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An experiment in pocket-size photo viewing

6:45 PM Wed, Oct 07, 2009 |
Posted by: Walt Zwirko
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The wallet has never been a good place to carry your favorite photos around. Sure, it’s a convenient spot; always handy, instantly available — but the content of most wallets is competing for an ever-decreasing space.

Cash comes and goes (mostly goes). There is always a driver’s license and insurance document; often a spare key or two; and always credit cards.

After a while, you find the keepsake photo of your favorite person is permanently embossed with an expiration date because it got a little too cozy with a neighboring credit card.

There must be a better way. Can’t technology help?

The digital key chain could be the answer. Designed to store wallet-size photos in much the same way that digital picture frames solve a larger problem, I’ve seen these pocket-size devices at prices ranging from $10 to $25.

 But there — in a display at Costco — was a digital key chain for less than five bucks! That’s an irresistible price point for a gadget nut like me.

I took the bait.

So let us now take a quick look at my new Virtual Reality Sound Labs Automotive Digital Photo Key Chain (Model VKC-180).

It appears to be solid enough; the housing — about the size of a box of Tic-Tacs — is fashioned out of extruded aluminum.

On the front panel, there’s a 1.8-inch color screen (more on that later); on the top, there’s the key chain part (you can unscrew and detach it if you wish); on the bottom, (surprise!) a twin-LED flashlight and a USB connector to link the device to your (Windows-only) computer so you can upload your photos and recharge the built-in battery.

Plugging the VRSLADPKC in to your PC also launches the software needed to transfer photos to the device. The program includes some rudimentary editing capabilities to reformat your pictures to the dimensions of the screen. It’s a bit balky and the operation isn’t entirely intuitive, but a pamphlet is included that outlines the basic operations so that you can cram about 100 photos inside.

So, does this $5 gizmo actually work? The answer is “yes.”

It will display your photos as either individual frames or as a “slideshow” with a variety of transitions. There’s even a built-in clock (although why you’d want to shuffle through the on-screen menu to find and display the clock is a mystery to me). Plus, don’t forget about the handy flashlight.

It’s hard to quibble with a device that offers such a relatively big bang for your hard-earned buck, but it is my professional duty to inform you about the shortcomings of the VRSLADPKC.

 First, the “KC” part: Use this as a key chain at your own risk. Most users would expect to be able to pop a key chain in their pocket or purse, and that would be a big mistake. This could, in fact, be a serious little weapon. Four corners of the VRSLADPKC’s metal enclosure are seriously, skin-slashingly, pants-shreddingly sharp — almost razor-sharp.

And “sharp” is not a word I would ascribe to the 1.8-inch LCD screen. In this age of cell phones and iPods, we’ve all come to expect much more from a tiny display than the muddy, washed-out image this portable picture frame presents to the user.

Alas, even at $5, it is difficult to recommend the VRSLADPKC. Because of its potential for use as an inadvertent weapon, don’t even think about giving one to a kid.

It’s really something that would be of interest to only the hardest of hardcore gadget fans, and even then perhaps only to those who might be curious enough to undo its four tiny screws and take a peek at what’s inside.

I think that’s what’s next for me.

A portable digital photo frame is really a good idea, though; I suggest you go directly to the cell phone or iPod you probably already have and take advantage of its superior display to share your treasured (and un-embossed) pictures.

E-mail askwalt@wfaa.com




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