TVs are better than ever in 2021, but almost all of them leave a black box on your wall or whatever surface they’re sitting on. Samsung’s The Frame strikes a different chord, ditching the ugly black box for a design that looks like a frame to hold art or a picture. When the TV goes off, the art turns on.
That’s the Frame’s appeal and for those wondering, it does function as you’d expect a 4K QLED TV to. That means vibrant colors, deep blacks and an overall sharp picture with access to many streaming services through Samsung’s smart interface.
It doesn’t come cheap, though — The Frame starts at $999 for a 43-inch model, and the actual frame isn’t in the box. So is it worth it? We’ve spent a week with the 2021 edition to see if Samsung’s delivered a true work of art. Let’s run our brush through paint and break it down.
The who, what and how
Who this is for: Samsung’s The Frame TV is for anyone who’s willing to pay a premium for a great-looking TV that also doubles as a work of art when it’s turned off.
What you need to know: At its core, the Frame is a 4K QLED TV, so you can rest easy knowing it will deliver a good picture. Its biggest highlight is its design with customizable bezels and an Art Mode that displays art when the TV is off. You’ll need to subscribe, but you get access to over 1,000 works of art that you can cycle through and leave displaying — at a brightness that fits your space — when the TV is not in use. Just know you’ll need to buy the frame separately.
How this compares: Samsung’s The Frame really sits in a TV sector of its own. LG’s Gallery options are both more expensive (starting at $1,799 for a 55-inch) and use an OLED panel instead of a QLED. The Frame TV is a lifestyle model that focuses on the design and the unique functionality of Art Mode. It meets the bar for a 4K picture that’s great for movies and TV shows as well. Samsung’s The Frame sits in the upper regions of 4K TVs and delivers a great picture; it’s not best in class, though, with the TCL 6-Series offering more detail, thanks to Mini LEDs, at a similar price point. It also falls behind on vibrancy when compared with Samsung’s Neo QLED models.
Framing the TV
At the heart of Samsung’s The Frame is a pretty standard 4K resolution screen. To be specific, it’s a 4K QLED panel from Samsung, and that means it’s an LED backlight paired with a Quantum Dot layer. This works in tandem with Samsung’s Quantum Processor 4K to create an image. So that’s The Frame’s screen, and out of the box, it looks like a pretty standard design.
You’ll quickly learn that the frame part of The Frame doesn’t really come in the box. The traditional black bezel here is really just a border and doesn’t deliver the effect that The Frame promises. To get that, you’ll need to spend between $99 and $199 for a “customizable bezel,” and while it’s technically an optional add-on, it’s all but a written requirement. Samsung offers various designs, including a proper black frame, alongside white, brown and a nice modern teak to make up for it. We’ve been testing the latter and as a New Jersey native, the texture and color of the “wood” reminds us of the shore.
While the frame doesn’t come included in the box, the setup is done in an instant. You’ll get the four pieces — two longer pieces for the top and bottom, while two pieces shorter in length flank the right or left. Best of all, these are magnetic, so they’ll snap to the sides of the TV with ease. And trust us, it’s a better snap than what Thanos did. There are also four pieces of plastic that you’ll use to lock the bezel into place on the back. This is especially recommended if wall-mounted; after all, you don’t want a piece coming loose.
The other core aspect to the design is that if you opt to display it on a wall, it uses a no-gap wall mount. This essentially means that it’s just on the wall in the same way a frame would be. Typically with a normal TV mount, there’s a gap between the wall and it’s not a flush install. Samsung’s The Frame is designed to be flush and it can really be the centerpiece of the room — even when it’s not displaying a video, as it can be showing a work of art. That’s the magic trick.
The Frame also has a single port on the back that uses Samsung’s proprietary “One Invisible Connection” plug to go from the TV to the One Connect box. So yes, you won’t be plugging in peripherals to the back but instead to a sizable box that needs to be placed elsewhere. Samsung’s relocated the ports to another piece of hardware and, luckily, it’s included in the box. It’s a handy solution for cable management, especially if setting up The Frame on a wall or a home entertainment stand. For the latter, Samsung does include a stand in the box (made up of two legs). And this One Connect box solves the problem of blindly trying to plug a cable into the back of the TV. It’s a nice touch and makes sense in a setup like this.
Mounting it and the rest took about 15 minutes in our testing — done in a snap. And after all that, The Frame does like quite nice in the room and is certainly more of a talking point than a traditional TV. The bezel gives it a sense of warmth and a homey feeling. It also doesn’t distract from the TV viewing experience, which we’ll touch on in a bit.
Pick a piece of art, any piece of art, from this 1,000+ piece library
Aside from The Frame, Art Mode is what makes this TV a beast. For $49.99 per year or $4.99 per month, you can subscribe to the Art Store for access to over 1,000 pieces of art — from paintings to photographs with a lot in between. While you will be offered a free trial for about a week, we think it’s worth the purchase.
We’ve spent the better part of a week sifting through different pieces of art — ranging from flowing shots of the ocean (that have us no longer screaming serenity now) or paintings that can transport us somewhere else. Chances are there’s a good selection for everyone — but the real star aspect is that you can find something to fit your space, whether that’s a 75-inch Frame hung over the fireplace or a 43-inch Frame mounted vertically in the office. You can make it work from a large selection.
And yes, Samsung does add in new works of art pretty routinely as well. The Frame itself features 16GB of internal storage — up from 500MB in previous years — to store art from the store and your photos.
You can even send your photos to the big screen. It could be a shot from a vacation, a family portrait or even one of a lovely dog. We loved showcasing our niece Charlie and sister Georgia, a bernadoodle and poodle, respectively, on the 43-inch Frame. You’ll need to use the SmartThings app for Android or iOS to send your photos, but it’s very easy to do. The Frame itself also fully integrates here, so you can get full control from the app if you misplace the remote.
Here’s the story — when the TV is off, it switches to Art Mode. This way, it showcases the art at a brightness that matches the room it’s in. If it’s late evening with lower-level lighting, it won’t be an extremely bright scene. It matches the room in the same way that Apple’s True Tone tech works on iPhones and iPads. It uses a light sensor to match the brightness of the room. It’s a neat trick, and there’s also an energy-saving mode that can have it turn off after a while.
It’s really a joy to see and picks up on a key annoyance of regular TVs. When they’re off or not in use, they’re really just a black screen. Yes, if you have an Apple TV 4K or a Roku hooked up (or even by default), it can play a screensaver. But that still pulls minimal power and can cause distractions. With the Frame it’s a single piece of art that’s on and can fill the room. It also enables us to write in front of it versus a TV with a moving screensaver that can be distracting.
Samsung’s just crafted a really nice experience here, and it’s not necessarily one that you’d think of, without actually having The Frame. Staring at a blank black box on a home entertainment table (or if you’re a TV reviewer, multiples just hanging around) is pretty dull. The Frame makes good use of that space.
It’s a great 4K picture
Along with displaying art, Samsung makes a solid 4K QLED panel in 2021 that works great for TV shows and movies alike. The 43-inch variant of The Frame brings a certain degree of vibrancy that doesn’t necessarily cause an image to look unrealistic but adds a pop to it while also delivering some profound blacks. It’s an improvement with the overall contrast ratio from previous Frame iterations.
For instance, when watching an episode of “Bad Batch” streaming through Disney+ onto The Frame, we could easily see the details derived from the animations of characters like Wrecker or Omega. Still, we could also see the depth and darkness that might lurk around the corner when they were hanging in the cantina.
The first few episodes of “WandaVision” on Disney+ were also a great showcase of the contrast points on The Frame. The panel effortlessly handled a multitude of black, white and grayscale tones with relative ease. It was effectively able to handle the color without overloading it.
Overall, the performance of The Frame is excellent, but not ultimately best in class. It falls behind Samsung’s own Neo QLED, which features local dimming and Mini LEDs for more extreme controls over color and contrast. Though we’d hedge the latter here is pretty close to on par. The Frame’s performance is similar to the TCL 6-Series, our top pick for Best TV, but lacks a bit in vibrancy, thanks to the Mini LEDs. Samsung’s upscaling tech and overall rendering is a little better trained than that of TCL to handle a range of content from reality TV to cable news with movies and live shows in between.
Samsung’s smart TV interface is also a top performer. It’s not as user-friendly or as open as Roku or Google TV, but the big hitters are all featured (Netflix, Hulu, Apple TV+ and Disney+, to name a few). If you have a Samsung Galaxy smartphone you can also mirror your phone’s content and gain some extra controls on The Frame.
It also supports control through Amazon Alexa or the Google Assistant. What’s missing here is a deep integration with Apple’s HomeKit platform like other TVs (Sony’s A90J and TCL 6-Series) offer. You will find AirPlay compatibility on The Frame, allowing you to mirror or cast content from Apple devices to the display easily.
Another key part of this whole equation is a surprisingly great remote. It’s the classic Samsung smart TV remote with a nice ergonomic build and a minimal amount of buttons, but you won’t notice a user-removable door on the back for battery access. Instead, it’s a solar cell that will recharge the battery through the light in your home. It’s not only good for the environment but should also make the remote dying a thing of the past.
Is the Frame TV worth it?
If you care more about the design of a TV than the actual picture, Samsung’s The Frame might be a perfect brushstroke for you. It pairs a truly next-level design that not only gives off warmth but adds something to your home, with a great 4K panel and unique Art Mode functionality.
The Frame isn’t an average TV, so there’s an extra cost. Its starting price of $999 for a 43-inch display, plus an additional $100 for a frame bezel, isn’t the cheapest. It’s a lifestyle TV at heart, and no doubt for the design-conscious it won’t disappoint. If you’re just looking for an all-around good picture we’d take a look at the TCL 6-Series, which offers a bigger screen size for the same price.
Samsung’s The Frame is available now at $999 for a 43-inch, $1,299 for a 50-inch, $1,499 for a 55-inch, $1,999 for a 65-inch and $2,999 for a 75-inch. The customizable bezels vary from size to size but range between $99 and $199.