Return of the digital photo frame: Instacube reviewed

The Instagram social network is certainly popular enough that it’s inspired a range of Insta-gimmicks, and the Instacube is another one of those, revisiting the digital photo frame in the retro square format for anywhere that needs a touch of the old, but also the new.

What is it?

Remember the digital photo frame?

Sure you do. You may have tried to put it out of your memory, but there’s a good chance you’ve owned one at one point in time, the old LCD replacement for framed photos that you bought with good intentions now sitting at the bottom of a pile of discarded technology somewhere in your home.

Well, it’s back, and it’s squarer than ever, as Instacube returns to an idea that most had forgotten about.

But rather than relying on a traditional rectangular photo frame that grabs its images from a microSD card, the Instacube resembles a square frame and pulls in images from the Instagram social network.

To make this happen, the Instacube runs a special app on its hardware to connect to your WiFi network and download images from either your feed, liked images, a user of your choice, or a hashtag.

Three physical hardware buttons are provided up top, with a power button, menu button, and a love heart button to like images that pop up as you go.

The 6.5 inch LCD on the Instacube runs a resolution of 600×600 and can also be used to control the square photo frame, with a few touchscreen icons to control actions, as well as a pinch to zoom gesture supported to show you multiple images at once.

The Instacube sits within a thick frame of plastic, and is charged by a 5V 2A microUSB adaptor commonly used for charging Android tablets. A 3.5mm headphone jack is also included as is a speaker.

Performance

It’s been ages since a digital photo frame crossed our review desks, and for the most part, we’ve been fine with that. Digital photo frames are one of those pieces of technology that made sense when LCDs began to overtake everything, but faded off in the distance like the idea of web TV, which too is slowly seeing a resurgence in smart TVs.

We actually replaced our digital photo frames with real paper photos in real plastic or metal frames almost immediately after realising that we didn’t need a digital photo frame running the entire time and sucking up power, but if you’re still using one, that’s totally fine, too.

Interestingly, the idea is back in a new form, as Instagram’s social network has inspired a group of designers and engineers to bring digital photo frames back to life to show an Instagram feed.

The product that does this is called the “Instacube,” a device that isn’t quite a cube, or is closer to be cube-ish, provided you take a cube and slice it in half.

With this not-quite-cube, you’ll find a square screen fitted in a 6cm thick plastic body, with a matte plastic on the top half and a glossy plastic on the bottom. A 6.5 inch touchscreen sits inside this body, with a bunch of internals making this photo frame closer to a tablet than a digital photo frame.

But when you pick it up, you’ll be more reminded of a toy than either a tablet or a photo frame, with the plastic body feeling cheap and chunky, even though the Instacube is relatively light.

Plug it in and you’ll find it gets to charging, but you don’t need to keep it plugged in if you want to use it, and can simply hold down the circular button up top to switch it on.

Do that and the screen comes to life as the Instacube photo frame loads its operating system, and about thirty seconds later, its software.

From here, regardless of when you used the Instacube last, it will try to connect to a WiFi network, rarely remembering the last network you connected it to, and asking you to search.

Even if it does remember, chances are the Instacube will think you need to sign into a hotspot (even if you don’t) and load up Google’s homepage. Just click “done” and let the Instacube load what it’s supposed to load: the Instagram feed.

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