Right now for about a hundred bucks, you can buy a Ceiva picture frame. This device allows you to email pictures to a physical photo frame, allowing you to connect your digital lifestyle to your loved ones.
If you have parents or grandparents who don't spend their days hunched over email and Facebook (or even if they do), the Ceiva provides a solution that brings your photos away from your computer and into the living room.
What's more, if you have siblings, you can all share a common photo email address and send images from your phones no matter where you are physically located. For families living in today's reality of widespread home life, that can help parents connect with their kids, whether they're at college, summer camp, or with their own families in far-off states.
Hardware and connection options
Ceiva units work using a home's Wi-Fi network but they're backwards compatible as well. Owners who don't connect directly to the Internet can use a standard telephone wall plug with the Ceiva's built-in modem. The unit calls home to Ceiva during the night and pick up new photos. So if your family member is in, say, assisted living, the Ceiva can sit on a table and use phone calls instead of Wi-Fi networking.
When you cannot access a local number, you can pay an additional $16/month for toll-free number access. (Ceiva has about thousands of numbers nation-wide plus in Canada and Puerto Rico)
Ceiva was kind enough to send over a review unit that I've been testing for a couple of weeks. I have it set up using Wi-Fi, so the response time is very good. I don't have to wait until morning to see new pictures. They typically show up within minutes. I was out at the barber shop with my boy a few days ago, and our pictures got home before we did.
The screen is bright and clear, although it is not huge. It seems to run about 8" diagonal, although I did not measure it myself. That number comes from the Ceiva website. It is embedded in a fairly plain black frame that will fit most decors. A built-in slot accommodates a remote control, hiding it and giving it a convenient place to live.
Service and setup
If I have any complaints about the equipment and the service, it is this. First, I'd love to be able to pay a little more upfront and decouple the frame from the monthly/annual fees. I have several of my own domains, and with Wi-Fi, my unit need never take advantage of the Ceiva phone access service. I'd love to be able to set it up with its own email address at a given domain, and then use it indefinitely, decoupled from the Ceiva web services.
Second, I found setup to be unnecessarily complicated. The unit ships with numerous preset images. Once the device is registered, those images should have automatically been deleted rather than having me delete them at the website.
Finally, it was a little complicated to discover the unit's email. (Hint: Go to ceiva.com, sign in, select Members > My Account > CeivaMobile Addresses.) Their website really could use a major redesign to reflect standard usage patterns.
Once set up the device is super easy to use. Just add the ceivamobile.com email address to your phone's contacts and shoot off emails with attached photographs. If you're using the iPhone, make sure to send at least "Medium" resolution images. "Small" images aren't big enough to display full screen.
All in all, Ceiva provides good value but it doesn't come cheap. Fees start at $9.95/month after the first year, go down to $8.95 if you pay for an entire year of service in advance, and end up at $6.95 if you pre-pay three years. Payments allow your frame to continue operating with the Ceiva service, but also cover a basic insurance plan. If your frame dies during covered service, Ceiva will replace or fix the unit.