Smartparts SP8PRT: Combining simplicity with imperfection

The Smartparts SP8PRT is a two-headed beast. It displays photos like any other digital picture frame and prints them up, too. Does it deliver on its bi-polar promises? We were got our hands on the $280 digital photo frame, and took a close look at each of these abilities.

The product's goal? Make it as easy as possible for everyone to print the images they love.

The big idea: Combining this feature with the already handy ease of display offer by a digital frame.

Could this be the perfect way to display images at a party?

Suppose you took a picture that someone couldn't live without — just hit print and presto, the photo pops out the side. This would be especially great for the older set that can't quite wrap their heads around digital photography, computers, or technology in general.

As a Picture Frame
Right out of the box, the SP8PRT is a pretty nice gadget. It has a bright, 800x600, 8" monitor that was easy to see even in a sunlit room. Easily changeable frame surrounds were on our wish list, and this one's got 'em.

One problem we ran into was with viewing full resolution JPGs from a Nikon D80 the device would occasionally lock up entirely, requiring a reboot. The problem was intermittent, and running smaller images from a point-and-shoot or the web was trouble-free. As far as the digital picture frame part goes, it's a fairly capable device.

As a Printer
The ability to print is the big selling point here, though, and that's where things really get dicey. The printer is based on a technology called dye-sublimation, a pricey yet simple and compact printing method that's important in a product like this. Unfortunately, each cartridge yields a measly 36 4x6 images from each $20 pack, including paper ($.55 per print).

One big oversight is the lack of a counter on the package or in the software to give any indication of how many prints are left. The biggest downside, however, is that the print quality is marginal, at best. There simply isn't any pure black on the paper, creating images that look washed out, improperly exposed and with noticeable color shifting.

Details come out a bit soft as well, lacking sharpness overall. But compared to the inkjet print that we got out of an old HP Photosmart 335, the Smartparts prints look pretty bad (see the comparison of the two in the picture above). Other Smartparts 8" frames run in the $100-$150 range, meaning they put a $100 premium on the ability to print, which is in line with the cost of other compact 4x6 printers on the market.

Bottom line: a swing and a miss. Better luck next generation.