-up numbers, and a number of other settings. In addition, you can tweak pictures and add custom messages and borders to them. You can even schedule when pictures are actually sent to the frame, creating a unique substitute for greeting cards.

The individual who controls the subscription can also invite anyone with an e-mail address to send pictures to the frame as well, providing an easy interface to a group gift.

I have to say that I was very impressed with almost all aspects of this system. The demo frame I received was actually pre-configured from the factory. When I plugged it in and pressed the button, it actually gave me error messages saying it couldn’t connect to the local dial-up. As the helpful technical support people were trying to figure out what was wrong, the frame figured it out itself (it was configured for a California dial-up number), and redialed the main 800 number, reconfigured itself, and started working fine. Needless to say, I was impressed with the robustness of the system.

Unit operator interface remarkably simple

The operator interface on the frame itself consists of only two buttons: a brightness button on the back, and a white button that forces a reconnect. The LCD on the frame isn’t as sharp as a computer monitor, but it does a decent job. The viewing angle is about 15 degrees up and down, and about 45 degrees to either side, perfect for desk use.

Another amazing aspect of this whole setup is the cost. You can buy a new frame through the Ceiva Web site for $150, but I’ve found them online for as low as $100. The cost of service varies from $5 to $8 per month, depending on how long you sign up for. I’m not sure how they do it, but all of this seems like a great deal to me. For more details about the system, check out <http://www.ceiva.com>.