Samsung The Frame review
A Smart Painting for the 21st century in all but name
It’s a given that one of the most popular technology products of the last 50 years, the television, would gradually evolve from the ugly little rounded box of the ’60s to the monstrous rectangular box of the 90s to the flat and easy-on-the-eyes device of the 00s to the slim and beautiful surface of the last decade. But during all this time most of us probably assumed that its main functionality, displaying TV content of all kinds, would remain largely the same. Internet connectivity changed that to a certain extent, Smart TV even more so and Samsung clearly has a few ideas about how that functionality could be changed forever with its TV models collectively called The Frame.
The Frame belongs to Samsung’s Lifestyle TVs category, along with other exotic models such as the purely decorative The Serif or the oddly vertical The Sero. It’s not the kind of television yours truly is usually keen on reviewing, to be perfectly honest, as it is image quality and the evolution of cinematic picture that he’s mostly interested in. But after playing with the 65-inch model of The Frame for a few days it’s hard for anyone to not walk away impressed, as this is a unique TV that does tick all the boxes it’s supposed to. Is it a recommended buy for most people, though? That’s the question this piece will provide an answer to.
The look of a framed painting… literally
There are obviously already many TVs out there that are impressively, even spectacularly designed, but there’s no other quite like The Frame because… well, this one goes for a specific look: it strives to remind people of a modern painting. It is so slim, it is framed in such a way and placed so effectively flush against a wall that Samsung’s device actually pulls it off: from a couple of steps back, displaying works of art, The Frame looks exactly like a painting in a modern, minimalistic frame. It’s only when one notices the single thin cable necessary to power it and connect it to external sources that it becomes apparent that this is actually an active TV screen in operation. So, design-wise, The Frame nails it.
Samsung’s lifestyle TV comes with a standard-looking stand, too, which can also be adjusted to two different heights in order to accommodate a soundbar. In all honesty, though, The Frame’s specific design does not work quite as well when on top of some furniture. The stand is welcome of course — and there’s even a special tripod-like “Studio” floor stand available for the smaller models of this TV — but the very fact that the Koreans decided to include the “no-gap” wall mount in The Frame’s packaging (it’s sold separately with any other Samsung TV model) is telling. This truly is meant to be shown off as a painting and the company made sure that consumers can choose to do exactly that without any extra cost.
Also telling is The Frame’s other important design feature: the frames of the screen themselves. These are detachable and interchangeable with frames of different colors or types so the TV can be easily integrated with the interior design of any given room. The Frame comes with the plain black frames that make it look like a typical TV, but there are at least five different ones that can be purchased separately from Samsung itself while the company has also worked with a number of different resellers that build their own unique, premium, much more intricate frames.
Samsung’s frames cost around $100/€100 — which may not be pocket change but it’s not that much money either — while resellers’ frames can go as high as €300/$300 for frames that look like e.g. different types of wood or metal. No matter what kind of interior decoration consumers have gone for in their existing homes, chances are that there’s a frame out there for, well, The Frame, that can match it.
A fully-featured Smart TV in disguise
The different models of The Frame available — they go from just 43 inches all the way to 85 — are not cheap but there’s a better reason for that than just, you know, lifestyle overcharging: they offer the vast majority of features that Samsung’s hi-end TV models do. The OneConnect external input box, for instance, usually comes with the company’s top QLED models but it makes perfect sense for The Frame because it allows consumers to conveniently place it someplace near the TV where it’s not drawing any attention (the very thin optical cable connecting the two is also easy to hide).
That box offers plenty of modern connectivity with any kind of source, be it a media player, disc player, PC or games console — it even offers a full-featured HDMI 2.1 port, even though it’s highly unlikely that The Frame will be used for gaming by most of this particular TV’s target group. There are a couple of USB ports that can be connected to storage for direct access to all kinds of multimedia files, an Ethernet port for Internet access (the TV itself offers Wi-Fi connectivity obviously), ports and even an optical audio-out port, for whatever reason. In connectivity terms, there’s almost nothing missing from The Frame that every hi-end Samsung TV brings to the table.
The Frame is just as fully featured software-wise. It’s based on Samsung’s latest TV operating system, Tizen 6, which offers access to all the popular streaming apps, a healthy selection of dozens more of all kinds, a proper media player, as well as smart home integration. It can be voice-controlled by Bixby, Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant — a feature that works well within the context of a huge digital frame that’s put on a wall. Even advanced functionality that yours truly previously admired on Samsung’s flagship 8K TV, the QN900A, is present, including smartphone mirroring, personal computer use through remote access, webcam compatibility and many others.
A software feature that is unique to The Frame is the Art Mode function. This is different from the Ambient Mode function that has been present in many Samsung TVs during the last few years: it does not just display pictures but rather takes full control of The Frame in order to make it work pretty much as a big, ultra-powerful digital frame. It uses the device’s motion sensor, for instance, in order to turn itself off and conserve energy when nobody’s around or turn itself on as soon as it senses a presence it the room. It also uses a light sensor in order to make adjustments to the displayed picture so that it looks its best in different conditions e.g. brightening it up when there’s a lot of ambient light in the room.
Art Mode can also work alongside an Art Store Internet subscription service Samsung offers for access to an amazingly wide range of works of art classic and modern. That is a nice option to have but, thankfully, not entirely necessary, as consumers can still transfer their own artwork and other images in the TV’s internal 16 GB storage and display them on The Frame’s screen just as easily.
Picture quality more than good enough, shame about the sound
The Frame is built to be used in any kind of room, at all hours of the day, under any lighting conditions, displaying art and entertainment content in equal measure. It’s not a “cinematic TV” or a “sports TV”: it’s a designer TV first and foremost — a lifestyle TV as Samsung calls it — so picture quality is arguably not of the same importance. This particular television is assessed based on different criteria. Having said that, all models of The Frame cost as much as — if not more than — TVs offering perfectly decent or even great picture quality for content watching, so it’s still something to consider. How does The Frame fare in that regard?
The Frame is among a handful of Samsung televisions that make use of Dual LED display tech. This combines backlighting of two different “temperatures” in order to offer balanced but punchy colors, high enough contrast and deeper blacks, while the company’s Quantum Dot tech helps with the more vibrant hues (especially in higher brightness levels). The result is very, very good overall: as long as art and content are displayed in conventional SDR color any type of content is displayed accurately. The Frame is also bright enough to overcome most ambient light, so reflections are usually — but not always — handled effectively. Direct sunlight or strong indoor lights positioned opposite the screen do cause problems, though, so owners of The Frame will have to carefully pick its spot. Viewing angles admittedly could be much better, too, but this TV’s intended use case makes this less of an issue — although it does lessen the “painting on the wall” effect.
It’s important to note that The Frame only offers typical backlighting as opposed to the advanced local dimming backlight systems or even the MiniLED backlight systems other Samsung televisions rely on. This means that when e.g. demanding cinematic content requires blinding highlights or dazzling neon colors of its screen — such as modern movies going for impressive HDR effects — The Frame inevitably does not fare as well as most hi-end TVs. This is to be expected and it is a conscious choice on Samsung’s part, as the vast majority of what The Frame will be displaying is probably not Hollywood blockbuster material. It’s just something that prospective owners of this TV have to keep in mind.
What people thinking of getting The Frame should also keep in mind is the fact that this television only offers average sound quality. It’s a matter of physics: one simply can’t expect many and/or big sound drivers to fit in a TV designed to be thin and put on a wall like a painting, so The Frame leaves a lot to be desired, sonically speaking. Dialogue is ofter not as clear as it should be, booming effects are subdued and music sounds rather flat at times. For a screen that is meant to work more like an art piece and less like a television, it’s not a deal-breaker but, again, something to keep in mind.
So is The Frame a TV that should be on everyone’s list?
In a word: no. Taking all of the above into account it’s not hard to see why The Frame is not for everyone and, frankly, it does not pretend that it is. This is a premium product built to appeal to a specific target group, not the mainstream market or a typical consumer looking for a new TV, and that is perfectly fine: to people in need of a good TV set who are not that interested in that set’s role as an art piece or a design statement, Samsung offers a number of other models. The closer one can think of in terms of functionality and picture quality is the QLED Q60A, for instance, which is way more affordable than The Frame too.
What The Frame promises, though, to its intended target group it certainly delivers: it’s not absolutely perfect, but it really is the closest thing to a Smart Painting in the market right now. As such it can be easily recommended to anyone interested in decorating any kind of room, corporate or living space with the ultimate design piece, an interactive audiovisual element capable of blending in and standing out in equal measure. It’s safe to assume that for many of those people who want and can afford The Frame for its intended function, there are other sets in the house that work better as cinematic televisions or sports event displays. This one? This is (for) art.