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Posted in new / noteworthy, review, things we like by hemmant jha on May 2, 2009

T-Mobile Cameo Digital Picture Frame.

Seldom do we [at thinkmore] encounter a modern electronic device that makes us smile. Modern electronic devices are a breed unto themselves – tripping over each other to do everything. A laptop is a phone and fax machine and media center, a phone is an organizer and movie player, a GPS device is all of the above and a heartrate monitor combined, a cup of coffee is also a USB charger – you get the idea. Not many of these devices work well, and even fewer are worthy of being produced, let alone purchased.

Looking around my room, I see a lot of electronic devices – most of which work well enough, so they can be labelled functional [with slight and infrequent hiccups], but none of them have that ultimate resolution and polish that would make them a real pleasure to own and to use. Examples of thoroughly well-considered objects are few and far between, and the T-Mobile Cameo is not one of them – but it is special and worthy of mention.

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When first announced late last year, it seemed like a moderately interesting product. Picture frames were getting to be somewhat popular – as companions to the compact digital camera, but not quite. In terms of picture quality alone, these frames left a lot to be desired. Most displays used in these frames were not able to present images in true photographic quality – as such, not worth the $100+ asking price. We were not able to see true usefulness in these devices – a screensaver on a laptop could present pictures just as well, without one having to transfer images to yet another device. Digital cameras themselves had large enough displays for an impromptu slideshow.

The Cameo tried to change all that – this was a frame with its own cellular account [a phone number / SIM card] and email address. Send a picture to this number or address from a phone or computer – the Cameo would add it to its library within minutes, and insert it into a slideshow. Travellers could send back snapshots of their travels on the fly, grandparents could see how their grandchildren were coming along – all without a computer or any fiddling whatsoever. Essentially, if given as a gift, it could be plugged into a wall outlet and left alone. Enjoy the new images that show up automatically, do nothing.

The barrier to entry was the price – $100 for the frame and $120 annually for the service. This has since been rectified – $40 for the device and $24 annually for the service. Having purchased one since this change, I can safely say that this is a truly useful product and fun to use.

Here are the details : 

Picture quality is just fine for a $40 device, and on par with more expensive frames out there, with the possible exception of this $1000 OLED frame. The service is great for $2.oo a month.

The picture looks smaller with the broad fake leather frame attached – unless you’re fascinated by and attracted to fake leather, relegate it immediately to your recycling bin [for plastics]. If you must have a decorative frame, commission one from your child – crayon and cardboard can work wonders in the right hands.

The Cameo needs a bit of polish to be great – the user interface, the icons, the casework, etc. are perfectly functional, but that’s about it. The hardware works, the network connection works. Obviously, resolved functionality and solid engineering are good things. The role of the ‘designer’, unfortunately, has been limited to that of a cover stylist. The device is just fine without that covering, in an ‘industrial’ / workmanlike sort of way. Sans cover, one may notice that the locations of the screw holes are not symmetrical – perfectly in keeping with the rough-hewn nature of the device. That is how it has been photographed and presented in this post – for glamour shots, please proceed to this address.

This is a perfect for keeping friends / family informed and connected.

Setup is painless. Truly painless [this is a big deal, as any of us who have tried to navigate ‘simple’ setup menus know all too well]. The Cameo is plug and play – literally. It was ready to go right out of the box – all that was needed was a slight lowering of brightness. The brightness controls work in rather large steps – finer gradations would be better.

It is really cool to see a new image pop up by itself, unannounced.

A little green ‘new image’ icon that appears next to new additions.

One cannot send multiple images in one email message – this was a source of some anxiety at first when the images did not appear on the frame, but the issue quickly became apparent.

In terms of time taken for a new image to appear, the frame / wireless service is sensitive to the size of the sent image. Resize before sending [this is easy enough for users of Apple Mail, with resizing on the fly available right in the message window].

For better picture quality, one does need to make sure, again, that the sent pictures are the right size [720X480] or very close – automatic resizing by the frame or by T-Mobile is not great and the drop in quality is readily apparent.

Time taken for new image to show up on frame : 2 minutes [of course, the recipient does not know when it was sent, so does not wait for it].

An ambient light sensor automatically turns the clock on at night – straightforward white numbers on black background. Clock has automatic time setting straight from cell network. Again, painless.

And it’s only $40, with monthly service the same price as one cup of coffee. T-Mobile probably has a reasonable return policy – it couldn’t hurt to try it. Once you do, more likely than not, you’ll keep it.

PS : It’s interesting that so many words needed to be used to describe a good, yet not quite there device. The Cameo is good enough that a case can be made for it, but it is not quite able to speak for itself. In this blog at least, the quality of a product may be judged by the length of the accompanying writing [some good ones here].

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12 Responses

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  1. DragonLady said, on May 4, 2009 at 2:12 pm

    THe one thing that has been missed in all the reviews I’ve seen is that you MUST have a T-Mobile account in order to have one of these. And I don’t mean the account for the frame – you need an actual phone account with T-Mobile. Fortunately, I’m close enough to the end of my current contract (and peeved anough at AT&T) that picking up an account with T-Mobile wasn’t a deal breaker. But I would have enjoyed knowing this before I walked into the store…

  2. hemmant jha said, on May 4, 2009 at 2:24 pm

    Hello – thanks for the comment.

    I was surprised to learn that this may be the case. You’re right – it makes no sense since this frame has its own number / account. I just called my neighborhood T-Mobile store, and they assure me that having an existing account is not necessary in order to get the Cameo…

  3. Joescales said, on May 4, 2009 at 4:53 pm

    I walked into a store (they were pretty clueless).. nobody knew what the price was. Many phone calls were made. In the end I was told it was only for Tmobile customers. This was in Redwood City.

  4. hemmant jha said, on May 4, 2009 at 5:03 pm

    @ Joescales : I’m sorry to hear that – it’s terrible that store service is so poor, especially since the device is really quite good and truly painless to use. May I suggest calling a couple of more stores in your area – I know that the device is not just for existing T-Mobile customers [of course, when you sign up for the Cameo, you become a customer].

  5. kc said, on May 6, 2009 at 1:36 am

    Big disappointment. the screen is great for the price but it only has a 10mb memory as seen by win XP. Having resized my images to 720 pixel at the large dimension though picassa, I could only load 60 pics. Could have sworn the display at the tmob store said 64 mb which is poor but adequate, 10 mb is ridiculous. The sd or other card capability is only to transfer to the puny internal memory. It goes back tomorrow unless there is more support via phone because there is NONE at tmo.com.

  6. hemmant jha said, on May 6, 2009 at 8:52 am

    Page 10 of the manual [‘transfer photos’] states that it is 64MB of memory. I have no reason to doubt them, for a couple of reasons –

    1.0 : Memory is as cheap as it has ever been, and as you rightly say, 64MB is hardly a lot, but adequate [when pictures are resized, as you’ve done].

    2.0 : Cheating customers on memory simply will not pay, because any cost savings will get wiped out in a single lawsuit [threat of a lawsuit is simply how a lot of businesses are kept in check].

    May I suggest that the problem may lie in the computer / device interface, where memory usage / memory capacity readings may be wrong? I would suggest trying to load more than 10MB of images from an SD card [faster], or emailing a bunch of images [slower] to see if the memory is, indeed, less than promised.

  7. kc said, on May 6, 2009 at 10:16 am

    Update on internal memory: I trusted Picassa on resizing on auto. Most files were small for picture file ( <280kb) but much larger than than a mms photo would likely to be. I changed the default from auto to small an the file size shrank to less than 150 kb and still looked great. I now have over 100 loaded and have less than half the memory consumed. Although still pathetic it’s worth keeping at that. There is another memory drive showing up with windows but shows 0mb and 0mb avail. That might be the other 54mb restricted for mms sourced pics.

    My first upload was about 30 mb and it stopped saying out of memory at just below 10mb so from a computer that is the max.

    Tmo tech support tried diligently to find th memory rating and failed. Suggested I try sales but they don’t open til 10 am so I haven’t had a chance to call since they opened.

    It will be interesting to see what I find via my Linux machine when I get to that.

    Thanks for the suggestions.

  8. Claudio said, on June 1, 2009 at 10:16 pm

    I want one! Cameo, I called all the stores around me and none have it ?, I even tried callin T-Mobile customer care and they cant help me?

    HOW CAN I GET THE CAMEO!

    Thanks for any help

  9. hemmant jha said, on June 2, 2009 at 8:16 am

    hello Claudio – that’s odd. I’ll look into it when I get back in a few days. It would be bizarre of they’ve pulled it from their product line – maybe it’s been a resounding success and it’s completely sold out? I’ll keep you posted.

  10. Claudio said, on June 6, 2009 at 8:24 pm

    T-Mobile said the only way to get the Cameo is at the T-Mobile stores, but I have yet to find a store that has one in stock?, and they have no inventory control so they cant tell me who might carry it.
    I live in Las Vegas, but frequently go to Los Angeles, if anyone in Los Angeles knows of a store that has one please let me know? It will be appreciated,
    Thank you in advanced
    Claudio

    I have called about 20 stores and will continue as time permits, will post if I have success?

  11. hemmant jha said, on June 10, 2009 at 3:47 pm

    hi there – I just picked up another one at the local TMobile store. According to them, it is not a discontinued product, even though they had trouble finding it in their system and adding it to my account.

    Supposedly, this sells a lot better in the suburbs than in the city – maybe give some of those a call? Typical inventory for a store is 4 and there’s not a mad rush of people beating down doors for these – not quite iPhone territory…

  12. Lawson said, on November 9, 2009 at 2:45 pm

    It’s been discontinued and all the stored that have them have to send them back.
    They allowed the stores to sell them with the plans until 10-25-2009. I called a few weeks to late to get one. Rather a bummer would have been a great grandparent gift.
    If they would have advertisedthe device a bit I’m sure it would have been a top seller. Especially at the final price point. $40 and $2 per month is appropriate for this sort of device. Wonder if there is a wifi enabled device that would serve the same purpose.
    Really to bad they discontinued it. I would probably have picked up 5 or 6 as appropriate Xmas presents for grandparents etc. Have a friend with a new baby who’s mom is going to be daycare when she goes back to work. She would have been overjoyed to have photo updates of her 3 month old randomly showing o nteh device in her office.


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