Photo printing: it’s that quaint practice from the days when it was the only way to see if you’d managed to get the perfect shot you were going for at that once in a lifetime moment. All too often, it would be out of focus, badly framed, underexposed or have a finger over the viewfinder. Not only did you miss out of your perfect photograph, but you also had the added the indignity of the “quality control” advice sticker being added to your photographs. Those truly were the days.
Then came digital cameras and not only could we see instantly what photographs we captured, we could also edit them on our computers, tablets and smartphones. Now, we have have hundreds, if not hundreds of thousands, of photographs marooned in the cloud. A select few will make it on to social media, carefully chosen to make life see ultra shiny and perfect (unless you're the type who uploads all 937 photographs of a single event to Facebook in one go, blurred images, repeats and all. You know who you are).
But those photo lab prints you rifle through? They’re a novelty rather than the norm now.
There have been a plethora of photo printers aimed at addressing this, promising lab quality prints without the inconvenience of having to go to a bricks and mortar store, or wait for an online service to deliver.
And sometimes, apparently, we want prints immediately. That’s where the HP Sprocket and its ilk comes in. This fun-sized printer fits almost in the palm of your hand. It connects to your smartphone or tablet via bluetooth and recharges through USB, so you can take it out with you wherever you go.
Peel and stick
It spits out 3 x 2 inch prints, mini-sized images that come on sticky photo paper so you can peel them and stick them wherever you like.
Setting it up is simple; the app guides you through pairing it with your phone, and paper comes in a pack with a smart sheet that calibrates the printer automatically. There’s no ink cartridge as such. The Sprocket uses Zink technology – zero ink, which is a process that uses heat applied to special paper to create images in a single pass. The advantage? You don’t have to wait for the ink to dry before you touch it (we’re looking at you, inkjet printers) or sit around waiting for it to “develop” like the rival Instax cameras and printers. Your images come out of the tiny printer and they’re good to go.
It takes about 50 seconds for a print to appear, which feels like an age in this instant gratification world. Instead of being frustrating though, my three-year-old found the process the most exciting thing she’d seen all week. Given the appearance of some early Christmas decorations around the place, it had tough competition.
A bit flat
Speaking of prints, don’t expect too much from this printer. Images that looked as if they should come out perfect from the on-screen preview were a bit flat in reality. Print quality also varied. While some were sharp and more or less perfect, others suffered from a bit of banding. Most, however were fine for what they were intended: fun small prints to swap and share.
The printer will also embed some “special experiences” into the images that can be accessed through scanning them with the Sprocket app. I never got that to work successfully, but it’s not an essential. It was more a curiosity than anything else.
You can really only pair the Sprocket with one tablet or smartphone; try to do it with more than one and you’ll confuse it, meaning you are less likely to get your photos. On a couple of occasions, the images sent to the printer and then refused to appear. A firmware upgrade helped matters, but it was a little frustrating at times.
The Sprocket is a bit of fun, the modern day equivalent of the Polaroid camera without the requirement to wait for the print to dry. The prints are mostly good quality and colour, with the odd exception ere and there.
The not so good:
The cost of the paper means that even if you decide that printing photographs is important to you, you’re still going to be extremely selective about using it. It works out at almost €15 for 20 sheets.
It takes just under a minute for a finished print to appear from the device. You can also embed "experiences" into the images that can be access through the Sprocket app, but I couldn't tell you what they were as I never got it to work correctly. If you have an Instagram or other social media account, you can connect it to the printer through the app and print your images stored there too.
A fun way to free your smartphone photos.