★★★★★ £90 • From www.shop.bt.com
HP’s portable photo printer, the Sprocket, evokes the fun of old Polaroids even if it costs a lot to run
Ideal for the well-funded gap year, HP’s Sprocket is a fun little photo printer
HP’S SPROCKET PHOTO printer is so tiny that when it turned up at Shopper Towers, we thought the pack only contained some paper. Roughly the same size as two smartphones stacked on top of each other, it’s the smallest printer we’ve ever reviewed: designed to pair with a phone to make a fun, highly portable photo booth for travellers, revellers and anyone else who can’t bear to be away from a printer. It comes with a short Micro USB cable, so you can charge its integral battery from an Apple or generic USB charger.
The Sprocket confounds your expectations in several ways. First, it uses smaller paper – tiny 2x3in rectangles – than a normal printer; and second, it does so without ink. Its Zink (zero ink) paper comes in foil wraps of 10 pages, which you simply drop in the top; the printer spits out the blue index sheet before the first print. Photos have a sticky back, so you can put them on a laptop lid or fridge, but you’ll need sharp eyes and sharper fingernails to remove the backing paper.
This printer only connects via Bluetooth, and it’s only compatible with iOS and Android devices; there are no PC or Mac drivers. Setting it up is a simple case of installing the relevant app, which guides you through adding paper and pairing with the printer.
The Sprocket app is generally great, managing prints and firmware updates in an attractive and intuitive way, but we’ve two grumbles: its background is live output from the device camera, which could sap its battery, and the Android version insists on knowing your location before it will print. We’ve no idea why.
In addition to taking photos, the app lets you link to existing stashes within your Facebook, Instagram or Google accounts, but sadly not Flickr. Printing from either an online service or your phone’s camera roll works exactly as you’d expect: you browse and select images, send them to the printer and wait literally a minute while it makes the noise of a quiet dentist’s drill somewhere at the end of a long hallway. We timed six prints from Instagram at six minutes and eight seconds.
THE FUTURE’S ORANGE
Expect the Sprocket to turn out perfect photos and you’ll be sorely disappointed. Although the thermal printer’s 313x400dpi resolution is greater than consumer dye-sublimation printers, the end results lack fine control over shade on subjects such as light skin or sky. Colour boundaries seemed to have been digitally sharpened, too, making parts of the images a little artificial. Our prints also had a pinky-orange bias which lent some portraits a vintage effect, but left others looking Trumpian.
The Sprocket isn’t perfect. It’s expensive to buy and, with prints costing around 50p each, expensive to run. You’ll also need to stump up for a pouch if you want to protect it on the road; third-party ones start at around £10. Overall, you could see it as a pricey indulgence for the sort of people who Instagram pictures of food, but that’s harsh: it’s also great fun. Ever since Polaroids, having a near-instant print has felt special, and the Sprocket conjures up just a bit of that same magic.