Collecting art is a lavish hobby. Netgear's Meural Canvas II offers to make it a bit more accessible. That is, if you're okay viewing Degas or Seurat on an LCD display and still have $400 to spare.
While some of Meural's Wi-Fi digital art frames cost as much as an original gallery piece, Netgear's latest product, the Canvas II, comes at a more palatable price and offers an expansive virtual art collection.
And Meural's hardware is only half the product. Its app and membership unlock thousands of works from famed painters and promising photographers. It's the ultimate gift for the art enthusiast, short of an all-expenses-paid trip to Paris.
Meural Canvas II price and Meural membership
The Meural Canvas II unit I reviewed costs $399.95. The larger 19 x 29-inch variant costs a heftier $599.95. And any of the premium wood frame finishes will tack on another $100 to your cost, while a swivel wall mount that lets you rotate your Canvas between portrait and landscape orientations costs another $49.95.
Long story short, you'll likely end up paying more than $400 before you've even looked at Meural's memberships. It costs $69.95 per year or $8.95 per month for access to Meural's expansive art library, and you can't view more than a few works without the subscription. Even then, you'll have to pay an extra fee to access some of Meural's premium playlists.
Meural Canvas II design
The Meural Canvas II looks like a standard art or photo frame, but thicker. Its 16 x 24 x 2-inch body creates an unassuming shadow-box effect on the 21-inch display when viewed from any distance that's more than a few feet away. However, the black plastic frame bordering the unit really underserves the Canvas II's aesthetic. Plus, its paint scraped easily. I would likely opt for a premium wood frame if I were to buy one.
One side of the Canvas II has a power button, a dock for an SD card and a micro USB input. Both blend in well and won't distract from the illusion that Meural's frame isn't electronic. The power cable, on the other hand, could be a pain to deal with. You might want to obscure it with furniture or run a conduit through your wall if you want to avoid unsightly cords.
Meural Canvas II picture quality
The Meural II's 1920 x 1080p LCD display has a matte finish that prevents glare and makes it look more elegant than a TV showing a photo. It also supports strong off-angle viewing. Van Gogh's self-portrait maintained its brightness and color as I moved around the room.
The Canvas II doesn't have a video input like a TV or monitor might, so I didn't use our typical lab testing to obtain detailed display data. But I'm fairly confident such testing would back my anecdotal experience that the color reproduction appears realistic. I even fooled a few passersby into thinking the Canvas II held a printed image of Frida Khalo's "The Broken Column" rather than a digitally recreated one.
There's no denying Meural's display is stunning. The company's patented True Art Technology claims to bring 16.7 million colors to life, and I'd believe it, given the rich blacks and complex hues I saw in Goya's "Two Old Men" and other famous paintings.
And for photography, the Canvas II's resolution is high enough that my colleague mistook stray hairs on a dress shirt in a Dorothea Lange portrait for scruff on the display. When I uploaded photos of my dog captured on an iPhone 11 Pro Max, I could see the leathery texture of his perfect little nose.
MORE: See our Lenovo Smart Frame review
Setting up the Meural Canvas II was mostly painless. I opted to stand it on an easel for the sake of simplicity, but you can mount it on the wall if you'd prefer. Meural provides basic mounting materials and includes a leveler to help you hang your Canvas evenly.
There is a caveat with Meural's mount, though. It's ill-disposed to alternate between portrait and landscape orientation. If you imagine you'll want to flip it somewhat regularly, consider investing in Meural's swiveling wall mount. The Lenovo Smart Frame, coming later in 2020, will include a swivel mount in its $399 fee. I wish Meural did, too.
Meural's digital art library
Much of Meural's appeal lies in its dynamic art library. Viewable on the web or on the Meural app (iOS and Android), Meural's collection includes more than 30,000 works. When you discover a playlist or work you like, click "Send to Canvas," and it should begin downloading onto your Canvas right away. It never took more than a few seconds in my testing.
Meural's playlists are editorialized by artists, like Georges Seurat; color themes, like Pantone's 281 C deep blue; moods for events, like New Year's Eve; and museum galleries, like what you'll find on display right now at the Louvre or the Hungarian National Gallery. Meural also partners with properties such as Marvel and Game of Thrones to bring movie stills and concept art to life.
As broad as Meural's library may be, I was disappointed that my search for Dali and Warhol came up short. Meural says it's constantly adding more work to its collection, but I would want to know that my favorite artists' masterpieces are available before I get a Canvas.
You can also upload your own art to your canvas from your phone's camera roll or an SD card. Meural supports JPG, GIF, PNG, BMP, SVG, MP4 and MOV files. But I found Canvas II looks more like a giant digital photo frame than a premium art display when showing my amateur photography.
Motion gestures and smart features
What's new about the Canvas II versus the original is the introduction of motion sensors beneath the bottom and side borders. You can swipe your hand in front of the sensors to shuffle through a playlist of images, pull up a work's information and adjust your device's settings. I found the technology worked well on the Canvas II.
The Canvas II has neat scheduling features, too. You can set what time you want your Canvas to go to sleep and when to display playlists. You can also adjust the time your photos change, from once every 2 seconds to once every week or sometime in between. Similarly, you can set the Canvas to go to sleep when you turn off the lights.
You won't be able to integrate the Canvas II into your smart home system, though, which I consider a major drawback. I would love to ask Alexa or Google Assistant to change playlists, or at least incorporate the device's scheduling into my existing routines.
Meural vs. the competition
While digital picture frames have been around for some time, there are only a few available that are Meural's size. The Canvas II might remind you of Samsung's Frame, which also doubles as a 4K TV and starts at $800 for a 43-inch unit that only displays art in landscape orientation. The Samsung Art Store only has 1,000 works available to view, too.
Then there's Canvia, which is closer in experience to the Meural. Prices for its 27 x 18-inch frames start at $550 but include a year of access to Canvia's 10,000-plus art library. An annual membership costs $120 after the first year.
The Lenovo Smart Frame ($399), which is coming out later this year, features a 21-inch matte display and includes a swivel mount. It also sports built-in microphones and dual 2-watt speakers. Lenovo says the speakers and mics won't be active at launch but might be used to add smart assistant functionality to the frame.
The Meural Canvas II hasn't quite convinced me, a casual gallerygoer, to join the virtual art collection trade. However, art enthusiasts will love the true-to-life display and Meural's massive work library. I just wish that the annual subscription gave me access to all of its artwork.
If you're looking for something with more emphasis on personal photography, the forthcoming Lenovo Smart Frame might be more your speed. But the Canvas II's competitive pricing makes it worth a glance among digital home decor devices. It lets you visit hundreds of museums and exhibits without ever leaving home. Which, when considering the crowd permanently stationed around the "Mona Lisa" in Paris, seems like a great idea.