Of all the dedicated photo printers we've seen that are designed primarily as camera-phone accessories, the Polaroid Zip Photoprinter ($129.99) comes closest to getting everything right. Unfortunately, the area it falls short on is color quality, which is obviously one of the more important factors. But for some people, it's less important for the Zip's wallet-size photos than for larger output. If you're comfortable making that compromise, the Zip has a lot to offer.
Most dedicated photo printers for casual photographers fall into one of two categories. On the one hand are printers for 4-by-6-inch photos, like the Epson PictureMate Charm, which is our Editors' Choice low-cost dedicated photo printer. Unfortunately, these printers are way too big to fit in a pocket or carry with you, except on special occasions.
The second category prints smaller photos, which lets the printers themselves be a lot smaller and lighter. Among the few models in this group are the Fujifilm Instax Share SP-1, the VuPoint Solutions Photo Cube mini IPWF-P01-VP, and the Zip. All three print wallet-size photos, with some variation in size from one to another. The Zip's photos are 1.9 by 3 inches. All three also share a design goal that focuses on portability and ease of use, with the Zip doing a particularly good job on both counts.
Basics and Setup
The Zip uses Zink technology, which means its photo paper includes embedded dye crystals, and the printer uses heat to activate the crystals and create the image. That makes replacing consumables easy, since the only thing to replace is the photo paper. It also helps simplify the initial setup.
The photo printer is small and light enough to fit in a pocket. It measures just 0.9 by 2.9 by 4.7 inches (HWD) and weighs a little less than 9 ounces, complete with its built-in rechargeable battery. It's available in both white and black, and looks even smaller than it is, thanks to its rounded corners and edges.
Initial setup consists of sliding the top off of the printer, dropping a stack of 10 sheets of photo paper in the tray, and putting the top back on. You also need to charge the battery by connecting the supplied cable between the printer's micro USB port and either a computer or wall plug. Note that you can also print while the battery is charging, but some computer USB ports don't supply enough power. In my tests, I could print using a wall charger, but not the USB port on my laptop.
One minor complaint about setup is that Polaroid's graphic artists decided to go with trendy design rather than readability in the printed manual. The four-point text is printed in light gray on a shiny, white paper stock, making it a challenge to read under most lighting conditions. It's hard to believe that anyone would think this is a good idea.
The Zip connects strictly via Bluetooth, with apps available for iOS and Android devices only. If you have an Android phone with NFC, touching it to the printer will start the download process. Alternatively, you can download the app by going to the Google Play Store or iTunes App Store. For my tests I printed from a Samsung Galaxy S5. According to Polaroid, the iOS version of the app is essentially identical.
The app offers options for both Gallery, which lets you find an existing photo on your phone to print it, and Camera, which takes you to the camera app on the phone so you can take a photo and then print it. You can also edit images, adjust brightness and contrast, rotate the image, draw in a choice of colors with your finger, add emoticons, and more.
Some of the app's features are more gimmicky than useful. For example, the Secret View feature lets you add, say, text to an image without having it print. The app also prints a QR code as part of the photo. You can then use the app's View command to view the photo and show you the image on your phone complete with the information that's hidden in the code. It's an interesting demonstration of digital legerdemain, but the novelty wears off fairly quickly, or as I described in my test notes, "Kinda cute, but also kinda pointless."
Print Speed, Output Quality, Battery Life, and Cost
I timed the printer at 42 to 43 seconds per photo, which makes it faster than the competition. The VuPoint IPWF-P01-VP took 1 minute 13 seconds to 1:18 on my tests. The Fujifilm SP-1 took only 18 to 28 seconds to eject the photo from the printer, but it comes out with no image showing, and you have to wait for it to develop.
Image quality, unfortunately, is not a strong point. Colors tend to be dark in terms of a hue-saturation-brightness color model, and not always well saturated, which in many cases makes them look dull. In images with a lot of dark tones, the shift toward darkening the colors also loses significant shadow detail (details based on shading in dark areas). So although the photos in my tests all qualify as true photo quality, they're very much at the low end of the scale.
On the plus side, the Zip offers reasonably long battery life. Polaroid says you can print at least 25 photos on a full charge, and I managed to get well over 30. The company also says it takes 90 minutes to fully recharge.
Running cost is a mixed bag. Photo paper comes in packs of 30 or 50 sheets, but the list price for either works out to 50 cents per photo. That's less per photo than with either the VuPoint Solutions or Fujifilm models, but—as a point of reference—it's a significantly higher cost per photo than with the Epson PictureMate Charm's much larger photos.
If you want a portable photo printer to use with your phone or tablet, be sure to take a look at the Fujifilm SP-1 and the VuPoint IPWF-P01-VP, as well as the Polaroid Zip Photoprinter. The VuPoint Solutions and Fujifilm models both deliver better photo quality than the Zip, but the Zip offers the lowest cost per photo, the lightest weight, and the fastest speed. If you're fully comfortable with its slightly lower photo quality compared with the competition, it's a highly attractive choice.