HP's DreamScreen smart digital photo frames do much more than let you browse pretty pictures

HP is taking the digital photo frame to new heights with its HP DreamScreen line of smart displays that do way more than just let you browse pretty pictures. The DreamScreen is a beautiful, smart display that comes in 10in and 13in sizes. Both link wirelessly to the web and can display pictures, five-day weather forecasts, Facebook friend updates and the Pandora music service. The displays also can be linked to your desktop so you can easily put multimedia content directly on them.

Already available online in the US, pricing for the HP DreamScreen is around $250 for the 100 model (that's about £151) and $300 for the 130 model (around £181).

But our first look at HP's two new DreamScreen displays left us questioning the company's naming policy. The DreamScreen may look like slick tablet computers that people have been salivating for, but these are just very expensive and very smart displays that lack the key features - such as a touchscreen interface and true portability - that could make them 'dream' or breakthrough products.

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The 130 DreamScreen model has a 13.3in display that offers a 16:9 ratio and a resolution of 800x480. HP's 100 unit has a 10.2in diagonal display. Both units sport 2GB (1.5GB usable space) of memory, have two USB ports, headphone output for external speakers, built-in stereo speakers, ethernet jack and a 802.11b/g wireless antenna. Both units have built-in six-in-two card readers that can accept CF and SD cards.

The USB port allows you to connect a thumb drive or external hard drive. The HP DreamScreen can also play videos (Mpeg 1/2/4/H.264) and music (MP3/WMA/AAC/WAV). Software for a PC allows you to add content to the frame.

You navigate the DreamScreen using a tiny remote control or via controls built into the hardware. Applications include access to HP's SnapFish online photo service; a custom version of Facebook for viewing friends, status updates and photos; access to Pandora music-streaming service; HP's own SmartRadio service; and a clock.

The HP DreamScreen some with wall mounts on the back or can be set on a table. It lacks a battery, so it must stay plugged in at all times.

Our biggest gripe with the DreamScreen is that you want it to be a touchscreen device - and it's not. Nearly everyone who we've seen look at the HP DreamScreen has tried to touch the screen to navigate it. The DreamScreens run an embedded version of Linux that lacks the ability to do much more than run pre-canned HP applications specially designed for the devices. Right now, there are only eight applications, although HP says that number could be expanded soon.

We like the idea of having a limited functioning device, but some basic functions are missing. You can't check email or browse news headlines, for example. While HP isn't attempting to create a touchscreen computer with the DreamScreen, we still craved an RSS display and simple messaging notification (be it email, SMS text or IM). Okay, so responding to messages would be an issue on the DreamScreen, but at least you'd know new messages were there.

Also lacking from HP's DreamScreen is the ability to view web-based video content from services such as YouTube and Hulu. Email, video and RSS feeds would all be possible without having to embed a full-fledged OS into the device if HP decided to give the DreamScreen a simple browser. It didn't.

Another missing feature is the ability to stream video and audio files from your PC, which would eliminate the need to run them locally on the DreamScreen. Ideally, you'd be able to navigate libraries of content on your desktop PC or NAS device and playback through the HP. Right now, you can't.

Another temptation with this device is to pick it up as if it were a sleek portable tablet. Want to take that video you're watching into the kitchen? You can't do it without unplugging the device. Even if you don't mind plugging it in everywhere you go, HP's DreamScreen sports some bulky hardware on its backside, making it less than ideal for porting from room to room. Once you find a home for this unit, it'll most likely stay there.

HP DreamScreen: Specs

  • 10.2/13.3in (800x400
  • 16:9) digital photo frame
  • 2GB memory
  • 802.11b/g
  • 2 x USB 2.0
  • support for: Mpeg 1/2/4/H.264 (video), MP3/WMA/AAC/WAV (audio)
  • multicard reader
  • stereo speakers
  • headphone-out
  • 10.2/13.3in (800x400
  • 16:9) digital photo frame
  • 2GB memory
  • 802.11b/g
  • 2 x USB 2.0
  • support for: Mpeg 1/2/4/H.264 (video), MP3/WMA/AAC/WAV (audio)
  • multicard reader
  • stereo speakers
  • headphone-out

OUR VERDICT

HP's DreamScreen is stuck in tablet purgatory. It's not quite the tablet you want it to be and too expensive to justify as a replacement for the digital picture frame you never use.

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