With its new DreamScreen, HP reaches out beyond the familiar digital photo frame concept to include applications normally associated with stand-alone tablets. This 10 inch model incorporates wireless support for popular applications such as Facebook, Snapfish, Pandora, and HP's own packaging of Net radio stations, among other built-in audio and visual functions.
Sleek and minimalist in shiny black, the DreamScreen 100 is nevertheless better suited for sitting on a desktop than hanging on a wall. This is due both to its not inconsiderable weight and to the need to keep the unit plugged in at all times. So, even though it's ostensibly a wireless device, the DreamScreen is really tethered to one place.
Setting up the DreamScreen was almost unbelievably easy, even with the labor of entering passwords and network keys via the sturdy, yet sensitive remote. The interface is attractive, intuitive, and highly readable, with large icons and titles making each function abundantly clear. In addition, the frame comes with a CD that includes video tutorials and an intuitive desktop program that lets you drag and drop audio, photo, and video files from your PC into the 2GB of internal frame memory (this can also be done via a USB connection or media cards, including all the usual suspects, such as SDHC, MMC, MS, and USB flash drives, in addition to CompactFlash). You can also opt to wirelessly stream audio and photos, though not video, from your PC.
Of course, the DreamScreen still serves as a digital picture frame displaying BMP, JPEG, and PNG files (we wish that list included TIFFs). Like other frames, it allows you to program on and off times and includes both clock (with analog and digital flavors and alarm options) and calendar functions. The DreamScreen will also display the clock next to a slide show if you wish.
In our tests, the screen's display was impressive and crisp, rendering commendably accurate (if a touch cool) colors and snappy images in our slide shows. You can view slide shows with display intervals ranging from 5 seconds to 24 hours, with or without music. Audio comes from Pandora, which selects music it thinks you will like based on tastes you specify, or from your own library. Sound was a strong point in this frame: Although you won't get booming bass or extreme clarity, the DreamScreen cranks out audio that's better than what you get from most laptops, and it has an audio-out jack.
The DreamScreen also provides a Facebook application, allowing you to view friends' updates and photos, as well as upcoming events. You cannot, however, fully browse profiles or create your own status updates on the device ("keyboard" functionality is limited to entering network and application keys and passwords via the remote). The online photo application Snapfish is integrated into the frame, so you can view online albums on the DreamScreen.
HP's radio feature is neat, but has a few quirks: Navigation is limited (you can search only by location or genre, not by name), so adding stations to your favorites list is a chore involving lots of drilling. The DreamScreen will play MP3, PCM, WMA, and AAC audio files. It also supports MPG and MP4 video formats, both of which played smoothly and without issue in our tests.
HP claims that it plans to provide support for more applications, so hopefully we can look forward to seeing the integration of Flickr, Shutterfly and more. And it would be especially cool if future updates include some sort of browser to allow for RSS feeds. At the moment, this frame is stuck between two worlds: A rather small digital picture frame or an exceptionally cool, multifunctional bedside alarm/clock radio. Until the DreamScreen offers more online functionality or HP drops its price, this super frame may remain a rather expensive toy for the desktop or kitchen counter.