Kodak has fired back with its new Kodak HD Instant Photo Printer. While it still prints 2-by-3.4-inch photos (other photo printers of its ilk print 2-by-3-inch pics), it’s almost an inch shorter than the other mini printers, and very close to the Lifeprint 2×3 Hyperphoto Printer and its other competitors in size and girth. And, much like its predecessor and the other portable photo printers, it prints passable photos. The output, however, isn’t nearly as good as photos printed on a few closely priced five- and six-ink consumer-grade photo printers from Canon and Epson.
Shrinking the Instant Photo Printer
At 1 by 3 by 5.2 inches (HWD) and weighing 8.4 ounces, this printer comes in either all-white or all-black and is closer in length to the Polaroid Insta-Share. The HP Sprocket is nearly an inch shorter and weighs about 2.5 ounces less than this printer. Though it may not sound like much, that inch or so makes a lot of difference when toting the device around—especially if you’re carrying it in your pocket.
Like the other pocket photo printers mentioned here, this printer works wirelessly from only your iOS- or Android-equipped smartphone or tablet. It has very little by way of a control panel—just a power button and two status LEDs (On and Connected) on the left edge, and there’s a mini-USB port, a Reset button, and a charging status LED on the back edge.
The right edge opens up to reveal a compartment where the combination ink and paper consumable cartridges go. This printer is a thermal-dye-sublimation (often called dye-sub) printer. With dye-sub machines, the ink is solid until the print time, which, in this case, occurs when your mobile device starts sending data to the printer. You get a cartridge with enough ink and paper to print eight photos in the box. In contrast, the HP Sprocket, the Lifeprint 2×3, and its sibling, the Lifeprint 3×4.5 (stay tuned for the full review), and the Polaroid Insta-Share are all zero-ink, or ZINK printers. That means that they don’t use ink, per se; instead, there are particles of colors that reside inside the photo paper until activated by the printer.
Printed pictures come out of the front of this printer via a slot that runs the length of the front edge. This printer’s print engine uses a method that Kodak calls 4Pass because the photo paper makes four passes over the printhead. During each pass, the paper comes out through the output slot, and it’s pulled back into the printer. On the first pass, the printer lays down yellow ink; then, on the next pass, magenta; on the third pass, cyan; and on the fourth pass, a clear coat that brings out the highlights and protects the image is applied.
The clear coat also makes the ink, to a reasonable degree, waterproof. To test this, I sprinkled water on one of my test images, without any noticeable effect, so, I got a little bolder and held the photo under the running faucet for a second or so—again, the ink didn’t wash away, but the paper on the back of the print will get soggy and damaged if it gets too wet.
Connecting the Instant Photo Printer
Depending on the capabilities of your smartphone or tablet, you can connect to the Kodak using one of four wireless protocols: Wi-Fi, Wi-Fi Direct, near-field communication (NFC), and Bluetooth. I tested all four methods from a Samsung Galaxy J7 running Android 7.1.1. Wi-Fi Direct and NFC are peer-to-peer networking protocols that allow you to connect your mobile devices to the printer without either them or it being connected to a network or router. Bluetooth, too, is a router-less protocol, but unlike Wi-Fi Direct and NFC, which are one-to-one connection types, Bluetooth is one-to-many.
During my tests, I found that the easiest way to connect to the printer by far was NFC. I simply laid my phone on top of this printer. Before the smartphone rested itself completely on top of the printer, the Kodak app launched, and a second or so later, the phone and the printer were connected. After that, it was simply a matter of selecting and printing my photos, from either the Google Gallery app, or by pressing the Connect button and selecting one of six supported cloud or social media sites: Facebook, Instagram, Google Photo, FotoRus, Photo Wonder, and Snapseed.
Bluetooth was the next easiest protocol for connecting to the printer and then printing without a lot of fuss, with Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi Direct running an even third in simplicity to connect. Of the four protocols, however, NFC is the only one that was a little unreliable to actually use. At least three times during my testing, even though the Kodak app showed that my smartphone and this printer were still connected, I couldn’t print. The app displayed a “Printing” message, but it just hung there until I rebooted and reconnected this printer to the phone.
This printer can be powered by either a power adapter (not included) similar to the one that came with your smartphone or tablet (the latter will charge it faster than the former) or via a charging USB port on your desktop PC or laptop (the slowest method) with the included cable. In any case, Kodak says that this printer takes 1.5 hours to charge and that each charge is good for about 20 prints. My tests proved the former to be true, depending on the charger I used (an iPad adapter charged much faster than my PC); unfortunately, the latter proved to also be true. Twenty photos per charge seem miserly, but that’s all it takes to drain this printer’s 620mAh battery.
The Kodak Instant Photo Printer App
The Kodak app is nearly identical to the software that comes with the original Kodak. The opening screen offers you several choices, including Camera, Gallery, for accessing the photos saved on your smartphone or tablet (Apple iOS devices have slightly different options) and Connect, for accessing the cloud and social media sites mentioned earlier.
After you open an image, you can choose to either print it or edit it. The editing options are robust. They include: Adjust, for changing brightness, contrast, saturation, and color levels; Filters, for applying enhancements; Decorate, for adding text, borders, airbrushing, and stickers, such as hearts and stars; and several other editing and enhancement features. You also get several templates to turn your photos into business cards, greeting cards, or to simply add decorative frames.
Print Speed and Output Quality
Of the portable photo printers we’ve looked at recently, this is one of the slower ones, at an average of about 1 minute 20 seconds per print. It’s about 2 seconds slower than its predecessor, the Kodak, 38 seconds slower than the HP Sprocket, which prints 2-by-3-inch photos, as does the Lifeprint 2×3, which is about 50 seconds faster than this.
In terms of quality, most of these devices print, well, okay photos, but a lack of black ink causes them to come out with less depth, especially in images that contain a lot of blacks. In the case of this printer, I printed 28 photos, using all the consumables Kodak sent me—eight inside the printer out of the box, and the 20-pack the company included with the review unit.
From those 28 prints, image quality was a mixed bag. In a few photos containing people, for instance, I noticed color shifts where some flesh tones came out with a pink or an orange tinge, and several of the photos were short on detail. That’s not to say that its output looked bad. It didn’t. But it was far from perfect, as was the 2-by-3-inch output from the other portable photo printers I’ve looked at lately.
Cost Per Photo
Kodak offers three different sizes of consumable packs for this: a 20-pack, a 30-pack, or a 50-pack. Based on the company’s advertised yield sizes and prices, I calculated the cost per photo at 75 cents, 73 cents, and 70 cents, respectively. Kodak also offers a 20-pack of 2-by-3-inch adhesive-backed paper that lets you turn your photographs into stickers, for $19.99, which comes out to about $1 per print.
These running costs are about the same as those of the preceding Kodak, and about 20 cents higher than the HP Sprocket and the Polaroid Insta-Share. It also runs about 17 cents higher per print than the Lifeprint 2×3.
Is Smaller Better?
Frankly, aside from its price, its size, and the size of its consumables cartridges, there are not a lot of differences between the Kodak HD Instant Photo Printer and its predecessor, the Kodak Photo Printer. Print quality and print times are about the same, as are the prices of the paper-and-ink cartridges. Granted, that 0.8-inch difference in length does indeed make it easier to carry around with you, and this is closer in size to its competitors. That makes it a better choice than the previous.
As for overall print quality, this is slightly better than its ZINK competitors, but Lifeprint’s hyper photo technology that allows you to (virtually) turn stills into short movie clips makes it a more interesting product. If you don’t mind the higher running costs, the Kodak is a fine choice for printing small snapshots and stickers on the road.