Print­ers

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Computer Shopper - - CONTENTS - Si­mon Handby

HP’s portable photo printer, the Sprocket, evokes the fun of old Po­laroids even if it costs a lot to run

VER­DICT

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.

DRIVER­LESS VE­HI­CLE

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.

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