Meural Canvas II review: Picture perfect

(Pocket-lint) – Digital photo frames were all the rage at the turn of the century – when we realised that we could actually share our images as if they were digital prints.

The trouble was the frames were often tiny, the quality of the screen lacklustre, and the hassle of getting the images onto the screen in the first place was a pain.

Fast-forward to today and a subsidiary of Netgear – yes, the networking company – has taken things to the extreme by offering a digital photo canvas that comes in sizes up to 27-inches. But are the results any good and is it worth that asking price? Here’s what we make of the Meural Canvas II.

Design

  • Size options: 21.5-inch and 27-inch
  • Resolution: 1920 x 1080 (Full HD)
  • 8GB of storage, SD Card slot
  • Wi-Fi (a/b/g/n/ac) & Ethernet

The Canvas II comes in two sizes: the 21.5-inch offers a 4:3 aspect ratio, while the 27-inch is much more elongated with a 16:9 aspect ratio. Whichever you choose both offer a Full HD anti-glare display.

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This isn’t just a TV called by a different name, though, as the Canvas II does everything it can to convince you it’s a photo frame. That includes featuring a white mount around the display – as you would have in a traditional picture frame in a gallery – and an interchangeable wooden frame to give it that finishing touch.

Minimalist frame options include black, white, dark wood or light wood. If you’re looking for something more ornate you’ll have to try and make your own, but the combination of the mount and the frame really help make the experience more picture frame than TV.

Hanging is as easy as hanging a picture frame. There’s an optional swivel mount to make changing from landscape to portrait as easy as possible without having to re-hang the picture frame every time. If you wall-mount, however, then keep in mind that there’s a power cable that you’ll need to hide away.

The included 2.44m/8ft cable means you should be able to reach a nearby power socket without too much hassle, while there is also an Ethernet option for those wanting to ensure a guaranteed connection to the internet – if you can handle yet another cable. Most will therefore opt for Wi-Fi instead.

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If you’re wanting to get images on the device from other sources, there’s an SD card slot and the Canvas II also supports Bluetooth transfer.

Enjoying your pictures

  • SD card support
  • Bluetooth enabled

Once you’ve hung the Canvas II – either landscape or portrait – it’s time to get started filling it with images.

The simple way would be to treat it like a digital photo frame of yesteryear and go about showcasing your own photos from either an SD card or by connecting your phone. While that’s very possible and very easy, it’s not really what the Meural Canvas II is about.

Meural membership

  • Optional yearly membership: access to over 30,000 images including Van Gogh and others
  • Can connect your own photo albums via app
  • Amazon Alexa and gesture controls

Canvas II comes with 42 images installed out of the box, and of course, you can just concentrate on enjoying your own photos. But the real focus here is to connect a yearly membership – an optional extra at £69.95/$69.95 a year – and then start enjoying works of art from various artists past and present and various galleries and museums around the globe.

It’s this experience – along with its dedicated app – that sets the Meural Canvas II apart from being ‘just another photo frame’. However, we found the app to be very buggy and prone to freezing if you ask too much of it and any given time.

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The mix of artists is impressive, with plenty to suit all tastes from classical to modern. Beyond the included membership offerings there’s the chance to buy artworks too – the prices vary depending on the number of images and the artist selling. Members will get discounts. 

All this is managed by an online portal on an Android or iPhone app, which is broken down into five sections – Discover, Browse, Upload, Your Library, and Canvas – meaning you don’t really have to touch the Canvas II once you’ve hung it on the wall.

Discover is effectively a curated area of the app that will recommend painting or photos from the 30,000-plus images available for you to enjoy either based on new images added to the service or because it’s a given time of the year – winter, for example.

Browse lets you discover the images for yourself – be it by searching for a specific artist, category, or museum.

Upload and Your Library lets you connect and share your images from either your photos app or smart albums, while Canvas gives you control over the device and its settings.

There are various settings to play around with, including the ability to ensure the display only shows works that match its current orientation – no landscape pictures showing on a portrait orientated Canvas II, for example – and just how long you want each image to show before moving on to the next one you’ve got in your catalogue (or ‘playlist’, if you like).

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There’s a few extra clever settings too like auto-adjusting the brightness so it doesn’t glare too much, or going to sleep when the room is dark.

And once it’s all setup you can then ditch the phone too, and opt to perform basic controls via a series of gestures (which can be a bit convoluted) or via an Amazon Alexa voice skill. There is no Google Assistant or Siri support.

If you just want to automate everything as much as you can, there’s a scheduling option to have the Canvas II turn on and off when you want and what pictures you want it to show.

What’s missing is the ability to just have someone else pick a daily photo for you, so be prepared to spend some time finding the images you want at the start to get yourself going. 

Picture quality

  • TrueArt tech
  • Ambient light sensor
  • 7m colours

Although the screen only offers a Full HD resolution on an LCD panel – rather than 4K OLED one – it still looks fantastic. Whether it’s a snap you’ve taken yourself or something from Monet or Jackson Pollock.

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Paint swirls come across vibrant on the matte display, with TrueArt tech (that’s Meural’s colour algorithm) and ambient light sensor helping to fool you into believing you have the original artwork or a high-quality print of it in your room regardless of what angle you look at the screen from. And it really does work.

Whether that’s enjoying The Great Wave Off Kanagawa by Katsushika Hokusai or Morning Sun by Edward Hopper it really does feel like you are looking at a real painting. Even Vincent Van Gogh with all his trademark oil swirls come across crystal clear.

Our only real complaint in the visual department is that because it’s a backlit screen it does add an extra layer of vibrancy – something we found we could combat against by turned down to the lowest setting to minimise the glowing experience – which, in some conditions, will take away that print-like quality.

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It’s not just for static images, as there are plenty of moving images available too, which again plays to the screen technology’s strengths and the fact that it’s a display and not an actual print. Although, depending on how you look at it, that kind of goes against its point.

Verdict

If you enjoy your art and feel that you need more in your house – whether it’s famous works or merely your own efforts – then the Meural Canvas II certainly delivers. The picture quality is stunning and the range of pictures through the membership option is enough to keep everything fresh and waiting in anticipation of what the next image will be.

Our main complaint is that we found the app kept hanging or crashing – we tried it on a number of phones, and it was the same experience – which got frustrating after a while. It would also be nice to have a more hands-off option where you can have the service build much bigger catalogue/playlist – such as all landscape photos, for example. 

There’s no getting around that it’s on the pricey side – certainly compared to just using a TV instead – and that the subscription further adds to the cost. But once you start enjoying the experience, it feels like so much more than ‘just another digital photo frame’.

Writing by Stuart Miles. Editing by Mike Lowe.





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