Published on July 31st, 2014 | by Greg0
Instacube: Photo Sharing With Modern Lessons, Old Designs
A few years ago, the digital picture frame was a fairly ubiquitous item- plenty of companies put out models that enabled you to view your photos, perfect for a sort of living exhibition of your vacations or family. But the fairly low resolution displays, need for constant power, and triumph of a the general-purpose tablet mean that it’s been a while since we’ve really seen one. Today, we’ve got the scoop on a project that offers plenty of lessons, from crowd-funding hype to the harsh realities of real-world sourcing.
The Instacube smashed expectations when it was announced and revealed on Kickstarter in 2012. It wasn’t a revolutionary idea, really, but a clever repurposing of the digital photo frame built specifically to play nicely with Instagram lovers. And the device got plenty of positive press and buzz, with various publications calling it “classy” and “hip”, helping to boost it to a $620K final finish. But two years later and the first production units are only now arriving, which has led to plenty of frustration from backers, some of whom got to see units arriving in retail stores before the company had managed to deliver the product ordered long ago. The company regularly updated customers, and has been fairly transparent about the situation, and it’s a case study in how success can be quite a heavy burden, illustrating the risks in relying on overseas suppliers, with small issues leading to delays in every stage of the process.
But we were thrilled to put that all aside, and excited to test out the Instacube with fresh eyes. In fact, we relied pretty much exclusively on folks who didn’t know about the history of the project, and the results were clear: the Instacube looks great at first glance, but lacks the polish that might have made this a true winner. There’s plenty to like, but the downsides are many, and the simple fact is that you’re still probably better off buying a tablet. Let’s start with the display- Instagram photos might not be high-definition, but the 600 x 600 resolution results in a fairly spotty, pixelated view that doesn’t do them justice (and the colors felt a little washed out as well, which might seem appropriate to the style, though it’s hard to imagine even hipsters desiring this level of fade). In sunlight or even glare, it’s not bright enough to be useful either. The body of the unit is cute, a retro design with curved edges and a nice bit of depth, but it’s fairly light where you’d want it to be heavy, and lacks any viewing angle adjustments, meaning it’s hard to actually enjoy the photography inside.
Battery life of four hours isn’t stellar, but we kept ours plugged in for the most part anyway. At first, the Instacube seems like it will be fun and simple, but the touch screen controls were somewhat awkward and quickly became slow and less than responsive. The functionality is purposefully limited but you can, for instance, select a single user or hashtag and view their images- theoretically perfect for some retail environments like New York’s board game cafe, The Uncommons. Ideally you’d be able to choose more than one tag though, and have more control over how they are displayed and their order. We also had the unit forget settings, and require us to re-enter or re-connect to our network regularly upon restart/reboot.
We wanted the Instacube to be intuitive, but found it a bit annoying, and thus we’re pretty sure it’s audience will be limited. Software updates are inevitable, and we hope to see many of these issues resolved over time, but as it stands the Instacube is just a bit too expensive for what you get. Available now for $149 in white or black.