Photo Credit: Samsung
“That’s a beautiful photograph you have there!” That was the first reaction of about half the people who saw the Samsung Frame for the first time during time that we spent testing the device. This, of course, was when the TV was ”off”. Confused? Read on to find out more.
Samsung introduced ‘The Frame’ as a television set that doubles up as a work of art when it’s not being used. According to Samsung, the average television set is used for only four hours a day, and the idea behind The Frame is to turn it into something useful - or at least good looking - the rest of the time. But how does The Frame perform in the real world? Let’s find out.
While other television sets make tall claims about their thinness, the Samsung Frame makes no attempt to join that race. The idea here, of course, is to make the TV resemble one of those thick, old-fashioned photo frames, so any attempts at a curved or asymmetrical design would’ve broken that illusion even before it began. Instead, Samsung has wholeheartedly embraced the rectangular shape and at 43.18mm (1.7 inches) The Frame has to be up there with the thickest modern-day televisions in its price category, if not overall.
The TV comes with a stand that has very tiny legs, so you can forget about placing anything in front of it without potentially obstructing the view. Thanks to Samsung’s One Connect box - more on that later - you likely won’t place a set-top box in front of the television to begin with, so this is unlikely to be a problem for most people, but is worth noting nonetheless.
It obviously won’t be a problem either if you wall mount the Frame - as most people likely would - and Samsung’s “No Gap Wall-Mount” (a “very small gap wall-mount” in real life) sits nearly flush with the wall, making it easier to pass off the TV as a work of art. Like the 2017 Samsung flagship QLED TVs, you need to run only two cables - power and the One Connect cable - to the TV irrespective of the number of devices connected to it, which means that with a little bit of planning, you can give The Frame a completely wire-free look.
To continue the illusion of an actual frame, the Samsung Frame features bezels with an understated black metallic finish on all sides. If you don’t like this look, you can buy additional frames in Walnut, Beige Wood, or White metallic finishes to ensure that The Frame blends in better with the interiors in your room. These frames are easy to fit, as they have magnets on the inside, which means they snap right on top of the metal bezels of the telivision. These additional frames - available for purchases separately - are priced at Rs. 13,990 each for the 55-inch Frame, and Rs. 16,990 each for the 65-inch model that we reviewed.
If you are not content with interchangeable frames, you can take the whole art metaphor to the next level by buying the Samsung Studio Stand. This is essentially a classic easel that can be used to showcase the Frame as a piece of art. The stand (pictured above) is sturdy enough to keep the TV secure, and you can run the cables through one of its legs, which means there’ll be no visible wires to ruin the perfect look you are going for. Do keep in mind that this optional stand will set you back by a cool Rs. 40,000, which is enough money to buy a 55-inch 4K HDR TV.
Unlike most TVs that are full of ports at the back (and often the sides) the Samsung Frame has just two ports - one for power, and the other for the thin cable that connects to the One Connect box. This arrangement - which is also found in Samsung's 2017 QLED TVs and a bunch of other high-end models - means all video sources such as your set-top box, video streaming boxes, gaming consoles, etc. and even USB drives that you use to play media on your TV, are plugged into the One Connect box. The box connects to the TV via a thin, white cable which isn't "invisible" like Samsung claims, but should be a lot easier to conceal than even a single HDMI cable.
The One Connect box has four HDMI 2.0 ports with HDCP 2.2 (one with ARC), three USB 2.0 ports, Ethernet, optical audio out, the One Connect port, and an Antenna input.
Setting up the Samsung Frame is pretty simple - choose the language and your region/ country, after which the TV detects the input sources you've connected. In our case, the TV correctly detected an Xbox One and an Apple TV, but the Airtel Digital TV box was detected incorrectly as “Manthan”. Samsung’s bundled remote lets you control all your source devices, and you’ll need to make sure everything is detected correctly if you want that to work. If you don't care about that, you can ignore this bit entirely.
We, of course, wanted to test what it's like to use the Samsung remote to control all our devices, so it was important that the Airtel set-top box was identified correctly. Strangely, there's no way to tell the Frame during setup that one or more of the sources has been identified incorrectly, so we had to complete the rest of the process, and then go into the Settings later to manually change the device type to Airtel. We then followed on-screen instructions to get the channel change buttons on the Samsung remote mapped to the Airtel box, which required some work, but was simple enough.
Going back to the setup process, as the final step, you are prompted to pick an image that’ll be displayed when the TV’s in Art Mode - aka when you are not watching TV. Samsung provides 100 images for you to choose from and you should find at least one that fits your taste.
This Art Mode, of course, kicks in when you press the power button on your TV once you are done watching. Instead of going into standby, the TV will show you the image that you picked as part of the setup process.
You can choose from the 100 photographs and digital images that Samsung has bundled with the television set, or subscribe to the Art Store for Rs. 299 per month to pick from a much bigger collection of photographs, classic prints from famous artists, and a whole lot more. You can do this via the TV’s Settings or by using Samsung’s Smart View app on Android or iOS. This is also the route to go if you want to display one of your own photographs on the television.
Unfortunately, the Art Mode doesn’t offer a “random” or “slideshow” mode - ostensibly to maintain the frame metaphor, which will break if someone sees the image change in front of their eyes - which puts the onus firmly on you to pick the masterpiece you want displayed in your living room. We found that black and white photographs work best if you are really looking to pass the Frame off as just a frame while it’s in Art Mode, though you might have better luck with colour images as well, depending upon the ambient light in your room. You can also create a collage of up to 3 images via the app and have it displayed on the TV.
The Samsung Frame has an ambient light sensor, which means the TV can adjust the brightness and colour of images to ensure they don’t look too bright or dull when lighting conditions change, subtly maintaining the artwork effect. This works only in Art Mode and not while you are watching TV content. Of course all this comes at a cost - the Art Mode on the 65-inch Samsung Frame uses 48.8W of power, which is 27 percent of the power it needs when in TV mode. The 55-inch model uses 46.9W power in art mode, 31 percent of the general power consumption.
This is why Samsung has fitted the Frame with a motion sensor - when the TV detects there’s been no movement in the room for some time, it goes into standby automatically. If it detects motion again, it will power the Art Mode back on. This didn’t always happen during our review period, and Samsung said this can happen sometimes depending upon the furniture in the room - to be fair, we had placed the Frame at ground level with furniture very close to it on both sides, so this could well have been the case. Of course, you can put the TV in standby mode at any time by holding down the power button on your remote for two seconds.
While the Art Mode might be the big headline feature of the Samsung Frame, it’s an excellent all-round performer when it comes to what you usually associate with a television - watching TV. The 4K UHD panel has HDR support, and the experience of watching HDR content on Prime Video, Netflix, and YouTube was excellent. Colours looked fairly natural, and the difference was especially evident when we watched the same content side by side on the Samsung Frame and a non-HDR full-HD panel. The 4K HDR panel on the Samsung let us see details that were either easy to miss, or completely invisible on the other TV. However, there were times when we wished the blacks on this LCD panel were a little deeper, like on truly high-end OLED TVs and even Samsung’s own QLEDs.
Skin tones look fairly natural even with out-of-the-box settings, though there are plenty of options available for experts to tweak. The TV will automatically detect HDR-enabled sources (or built-in apps with HDR content, including YouTube, Netflix, and Prime Video) and show them in all their glory, but for the rest of your content, there’s a setting called HDR+ Mode. When you enable this, the Samsung Frame will “automatically provide an optimal HDR effect based on the video source” - which is to say it will give a pseudo-HDR effect to all your content. This worked reasonably well with the non-HDR content we tried, though with actual HDR content, we recommend leaving this setting off for best results. Note that like many other Samsung TVs, the Frame supports the HDR10+ and HLG standards, and not Dolby Vision HDR, which is supported by some other brands.
HD content looks good, though given the humongous size of the screen, you are best advised to maintain a reasonable viewing distance. If you get up close, you are more likely to notice slight pixelation, which is to be expected. We were expecting SD content to look completely awful on a screen this size, but we noted that both SD TV channels and 360p videos on YouTube were surprisingly watchable.
Our experience while gaming on an Xbox One S connected to the Samsung Frame was pretty good as well. Out of the box, it didn't support HDR mode with the Xbox, but simply toggling “HDMI UHD Color” for our input source under settings did the trick. The TV has a motion rate of 240Hz and a refresh rate of 120Hz, which gamers will appreciate. The Samsung Frame also has a gaming mode that's designed to minimise input lag by cutting out some amount of image processing, which does degrade quality a bit, but not to a point where it will bother most users.
The Samsung Frame has 40W speakers, which means it can get sufficiently loud. Even when watching TV from a fairly large distance, we didn't need to increase the volume beyond 60 percent, and the audio that we experienced was pretty clear. You can connect external speakers via the optical audio out or via Bluetooth.
The Samsung Frame comes with a few apps pre-installed: e-Manual, Internet, McAfee Security for TV, Film Box Live, Berliner Philharmoniker, AccuWeather, Glwiz, UFC, TuneIn, BigFlix, Sony Liv, Crico Mania, Box TV, and Jio Cinema. Not all of these show up when you navigate to the top-level Apps menu on the TV, and you see only a partial list. It’s not until you enter the app store that you see all apps installed on your TV under the ‘Downloaded app’ (not a typo) section.
The TV runs on Samsung's own Tizen operating system and features a rather minimalistic UI that stays out of your way for the most part. Additional apps can be installed via the bundled app store, with popular ones YouTube, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video (all three support 4K HDR), Plex, and even Google Play Movies available.
While the Tizen store has a decent - though not large - collection of apps, discoverability was an issue. Apps like Prime Video were not listed under the Popular section of the Video category. Despite Amazon's relatively late entry in the market, we find it hard to believe that it's not among the top apps that people install on their Samsung Smart TVs, especially when some really obscure ones are listed as ‘popular’. We had to manually search for it, which might not seem like a big deal, but the experience is in complete contrast with that of other smart TV platforms like the Apple TV App Store. One visit to the Popular section should be enough to get all the important apps you will need to get started.
Once installed, apps can be added as favourites, so they show up as top-level video sources, at par with the built-in browser and sources connected to the TV. The browser is pretty similar to what you get with other TVs, in that it’s pretty basic. If you don’t use it, you can remove it from the list of top-level sources and free up some real estate.
That brings us to the remote bundled with the Samsung Frame, which initially felt like one of those barebones remotes that many manufactures have been shipping with their new smart TVs. Over time, we found it to be an effective companion for the television. It’s designed to be a universal remote to control all devices connected to your TV. So, when you switch input source to Airtel Digital TV, for example, the Channel up/ down button will control the set-top box.
Using voice commands, you can jump to ‘Channel 166’, which means you don’t really miss the dedicated number keys - on most occasions, anyway, as we found voice recognition to be accurate only about 80 percent of the time, and not quite at the same level that Google has reached. We also didn’t quite like the channel and volume rockers which have to be physically moved up and down (instead of having two distinct buttons that you press), and we worry about the long-term effectiveness of these buttons as dust accumulates inside the remote. Pressing the volume rocker mutes the TV, in case you are wondering.
The same smartphone app used to choose artwork can also mimic the functionality of a hardware remote, and even has a game controller mode for use with any third-party games you might download on the smart TV. You can also mirror your phone’s display on the TV, if your phone supports that functionality.
Our only other gripe with the TV - and it was really annoying when this happened - was its tendency to switch inputs automatically when one our connected source devices powered itself on - or strangely at times, off. On a couple of occasions, for example, we were watching TV through our set-top box when we were suddenly greeted by a blank screen. We realised that the Frame had decided to switch the input source to the Apple TV that had just put itself to sleep after one hour of inactivity, as it was set to do.
Now we understand changing the source to a device that’s just been powered on - which the Frame does as well - but even that can get annoying if you accidentally turn on other devices while in the midst of a binging session, or if one of them wakes itself up to, say, apply software updates. We didn’t find an option to disable this behaviour in the Settings, and to make things worse (or better?), it didn’t happen consistently.
Samsung has taken an interesting concept and executed it pretty well given the capabilities and limitations of current technology. The Art Mode might seem like a gimmick, but it’s one that could find a home in your living room and it will certainly be a talking point when you have guests over. We wish that Samsung would introduce some more features like giving you the ability to wake up to a new piece of art every morning.
Though the Samsung Frame performs admirably as a television, if that’s all your are interested in, you’d be better off spending your money on a high-end model from the likes of Samsung, LG, or Sony, as you could get better display technology at the same price.
65-inch (reviewed here): Rs. 3,99,900
55-inch: Rs. 2,74,900
Art Mode is unique and well executed
Good picture quality in 4K, HD, SD modes
Decent audio performance
Blacks could’ve been deeper
Hotstar is missing from the Tizen Store
Voice recognition needs some work
Ratings (out of 5)
Value for money: 3.5