year in review

The Best Thing I Bought This Year: This Actually Nice-Looking Digital Picture Frame

A black picture frame sitting on a mantle, displaying a photo of a girl wearing sunglasses standing next to a sunflower.
A photo of one my kids bringing sunshine to my mantle courtesy of the Aura Carver frame. Photo: Jen Trolio

If you’ve read any of our Strategist editor hauls, you’ll know that our writers and editors buy a lot of stuff, and even though we think carefully about each thing that goes into our carts, there are still standouts. To close out the year, we’ve asked our staffers to write about the best thing they bought in the past 12 months. Today, senior editor Jen Trolio shares the digital picture frame she liked so much she bought six to connect her to long-distance loved ones.

I started researching digital picture frames in late 2020 as the first pandemic Christmas loomed. I wanted to buy one for my elderly out-of-state uncle who had been confined to his retirement home all year, and I was specifically looking for a frame I could add pictures to remotely. Although his apartment has Wi-Fi and he watches Netflix, he still uses an ancient flip phone and isn’t overly tech savvy, so I wanted to be able to beam family photos directly into his living room without making him do any troubleshooting.

The Aura Carver frame fit the bill. It was well reviewed, and most important, I could add new photos straight from my phone whenever I wanted, using the frame’s smartphone app. So could any other family members or friends I invited to contribute. This idea was so appealing that I purchased two more frames — one as a gift for a beloved aunt in Texas, and one for my parents (who don’t live far away but do love seeing pictures of their grandkids).

It was easy to curate a collection of photos and get my siblings and other relatives in on the fun — all through the app — before the frames were even delivered. Setting up a frame as a gift is easiest if the recipient has their own smartphone. Aura lets you preload the frame remotely with photos and a gift message, so when it ships straight to your giftee, all they have to do is download the app and connect the frame to Wi-Fi. (My uncle, with his flip phone, needed help with the Wi-Fi part, but it was easy enough for an aide at his facility to get it connected using their own smartphone.)

The frames were an instant hit, and all three recipients gushed about how much they loved their gifts. It turned out that adding new photos made for a solid conversation starter, too. “It looks like you had a lot of fun ice-skating,” or “I see you got the presents I sent!” my family members would say.

There’s no limit to how many photos an Aura frame can hold, and I like having the choice to display each one for two minutes, five minutes, or ten minutes. The HD screen isn’t too obviously a screen, and the colors look accurate and vibrant. The ability to swipe through photos without accessing the app by touching the frame itself is a nice, er, touch, and even though the Carver is freestanding and sits only in landscape orientation, it deftly handles both vertical and horizontal images. (Portrait photos are displayed side by side, and an “intelligent pairing” feature can match up related shots; if you would prefer additional display options, you might want to browse Aura’s other frame styles.)

In 2021, I bought three more frames: one for my mother-in-law’s 70th birthday, one as a wedding gift for my sister-in-law, and one for myself. That’s six frames total and about $850 spent (a discount on the list price thanks to Aura’s frequent sales), and I have no regrets. These frames are simple to update, they look nice with just about any décor, and they strike a good balance between having physical photos displayed in your home and the undeniable convenience of the internet age.

In the end, though, what I love most about my own Aura frame is that it means I regularly see some of the thousands of photos that would otherwise be squirreled away in my and my family’s iPhone photo libraries. Hey, there are my kids at a pumpkin patch! And remember that impromptu trip to the beach? There’s my husband and I at our wedding! And there’s a shot of our cats looking cute!

The chance to revisit these moments and memories makes the frame a delight to have around. And as a bonus, now that there are so many frames in my extended family, we can all add photos to one another’s frames, too — it’s almost like having a private mini social network that is blissfully Zuckerberg free.

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This Digital Photo Frame Is the Best Thing I Bought in 2021