Art that focuses on technology, video games, and retro aesthetics is a mixed bag. A large proportion of it is loud and garish, and some are tacky and overpriced. This isn't necessarily a problem, but if you don't have an RGB lit "gamer shelf," it can sometimes be hard to find art that reflects your interests - especially if you are into electronics.
However, there are some exceptions to this, which blend more traditional art framing with technological or nostalgic subjects. Xreart takes old tech, tears it down, and frames it laid out on a labeled template. It sounds simple, but the results are compelling.
This review covers the Game Boy Color Frame, which features an official Game Boy Color, initially released in 1998. It's a great piece of technology nostalgia, both geeky and retro, but is it worth $199?
Well, it turns out it's not as simple as that. This review will look at the Game Boy Color Frame but also discusses what else Xreart offers and how this product is a little more than meets the eye.
Xreart Game Boy Color Frame: In Brief
On the surface, the Game Boy Color Frame is simple. It's an original Game Boy Color, carefully disassembled, laid out on a stylized template, and framed using a regular, 30 x 30 cm black frame.
The clear acrylic glass is indistinguishable from regular painting glass, and the backside of the frame clips in much like any other. In short, it's similar to any simply framed print. However, instead of paying for a piece of printed artwork, you are getting a physical slice of technology history laid out in a pleasingly aesthetic way.
All of the items Xreart uses are faulty, used stock, so in essence, every piece is also recycled. Despite this, the Game Boy Frame I received looks relatively fresh, and this is likely down to the cleaning process each piece of old tech goes through during the teardown process.
However, what makes Xreart special is not just the fully assembled artworks they sell but the options they give for making DIY versions of their art and the tools they provide to do so. We'll come back to this point later in the review.
What Do You Get in the Box?
The Game Boy Color Frame was simply but well packaged. The black cardboard box has an embossed silver Xreart logo, mirrored inside on the second piece of cardboard you lift to get to the padded interior. Opening it really does feel like an event. Clearly, this is aimed to be given as a gift, and they've managed to emulate a premium feel with quite simple materials.
The frame sits inside a layer of composite packing foam, also black. It's a simple but effective way to present the frame. The frame comes with no hanging tools, but as it simply requires two regular hanging hooks or nails, this isn't really an issue.
What Makes the Xreart GBC Frame Special?
This isn't the first example of this kind of artwork, and the concept of repurposing old electronics into wall art has a long history on DIY art markets like Etsy, Tindie, and eBay. The difference here is the clear intention of making this pleasing from an artistic perspective and interesting from a technical perspective.
These could have been garish, bright, almost anime-like in their presentation - and there's no issue with that if it is your taste, but it hits the mark perfectly for those of us with more subdued tendencies. I'd hang this in our living room without worrying if it would fit - it even uses almost the same frame as a print already on the wall.
Easily Replaceable Frame
While it may seem like a small touch, the decision to make it a regular frame is a good one. Xreart only offers black frames, but that isn't much of an issue due to the simple way the products are put together.
The Game Boy Color Frame essentially comes in four parts:
- The frame back
- A cardboard layer for stiffening
- The template layer, with the components attached
- A frame spacer
- The wooden outer frame
If the black frame doesn't fit your home, or you want to put it into something a bit fancier, the last two items on the list are very easy to swap out. Any 30 x 30 cm frame will work, making it easy to pair with existing wall art.
Art as Environmentalism
While it would be stretching definitions to call framing old technology as actual environmentalism, it cannot be denied that E-waste is a problem. In 2021, approximately 63.3 million U.S. tons of electronic goods ended up on landfill sites. Xreart cites this as partial inspiration for the entire project.
This is actually quite a novel idea, though, as realistically, there are very few uses for outdated technologies that either don't work or are no longer desirable. Xreart also donates a small proportion of every purchase to NGOs like Nature Conservancy, Ocean Conservancy, World Wildlife Fund, and Greenpeace.
The DIY ASPECT
The Game Boy Color frame is priced at $229, though at the time of review is discounted to $199. This price might seem steep to some, though it's actually on the lower end of most framed artworks. What makes Xreart unique is how they accommodate those who would rather create their own artworks.
All of the tools used for tearing down old phones and consoles are available to buy in kit form, along with the strong glue used to attach each part to the templates. In addition, you can buy frames with templates already in them for a reduced price or get the templates as digital downloads - some of which are free, and some of which cost $8.
It's a refreshingly open way of working that allows people to choose their own price point and, crucially, create their own artworks with their own tech. Currently, Xreart offers templates for a number of consumer devices, including retro game consoles, phones, and the Apple Watch, but more are on the way, including the Nintendo Switch, among others.
Who Is the Xreart Gbc Frame For?
The Xreart frame would make the perfect gift and one that reaches a little beyond the retro/geek market. Sure, it's the perfect gift for anyone into technology, especially retro gaming, but it goes further.
The decision to keep the general design muted makes it perfect for home and office settings, not just gamer corners and mancaves. While the idea of the project is to look back, the circuit boards inside every phone and console are visually futuristic, and I don't think you need to have held an original iPhone or Game Boy to enjoy Xreart's frames for what they are: Preservation presented as art.
According to the Xreart website, the original idea for this project stemmed from a single moment - the lead photographer of the then photography studio dripping his iPhone. The phone was dead, but rather than throw it away the idea was born to tear it down and present it as visual art.
The pairing of a studio specializing in technology photography and fusing art with technology preservation fits surprisingly well together. Maybe this is what sets Xreart aside from the more garish technology art available. It really is a special thing to open, it feels like an event, and while it's almost cliché to say, it really would make the perfect gift.
The key for me, however, is Xreart's decision to make their product appeal to the DIYers among us. The multiple purchase options, plus the tools offered, make Xreart's mission to reduce e-waste seem very legitimate. If you are looking for something that scratches the nerdy itch without flooding your living room with RGB light and cheap molded plastic, the Xreart Game Boy Color Frame is definitely worth a look.