Digital photo frames have been around for years and have always been something of a novelty. Aura’s newest and largest, Carver, changes that by adding some clever algorithms that make a delightfully intelligent use of its 10.1-inch screen.
However, there’s plenty more to love about this stylish and compact landscape-only product, with its minimalist look matched not only by tack-sharp and colourful photo display but also by a superbly simple set-up that makes remotely curating slideshows a cinch.
If you’re after a digital canvas to showcase your photos in your home – or in someone else’s – Carver could be the one.
Resolution: 1920 x 1200
Dimensions: 10.63 x 2.6 x 7.45 inches / 270 x 66 x 188 mm
Touch screen: No
Built-in storage: No
Motion sensor: Yes
USB/SD slots: No/No
Cloud services: Google Photos
Carver has some unique ‘artificial intelligence’ inside (read: proprietary algorithms) that intuitively pair portrait photos side-by-side. However, before we get too excited about this so-called ‘Intelligent Photo Pairing feature’, it’s important to know that it’s here partly to make up for the Carver’s inability to be positioned in the portrait mode. That’s being a little harsh because it’s not as if anyone is going to re-position a digital photo frame just to get a fuller photo. In practice, Intelligent Photo Pairing does make good use of Carver’s significant screen real estate.
The rest of Carver’s features are standard Aura-awesomeness. ‘Unlimited photo storage’ is the headline act, in practice referring to the fact that Carver is attached to a WiFi network and gets photos from the Aura Frames app (iOS/Android, including iPads) where all the photo-fetching and curation takes place. It’s even possible to do most of the set-up in advance without even taking the Carver out of its box, thanks to an exterior-mounted QR code. That makes Carver ideal to gift, which is a common reason for buying a digital photo frame (though it does still need to be connected to a WiFi home network).
The Aura Frames app gets photos from your smartphone or tablet’s camera roll as well as from cloud services like iCloud or Google Photos. Once paired with that app, Carver displays each photo in a curated slideshow for 10 minutes as default. However, it can flash up a photo for as little as 15 seconds, or for as long as 24 hours, before advancing to the next one.
Carver shows newly-added photos first, with older photos shuffled behind them, though the user can swipe left or right on the Carver’s Touch Bar to move to the previous or next photo.
Quality and usability
Weighing 794g, the 10.1inch Carver looks super-slim from the front and sides, though tapers backwards and downwards to create a bottom-heavy pointed triangular shape that lends it a lot of stability on a shelf or sideboard. This novel freestanding design makes it easy to place when space is tight, with no kickstands to fuss over. Unlike other frames in Aura’s stable, Carver can’t be positioned in portrait orientation. If that’s a drawback, so – in theory – is that fixed design’s impact on the viewing angles. In practice, images are excellent even when viewed slightly above or below eye level. It's sold in two colours; charcoal and white chalk.
If the idea of an always-on, energy-sapping digital photo frame doesn’t appeal, so too is having to switch it off when leaving a room. Cue Carver’s ambient light sensor, which automatically disengages the frame when you switch off the lights in the room it’s in. That ambient light sensor also adjusts the image’s brightness to suit the room while the Touch Bar at the top of the frame can also be used to switch Carver on and off.
Another nice touch is being able to easily remove photos from a slideshow using that Touch Bar. After all, we’ve all seen slideshows that linger on a photo that is downright dull. We also loved being able to ‘like’ a photo using the Touch Bar – something that’s communicated to whoever curated the slideshow – and to get one-touch details about when and where each photo was taken, and by whom.
Set-up is easy, with a pairing code used to establish an initial Bluetooth link between phone/tablet and Carver. The Aura Frames app then takes care of everything else. It only take s a few minutes to complete the set-up, though you will need your WiFi network details handy; without any built-in storage, there’s no way to pre-load a Carver with photos before gifting.
Carver presents 2.3-megapixel HD-quality photos cleanly and colourfully, with tack-sharp 224 pixels-per-inch (PPI) images on its 10.1-inch panel easily visible from all angles. You do occasionally get black bars on the sides, due to its widescreen shape, but not often. That unique Intelligent Photo Pairing feature works well by filling up the widescreen frame with portrait shots that in our tests seemed nicely complemented. The Aura Frame app gets involved in image management, too, cropping photos where necessary to best fit the 10.1-inch screen, filtering blurry photos and ignoring duplicates.
The Carver is a smart digital photo frame that is best suited to users that don’t want too much control. Once set up and attached to WiFi, it gets on with the job of cropping, pairing and/or ignoring photos very efficiently, always supplying a superbly sharp and colourful image. There are some drawbacks; it requires a WiFi network to work at all, it can only be used in a horizontal position. However, in a commodity market the Carver’s build quality and excellent software make it a real standout premium product that impresses from all angles.