In the age of digital cameras, printed photos are becoming less and less common, as we're more likely to show them off on Instagram than trek to a print shop to get them framed.
That's inevitable, but also a bit of a shame - even some of your best photos can be left to gather digital dust, stuck on an SD card or your phone's storage, never to see the light of day again unless someone decides to scroll way back on your social media profile.
That's why the last few years have seen the growth of a new, and slightly anachronistic, piece of tech: the digital photo frame. These are small electronic displays that can play photos, and often videos, cycling through your albums or sitting static on one photo, so that you can treasure (and show off) your favourite photos just like you used to.
Digital photo frame buying advice
As with any tech, not all digital photo frames are created equal, and there's a bit of variation in what features you can expect. Here's what to look out for.
Cloud storage vs. physical media
The first thing to check is how the frame accesses and stores photos. Older or cheaper frames tend to rely on physical storage, with ports for USB sticks or SD cards, which it plays the photos from. Make sure to check if the frame has its own internal storage to transfer the photos to, or if you'll need to leave the USB stick or SD card connected to access your images.
More recent frames often have Wi-Fi support, which means they can access images directly from the cloud. That might mean emailing photos directly to your frame, or (more conveniently) linking your account up to your Facebook, Instagram, Flickr, Google Photos, or similar to play images directly from those accounts. You'll also want to check if you can manage those services through a dedicated smartphone app, or if you're limited to a web interface or the frame itself.
If you're already adding your photos to social media or cloud storage accounts anyway, this means you can add them to your photo frame at the same time, making it pretty painless to keep it updated with your latest snaps. Just make sure that you don't accidentally send something to the frame that you'd rather keep private...
The best digital photo frames will include an activity sensor, which detects (usually using a microphone) whether anyone is in the room, only turning on when there's someone around, which is a great way of saving power. Just bear in mind that if you have pets roaming the house, they may be enough to trigger the sensor, turning the frame on unnecessarily.
The other option is to set a sleep timer, telling your frame to automatically turn off and on at certain times of day - off when you go to bed or leave for the office, on for when you wake up or come home at the end of the day.
Most good frames should include both options, allowing you to combine them to really make sure the frame is only on when you want it to be.
One last note: set your expectations accordingly when it comes to display quality. Even though they're essentially just screens with photo storage, screen quality remains frustratingly low across the digital photo frame industry.
Look out for screens that are HD (as some still aren't that) but don't expect Full HD, let alone 4K - meaning that these screens will typically be markedly lower resolution than your phone's, and in turn lower resolution than your photos.
Still, for most people that won't be a problem, and the displays tend to be bright and crisp enough to make photos look good, with decent viewing angles so you can enjoy photos from across the room. It just might frustrate serious photographers hoping to see their photos at their absolute best.
Smart displays are a new product category kicked off by Amazon's Echo Show: stationary displays that include a virtual assistant. The Echo Show includes Amazon's Alexa assistant, but you can now also buy smart displays powered by the Google Assistant.
We've made the decision to include some of these smart displays in this chart because they include support for displaying slideshows of photographs, along with a whole lot of functionality besides, such as watching YouTube, listening to music, looking up travel instructions, or just asking Amazon or Google for information about various things.
Smart displays are currently about the same price as many dedicated digital photo frames, which might make them a no-brainer given they have so much extra functionality. There are a couple downsides to be aware of though. First up, they can be a little more confusing to navigate, and lack the ultra-simplicity of some of the offline digital frames.
Secondly, they're tied to specific digital photo services: Google Photos for Google Assistant displays, and Prime Photos for Echo displays. If you already use one of these (or are happy to start) then they're fantastic, but if you just want to use photos from a USB stick, or display images from other services such as Flickr or Instagram, then some of the dedicated photo frames in our round-up may be better suited.
Best digital photo frame reviews
1. Nixplay Iris
- Reviewed on: 15 August 2018
The Nixplay Iris is an attractive digital frame that pairs a modern, stylish design with cloud support that makes it easy to display photos from services including Facebook, Instagram, Flickr, and Google Photos. That means no fiddling around with memory sticks or cards, and the option to remotely change your photo albums or even share them with friends.
The only downsides are the rather steep price and the slightly low resolution display, but for the moment those are both fairly typical for the cloud photo frame marketplace.
Read our Nixplay Iris review.
- Reviewed on: 7 August 2019
The Aura Digital Photo Frame is a premium and minimalist frame that currently has one of the highest resolution displays out there. Backed up with cloud support for unlimited storage and an app that controls all the settings, this makes the frame easy to use and gives you the ability to share photos instantly and remotely.
At $299 for the regular model and $399 for the wood finish, it is however on the pricey side, and doesn't support photos from your social media accounts. However, those downsides don't spoil what is a very attractive product.
Read our Aura Digital Photo Frame review.
- Reviewed on: 15 July 2019
It might not be flawless but we feel Google's Nest Hub (formerly Home Hub) with Google Assistant inside is the best all-round option for a smart display so far. It's an affordable price and the compact, stylish design will ensure it fits almost anywhere in your home.
There might not be a camera and audio quality isn't the best, even within Google's own line-up, but this is reflected in the price.
What Nest Hub does have is an excellent screen on which Google Assistant can show as well as tell. You might find it a little too small for some rooms, but it generally works very well for all manner of tasks including streaming music, watching video and simply providing useful information.
Read our Google Nest Hub review.
4. Nix Lux
- Reviewed on: 15 August 2018
The Nix Lux is a simple frame that sits halfway between Nixplay's Advance and Iris models. With its metal or wood finishes, the Lux boasts the design chops of the Iris, but pairs it with the stripped back features of the Advance (dropping Wi-Fi connectivity), which both keeps the price low and makes the Lux simple enough for anyone to get to grips with.
As you'd expect there's both a sleep timer and a motion sensor to control when the Lux is on, and there are buttons both on the back of the device and on the included remote for using the simple, clean interface. Photos have to be played from either an SD card or a USB drive, but helpfully there's a USB stick included in the box so you don't need to buy one separately.
Read our Nix Lux review.
- Reviewed on: 16 November 2018
The Lenovo Smart Display is an impressive third-party Google smart display that's probably a better option than the Google Home Hub for most users thanks to the choice of two larger displays (8in or 10in) and the inclusion of a camera for video calls - though it does cost a good chunk more than Google's own offering, which holds it back slightly.
The larger screen is seriously welcome when looking up travel, reading recipes, or watching YouTube videos, and it's also given Lenovo space to fit in a surprisingly solid speaker. It's hardly world beating, but there's plenty of bass and enough volume to fill the room, which is more than we expected from a device led by its screen.
Ultimately, the irritations here are mostly on Google’s side, and mostly software - so we hope they might improve over time anyway. Lack of support for the vertical orientation and the frustratingly stripped back touchscreen controls are undeniably annoying, and highlight the occasional failings of the voice controls.
Read our Lenovo Smart Display review.
- Reviewed on: 14 March 2018
The Nix Advance is a simple, no frills digital photo frame that does exactly what it sets out to do. It doesn’t have the best screen or the most complex features, but if you want a simple frame for your digital photos that’s dead easy to set up, it’s a very solid choice.
- Reviewed on: 12 July 2019
It's expensive, but the 2nd-gen Echo Show is a good upgrade on the original. If you want Alexa with a screen this is a good option. It lets you call other people with Alexa devices, look up stuff online and watch Amazon Prime video. Just remember that it needs to be plugged in, it's not a tablet.
Audio is decent and the screen is a good size but unless you really want the visual element or ability to call other Shows, you'd be better off with the Echo or the Echo Plus. And if you do want a screen but a more affordable price, look to the Echo Show 5.
Read our Amazon Echo Show (2nd-gen) review.
- Reviewed on: 16 April 2018
The Pix-Star FotoConnect XD gets the job done, but it's definitely less slick and modern than some of its rivals. Arguably its big selling point is the support for both physical media and cloud platforms - ideal if you have photos stored in multiple locations - but if you only need one of those or the other, there's probably a better (and better value) alternative elsewhere.
Read our Pix-Star FotoConnect XD review.
- Reviewed on: 15 November 2018
This is the original Echo Show and it's still available for less than the newer model. But this means it's inferior with less good sound, a smaller screen and a bulkier design.
If you want the calling feature with a decent size display and want to save a bit of money then it's an option, but if you're set on an Echo Show you should probably consider the newer one as it's a better product.
Read our Amazon Echo Show review.