New England’s Vizit Turns the Digital Photo Frame from a Dumb Display into a Sophisticated Media Hub

The digital photo frame is one of those consumer-electronics categories that seems perpetually poised to take off, but never quite gets airborne. I bought a Ceiva frame for my grandmother back in 2001—it plugged into a phone line and downloaded new pictures from the Ceiva website every night at 3 a.m. Today, things are pretty much the same. The displays of the latest models are brighter and crisper, and most come with memory-card slots instead of phone cords. But there has been surprisingly little innovation around the basic idea of the digital frame. They’re still just passive devices that sit on your desk or bookcase, cycling through the same pictures over and over until someone updates the memory card.

Isabella Products in Concord, MA, is trying to change that. On October 30, it will launch Vizit, which masquerades as a digital photo frame but is actually a sophisticated, two-way photo management device connected to a nationwide cellular data network. The product will have a price tag commensurate with its capabilities—in the $250 to $280 range, plus a monthly subscription fee. I know a lot of early adopters who won’t balk at that price, considering that the Vizit—the brainchild of local venture capitalist and Motorola veteran Matthew Growney—raises the bar for the whole category of digital frames, just as the iPhone did in the mobile world.

The Vizit is attractive, but much more importantly, it’s smart and it’s connected. “The beauty is not so much in the physical design, although our guys have come from places where design matters, like Motorola and Bose and Nike and Facebook,” says Growney. “To us, it’s about the connectedness of the device…it’s about managing the sharing experience.”

On the hardware side, Vizit has an impressively large screen, measuring 10.4 inches diagonally, which is 2.4 inches more than Ceiva’s largest frame. It has HD-quality resolution of 800 pixels by 600 pixels, compared to Ceiva’s 640 by 480.

But it’s the interactivity packed into the screen that really sets the device apart. Trust me, I’ve seen lots of these devices, and the Vizit—which I got to play with last week during a visit to Isabella’s office inside Concord’s historic old Damon Mill building—is unique.

For one thing, it’s a touchscreen device, which means there aren’t any cryptic buttons on the side or the back of the frame: all the controls are right on the display. For another, it’s got an elegant user interface that makes it easy to do things like rotating photos, choosing different slide show transition effects, or selecting which photo album you want to view.

It’s also got the built-in cellular modem, which means it can download photos from the Internet without having to be plugged into a phone line or an Ethernet cable or integrated into a home Wi-Fi network. And the modem doesn’t just grab photos from the network: it can also … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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8 responses to “New England’s Vizit Turns the Digital Photo Frame from a Dumb Display into a Sophisticated Media Hub”

  1. bowerbird says:

    a $250 “media hub” that cannot access the web?

    oh yeah, that’s a good idea. a really good idea…


  2. Wade Roush says:

    Bowerbird, the device does access the Web, in a sense — it gets new photos from the VizitMe Web service, which in turn connects to other photo sharing sites. In any case, I don’t think you’d really want to surf the open Web over a cellular modem, and Isabella’s pricing model wouldn’t cover the expense. I see the Vizit as being similar to other dedicated wireless devices like the Kindle — which is $299, and does have a rudimentary Web browser, but is designed for reading books, just as Vizit is designed for viewing photos.

  3. Indy Will says:

    A 10.2 inch screen is a mighty big screen for sure. But once you account for the size of the actual frame around the larger screen and considering how a consumer “typically” uses a frame, the Vizit frame might be too big for a typical book-shelf, night-stand, end-table or desk. I think this why MOST frames, sold by many different manufacturers,tend to be the smaller 7 or 8 inch screen size.

    Your critique of the image quality is not quite right. A larger frame NEEDS more pixels to create the image quality equal to a smaller frame with less pixels. I would HOPE Vizit understood this! So your point that the image “quality” is better is misleading and really an unfair statement.

    Finally, a touch screen might seem like a cool feature at first, but it is a nightmare to keep clean. How do I know? Well my personal frame is a touch screen and now that I have owned it for awhile I wish that I had a remote to operate it instead.


  4. Nokama says:

    ““My mother didn’t feel like a grandmother because she couldn’t ever see her grandchildren, living in Chicago,” says Growney. “Her solution was to come and live with us for months at a time. I said, ‘We can solve this problem with technology.’”

    I can only hope this quote was taken out of context, because if that isn’t a sad commentary on our society today, I don’t know what is. Replace a face-to-face interaction with a close family member with yet another screen!?? I can’t believe that this is how somebody thinks.

  5. Wade RoushWade Roush says:

    Geez, everyones’s so negative today!

    I guess the irony in Growney’s comment didn’t come through. I’ve added a phrase to the story to make it clear that the grandmother quote was tongue-in-cheek. My impression from meeting with Isabella Products is that they care deeply about increasing human communication. The great thing about digital media devices, obviously, is that they make it so much easier to stay in touch with the people you care about, even when you can’t be in the same place with them.

  6. TD says:

    HP’s doing this too! And seemingly a whole lot better: Check out the DreamScreen.

  7. Red Velvet says:

    It already appears that Vizit is way better than the HP ScreamScreen. See today’s review on two other frames that look far inferior to Vizit.