For many people, the iPhone serves as their primary camera, and images taken with the device are often live on smartphones, computers, and social networks. Printing photos for display requires additional hardware or the hassle of ordering online and waiting for photos to arrive.
Aura Frames aims to make your photos more accessible through digital frames that connect to power and rotate from the images and videos you’ve taken with your iPhone. The Aura has a range of frames available at different price points, but this review focuses on the Mason, which offers a nine-inch HD display.
At $199, the Mason isn’t cheap, but there are lower-priced options, and the Aura has holiday sales. The Mason has an HD (1600×1200) display that isn’t as high-quality as the 2K display offered on some higher-end models, but it has the flexibility to be used in either portrait or landscape mode, which is a plus.
Basically the Mason is an LED screen inside a frame and it connects to your WiFi network and connects to display a rotating selection of images you choose. The frame is 9.7 inches tall by 7.6 inches wide and is about two inches thick, so it’s not far off from a larger 8×10 photo frame you might have on a desk or shelf. It is quite thick at two inches, but this allows it to stand on its own in any orientation.
Setup consists of logging in and using the Aura app to connect to WiFi, and it’s a fairly painless process. Note that you will need a 2.4GHz network as it is not compatible with 5GHz, which is a downside. Sometimes trying to set up on a mixed 2.4GHz/5GHz network can be a hassle that requires some troubleshooting, but it was seamless for me.
Since this is an LED display, it needs constant power, so you need to set it up near an outlet and deal with a cable. It has a proprietary cable that connects to the back and the braided cable is a good length, so you should be able to set it up just about anywhere. It comes with cable management clips so you can neatly wrap up any extra cables you don’t need, tucking them behind the chassis. There’s an in-frame speaker for video content, and while it’s not the best speaker I’ve heard, it’s pretty decent. I personally don’t care for the sound so I have it turned off.
On the top and side of the frame, there are touch controls to switch photos by scanning, exclude a photo from the slide show, or delete a photo. Videos can be set to autoplay and it’s worth noting that Live Photos will also animate. The frame tries to center the subject of an image and will zoom in on images that are oriented incorrectly or add black lines to the sides. Sometimes the framing was off, but that can be adjusted. Images can also display information about where they were taken, which is useful for vacation photos.
Using Aura requires an iOS device running iOS 13 or later or working with an Android device running Android 5.0 or later. The cross-platform functionality is nice because it means everyone in the family can contribute photos to Aura by downloading the Aura app.
In the app, you can see every Aura you’re connected to in the sidebar, and there are options to set it up for you or someone else. I’ve used both workflows and for gifting, it’s handy because you can add photos to it before it’s ever given to the person. You have to open the box, but I think it’s worth it to give a box that already shows your selected photos.
You can invite multiple people to contribute photos to an Aura frame and all they need to do is download the aura app and create an account. Each person in the family can have an Aura frame, for example, and contribute images to frames owned by other family members. I gifted a frame to my mother-in-law and set it up so that six people could add pictures of family members, children, pets, and more.
In the box I tested it is set up so I can add images and the image process is simple. Just tap the “Add Photos” option and go through the camera roll to decide what to upload. Note that between selecting photos and clicking the upload option, there is no preview feature, so don’t make the wrong click. I’d like to see an option to preview what you’re about to upload, especially in someone else’s context.
You can see all the photos uploaded to an Aura frame you have access to, whether it’s your own or a friend or family member’s. For any uploaded image, you can change the position or select the “show now” button, which displays it immediately.
In the Settings section, you can adjust the time each photo is displayed, change the order of photos from random to chronological and vice versa, adjust video autoplay settings, and choose the photo background for when photos do not take up the entire screen.
There are also options to choose when a device is on, adjust the speaker volume, and a Remote Control feature shows what’s currently in the frame so you can swap photos or remove the current photo. These controls are available for any context you have access to, even if you don’t own it.
All upload activity appears in an activity feed, and if you have a frame owned by multiple people, you’ll sometimes see a notification that you have photos from a similar time that you can add to the frame, which is a useful addition.
Testing the Aura for this review was the first time I’ve used one myself, but I’ve gifted it to family members before, so I’ve been familiar with the product for a long time. Everyone who has an Aura or sees the Aura seems to be a fan and I’ve found it makes a great gift.
Minimal tech experience is required to use Aura, so it works for all ages, and if someone can’t figure out how to use the framework, family members can upload photos. Multiple Aura frames between friends and family make for a fun way to share photos.
I’ve appreciated having the Aura on my desk for the past couple of weeks because it gives me a way to visit my favorite photos on a regular basis without having to print them or go to the Photos app to view them. In the future, I think it would be nice for Aura to add organization and different presentation options similar to the Apple Photos app, but even in its current incarnation, Aura is one of the best ways to display digital images.
How to buy
The Aura Mason Frame can be purchased from the Aura website or from Amazon.com for $199. Other Aura frame options are also available with different sizes, designs and higher resolutions.