Aura Sawyer digital photo frame review

I’m a big fan of digital photo frames, like the versatile selection by Aura. You can display an endless slideshow of your favourite photos—while taking up way less shelf space than dozens of traditional photo frames. The photos never fade. They make great gifts as well, especially these days when people can’t necessarily see each other in person.

Wi-Fi digital photo frames up the ante by letting you upload photos directly from your smartphone, within moments of taking them. I’ve tested dozens of digital photo frames, and I have yet to find one that I would choose over an Aura Frame. In fact, a first-generation Aura Wi-Fi digital photo frame has been in a prime spot in my family’s living room for the past four years. I just wrapped up testing of one of the company’s most popular new models, the Aura Sawyer.

Aura Sawyer and Aura Mason have a lot to offer

Before i explain how to set up and use and Aura Digital Frame, I first want to mention that the Sawyer I am testing is part of a broader selection of new Aura frames available. For example, if you find that the 9.7 inch display on the Aura Sawyer is a little too large for the room, Aura has a smaller option in the Aura Mason, with an 8.75 inch display. Both the Sawyer and Mason are available in a variety of frame colours and styles. Both are have the same great features loved by Aura owners. The Mason is just a little smaller, you won’t be giving up anything from the Aura experience. For my home, however, the Sawyer is my new favourite.

Easy setup, and an easy-to-use app

I mentioned I’ve reviewed dozens of digital photo frames. Each of these has its own setup routine, and the Wi-Fi connected versions have had apps as well. The experience in setting most of them up ranges from terrible (I’ve had more than one that arrived without English instructions and a poorly translated app) to reasonable.

The Aura Sawyer is one of the most straightforward of the bunch, and the Aura Frames App has been honed to be very intuitive to use. You do not need to be a techie to set up and use this digital photo frame—or any of Aura’s frames, for that matter, as they all use the same app.

The frame itself is attractively designed. Mine was a matte textured Shale, which is actually a dark, slate blue in the right light. The Sawyer is also available in Mica (an off-white) for those who prefer a lighter look.

A power adapter is included in the box. Choose whether to position the Sawyer in landscape or portrait mode, plug in the power, and the stand clicks into place using magnets. Power it up, and you’ll be walked through the process of setting it up and adding photos using the Aura Frames App.

One of the things I appreciate about Aura is how diligently they stay on top of their app. During the time I’ve owned an Aura frame, I have seen frequent updates. Not just for compatibility with the latest smartphones, mobile operating systems, and Aura frame hardware, but also to tweak the functionality.

Give one as a gift!

As part of the setup using the Aura Frames App, you have the option of configuring the Sawyer as a gift. You could just send someone the unopened frame, but if you choose to set up an Aura frame as a gift, the app walks you through connecting to your Wi-Fi network and uploading photos. When the recipient opens their gift, they are prompted to connect to their own Wi-Fi network, then all those photos automatically show up. They acquire full control of the frame, but it’s preloaded with photos from you, which makes it that much more special.

Wi-Fi is required, not a wall-mount frame

I should note that there are a few things to keep in mind with Aura digital photo frames. First, Wi-Fi is a must-have. They need to be connected to a Wi-Fi network to function, unlike frames that run a slideshow from local storage. You also won’t find an SD card slot or any other way to upload photos—the Aura Frames App is it. The home where this digital photo frame is being used must have Wi-Fi, and someone with a smart device to run the app. There are no fees for the secure, cloud photo service.

It’s also worth mentioning that Aura frames are not intended to be wall mounted. You can switch between landscape and portrait mode, but they are meant to be placed on a flat surface.

What makes the Aura Sawyer a premium digital photo frame?

The Aura Sawyer costs more than the typical digital photo frame. However, this is a case where the extra cost is justified—you’re not just paying for a logo, you are getting a superior experience.

Compared to an average typical photo frame, you’ll notice the materials used to make the Aura are on the higher end. It looks like a high quality photo frame—even the power cable, which is covered in braided cloth. At 9.7 inches, the display is larger than many. More importantly, that display is far more capable than most. It has a resolution of 2048 x 1536 pixels. That’s 264 PPI, which puts this digital photo frame in the same league as some heavy-hitting tablets. The display isn’t just high resolution, it also displays a high degree of colour accuracy. The Sawyer also features a built-in light sensor that adjusts the screen brightness based on ambient light. This prevents the image from looking dim in bright light, or from having details blown out by too much back-lighting in a dark room.    

Aura Sawyer digital photo frame review
The Aura Sawyer is built with premium materials and components, including a high resolution 9.7 inch display.

Another great feature the Sawyer offers is integrated touch strips on the frame edge. My original Aura frame lacks this feature, and I really wish it had it. The touch edge lets you interact with photos directly on the display (liking photos, deleting unwanted ones, swiping forward and back) without touching the glass. This prevents smudgy fingerprints all over your photos.

The app also adds to the experience. It’s easy to add photos to your frame (or multiple frames, if you own more than one or have been invited to share with another) from anywhere. Just snap a photo on your smartphone and select it in the Aura Frames App. Aura’s software does a great job of optimizing photos by screen and photo orientation, and even helps to prevent poor (blurry) shots from making an appearance.

It not only supports photo uploads from Google Photos, but the Sawyer is also Alexa and Google Assistant compatible.

These same points hold true for all the frames in the Aura lineup. These are digital photo frames that are designed to bring a premium touch—with high end materials, high resolution displays, high-tech features to optimize the viewing experience, and an intuitive app.

Aura Sawyer digital photo frame reviewIf you really enjoy your digital photos, the Aura Sawyer delivers

Inexpensive digital photo frames have their place. I have one mounted to the wall in my office near my stereo that rotates through a collection of classic album covers. It’s a great addition to the decor. However, when it comes to displaying family photos, I prefer a higher end version with a large display, superior image quality, and, ideally, a frame that doesn’t look like cheap plastic. That’s why I think the Aura Sawyer is well worth spending a little extra on. 

With its 9.7 inch high resolution display, you’re simply not going to find a digital photo frame that does a better job of displaying your photos. The Wi-Fi connectivity, app ease of use, automatic orientation optimization, and ability to invite others to share their photos are wins as well. The premium frame materials make it something you’ll be happy to have displayed on a shelf or desktop. I really like the edge mounted touch controls on the Sawyer. But it’s that detailed, colourful image that draws me back every time. 

I’m not the only one. Have a look at the Best Buy customer reviews for the Aura Sawyer, and you’ll see an overwhelmingly positive response. This digital photo frame rates a tough-to-beat 4.9 stars out of five—with 393 reviews posted. In other words, if you want a digital photo frame to highlight those pictures of your family, friends, pets, events, and memorable trips, an Aura Digital Frame is as good as it gets.

Finally, if you find that the 9.7 inch display on the Aura Sawyer is a little too large for the room, Aura has a smaller option in the Aura Mason, with an 8.75 inch display (also available in a variety of frame colours and styles). It shares the same 4.9 out of five stars rating, so you know that by going a little smaller, you won’t be giving up anything from the Aura experience.

Brad Moon
Editor Computing solutions
I’m a long-time electronics and gadget geek who’s been fortunate enough to enjoy a career that lets me indulge this interest. After 13 years as a product manager with a leading Canadian tech company, I transitioned into a full-time career of writing about technology. I’ve contributed to a range of publications and websites including Forbes, Wired, Gizmodo, Lifehacker, About.com, MSN Money, the Winnipeg Free Press, InvestorPlace Media, Shaw Media and—combining technology and my three kids—I’ve been a Core Contributor to the award winning GeekDad blog since its launch in 2007.

6 COMMENTS

  1. I love that it uses WiFi. Being able to connect to my phone will be quick, easy and painless. I know my 19 yr old daughter would love this too. Can always be updating easily with what is new in life.

  2. That’s a tough one. I haven’t heard of any photo frames that connect to the internet without having a home Wi-Fi network to connect to… This might be one of those cases where you’re better off buying a digital frame that supports USB or SD card loading. You could load the photo frame up before sending, and they could manually add more photos when someone sends a thumb drive or memory card. Not the most convenient, but that’s how it worked before Wi-Fi frames…

  3. Aura Sawyer is my choice love how the connect to wifi so easy to send pictures to it and the bigger display is the perfect choice.

  4. Are there any digital frames that have their own wifi, for example through a cell service. I am looking for a senior who does not have wifi with kids spread across the country that would like to be able to add photos.

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