Aura Carver Smart Digital Photo Frame Review – A superb digital photo frame with some privacy concerns

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Aura Carver Smart Digital Photo Frame Review

Summary

The Aura Carver frame itself is superb, much better than expected. However, the automatic uploading of photos takes the shine off what should be an outstanding product.

Overall
70%
70%
  • Overall - 70%
    70%

Pros

  • Superb frame & display which doesn't immediately look like it is a digital frame
  • Easy to set up & use
  • Competitively priced
  • Possible to upload photos via browser (and reduce the privacy issues)

Cons

  • Privacy issues – excessive access to your photos and not as easy to disable as it should be or as transparent about the process as they should be.

I have never been the kind of person to put up lots of photos around my home. In the early days of digital photos frames, the technology looked cheap and cringeworthy, so I never paid much attention to it since.

However, I was impressed with the premium-priced Netgear Meural Canvas II at IFA and was interested to see how a more wallet-friendly alternative would perform.

The Aura Carver digital photo frame has won me over to the idea of digital photo frames, but it comes with a different set of problems that you should be aware of. Whether you care about these or not is another question.

Aura Carver Specification

  • Display Size: 10.1″
  • Overall Size: 10.63″ x 2.6″ x 7.45″ (27cm x 6.6cm x 18.9cm)
  • Display Resolution: 1920 x 1200, 224 pixels per inch
  • Available Colours: White Chalk, Charcoal, Charcoal with Mat
  • Dual Orientation: Landscape Only
  • Power – DC pin plug

Aura Frame Comparison

CarverSawyerSmithMason
Display Size10.1″9.7″9.7″9″
Overall Size10.63″ x 2.6″ x 7.45″10.5″ x 8.75″ x 1.5″11.8″ x 9.8″ x 3.3″9.7″ x 7.6″ x 1.9″
Display Resolution1920 x 12002048 x 15362048 x 15361600 x 1200
224 pixels per inch264 pixels per inch264 pixels per inch224 pixels per inch
Highest resolution digital picture frameHighest resolution digital picture frame
Available ColorsCharcoalMicaBlack OnyxGraphite
White ChalkShalePlatinum RoseWhite Quartz
Touch Bar ControlYesYesYesYes
Matches smartphone
4:3 aspect ratio
NoYesYesYes
Frame Rotates
Portrait & Landscape
Landscape onlyYesYesYes
Auto-BrightnessYesYesYesYes
Intelligent Photo PairingYesNoNoNo
Price £129£199Not available
Was £389
Not available
Was £199

Set Up – Pre-setup a frame for a gift

There are a few ways to set up the Aura frames; they are designed so that you can set up images on the frame without physically unboxing it. This is an excellent feature making these perfect for Christmas/Birthday gifts.

If you have the frame in your possession and want to further customise the gift experience before passing it on to the recipient, you can do any of the following:

  • Add a virtual message and featured photo 
  • Upload photos 
  • Invite other members to the frame
  • Pre-set the WiFi network for the recipient 

The gifting set up process is not much different from the normal. You will need to remove the lear wrapping from the box and peel away the external printed sheet located on the side or bottom of the box to reveal the Gift Setup code.

For both gifting and personal use, you will need the Aura app. As I used this personally, I selected the “it's for me” option.

With the frame powered up, you go through a typical smart device set up procedure, you need to use Bluetooth to connect to the frame, confirm the code on the display and pass over your WiFi credentials.

You can then optionally add friends or family to the frame so they can send photos to the frame themselves.

Cloud Storage / Privacy Concerns

I have noticed some people online criticise the Aura frames for privacy issues.

In particular, this affects Android users. Any photo you send to the frame gets uploaded to the Aura/AWS servers. Apple users seem to be able to switch this auto-upload off, but even Apple users will likely not be aware that when selecting all photos, it means the app uploads the photos rather than just reads them on-device.

Aura doesn't particularily make this issue clear; they have half-heartedly tried to offer some transparency by added a recommended article link on the website for Photo Access and Privacy

I had to wade through multiple pages for a clear picture of what they do and don't do.

On the first page I read, they state:

Some things Aura do with your data

  • Access the photos that you want to send to your frame and upload them to our servers so we can help you manage them and deliver them to frames.
  • Analyse your photos so we can group them (by which people are in them, by where they're taken) to make it easier to pick which ones to display
  • Allow other people who contribute to the same frame as you to see the photos you send to that frame

Some things Aura do not do with your data

  • Sell or share your photos or other personal data with other companies
  • Use any of the content of your photos to target advertising, sell you things, or otherwise be nosy or creepy
  • Show anyone (other than you) photos of yours that you don't add to frames

The above points were taken from the privacy overview, but then the full privacy policy states:

  • Access your photos and upload them to our servers so we can help you manage them and deliver them to frames
  • Analyse your photos so we can group them (by which people are in them, by where they're taken) to make it easier to pick which ones to display

However, further down, they state:

When you download and use our mobile application, we collect and process the following data to improve the services that we offer to you:

  • Photographs uploaded by you to the Services (including via linking third-party photo hosting services)
  • Metadata that is stored in your photo library, which may include dates, location and facial information.

Then again further down:

Photographs and Related Information: Aura Users may upload their photographs to Aura frames, the Aura mobile application, and other Aura Services by using the Aura mobile application. We ask for your consent to access your photos stored on your device when you first use the Aura mobile application.

Once you've granted us this permission, we process your photographs on an ongoing basis. The Aura Services are designed to make it simple for you to select and upload your photos to your Aura frame. To make that possible, Aura securely uploads your photos to our servers so that you can instantly send them to any of your frames anywhere in the world with a single tap.

Depending on your location, by default Aura may collect and upload so-called ‘metadata' about your photos to the cloud to suggest fresh content for your frame.

Privacy concerns and switching off automatic uploads

So, the various points seem to be a bit conflicting. At first, it seems like it was just photos I personally selected to send to the frame that were the ones uploaded to the servers. This would have been fine with me though not ideal.

However, the final “Photographs and Related Information” implies that everything is uploaded. This is much more concerning. Aura do use encrypted storage but it just seems an unnecessary amount of access for a photo frame (I do upload all my photos to Google Photos, so it is a little hypocritical for me to get too angry).

It looks like this level of access is required for the smart suggestions, though it is not 100% clear if they will still upload your photos if you switch this off. Aura state transfer the photos will then be slower if you disable it.

If you have uploaded photos to their server, you will need to contact customer services to have them removed. I think they should have this option to wipe data within the app.

So, if you are paranoid about data privacy, the Aura may not be the best fit for you.

In a world of AI smart assistants constantly listening to us, it is quite likely most people won't care about this problem. However, Aura should make it more clear about what they do and do not do during the set up process and make it easier to delete data already uploaded.

Upload photos via Google Photos

One option, which I think is better than uploading directly from your phone, is to use Google Photos. Using this method will only transfer the photo you select. I also group my good photos into albums, so it is much easier to find things. Of course, the problem here is that if you are concerned about the above privacy issues, uploading all your photos to Google is likely a concern for you too.  

Upload Photos Manually via the Web

The best alternative to having Aura access your photos on your phone would be to set the frame up on your network, remove the app, then manage everything via the web. I actually prefer this method, my phone is full of junk photos of random things, often review samples.

Managing things from my laptop/desktop is much easier as I can find decent photos much easier.

You can access the management system via http://app.auraframes.com

Of course, you will still be uploaded those photos to the Aura servers, but if that is a serious concern for you, then this is not the device for you, or most other smart home tech.

In Use

There is not much to say about the performance of the frame itself, it works well, and is better than I had expected.

Images look great, it is not as impressive as the Netgear's Meural Canvas II, which costs around £500, but the display quality is excellent.

Images are bright without giving off LCD glare. It doesn't quite look like a natural photo, but it is significantly better than the early days of digital photo frames, which was a bit like looking at a laptop screen.

The frame will intelligently pair up photos (if you allow it to). This seems to work well, and in particular, it helps with portrait photos, allowing you to fill up the frame display.

This uses a pin style plug, which is standard for most devices, but I really don't see why companies don't adopt USB-C for power (or even micro USB). It would make life much more convenient, allowing you to select your own cables. In my case, my review sample came with a US plug, so I had to find an adaptor; this wouldn't have been necessary with USB.

Price and Alternative Options

No products found.

The Aura Carver is £149 RRP but available for £129 direct from Aura or via Amazon

The Nixplay Smart Digital Picture Frame is £169.99, it has a lower resolution but can be used in landscape or portrait and includes a remote control

The Jeemak F20 HD IPS Touch Screen WiFi Digital Photo Frame is cheaper at £96.89 but again has a lower resolution running at 1280 x 800

Overall

I like the Aura Carver Smart Digital Photo Frame; the quality images displayed in the frame are considerably better than my low expectations. The frame itself looks good too, and I think with a passing glance, a lot of people will not immediately recognise this as a digital frame – which is exactly what I want from this kind of product.

I don't like the way this uploads your photos to the Aura servers. I wasn't going to let this affect the overall opinion of the review, instead, just advise and warn users about it. However, for Android users, at least, there is an invasive amount of access to your personal information, above and beyond what I think is reasonable for a smart home device. It is very easy just to accept everything as you set up the app, then unknowingly upload all your photos to their servers.

While there is nothing incriminating or embarrassing on my phone, this will likely not be the case for others. The servers may be super secure and highly encrypted, but there are plenty of examples where there have been significant data breaches of so-called secure servers.

I am not opposed to Aura uploading the data, this is just the nature of smart home tech nowadays, but they should make it much more transparent, easier to disable during set up, and easy to delete data from within the app. Other smart tech such as Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa has rolled out privacy updates which allow to easily remove data and prevent the storing of data. Aura should do the same.

However, if you are aware of these issues prior to setting up the frame, it is easy enough to bypass or just go with it if you don't care that the photos get uploaded.  As a whole, the Aura frame is excellent (but I am still marking it down due to the privacy issues).

Last update on 2021-09-19 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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