Now that we all carry a camera in our pockets, photographic prints have become as disposable as, um, disposable cameras. For those who long for the permanence of prints, though, two modern products seek to fulfill that nostalgic desire.
Bay Area startup Prynt and tech behemoth HP both offer nifty handheld devices that print images directly from your smartphone onto sticker printer paper, making 2x3-inch prints with peel-and-stick backs. The result for oldsters is the gratification of instant, wallet-sized prints that are just a few clicks away; for a generation who’s never had the pleasure of dropping off film at a Fotomat or watching a Polaroid picture come to life, the fun will lie mainly in the ability to make stickers from personal photos in minutes (likely with Snapchat-ready overlays). Still, while both the HP Sprocket and the Prynt Pocket are pretty cool gadgets — with suspiciously similar monikers — there are some important distinctions that set them apart.
Founded in Paris in 2014, Prynt is now based in San Francisco and according to its lively website fields a small staff of youngish entrepreneurs. Their product, the Pocket, is a small molded plastic box that clicks into the lightning port of your iPhone. A small cartridge is first loaded with Zink (“zero-ink”) paper and clicks into the top of the box. Using the free app, users select the photos they want to print, choose from a variety of filters, frames, and graphics, and tap a button on their phone screen. In about ten seconds, the print is ejected from a slot on the end of the Pocket. Voila! Instant sticker photo. The battery-free Pocket is charged using a mini USB cord (included), but the charge lasts for hours depending on usage.
The Pocket is more than just a sticker printer, though. You can save the photos you just printed — great for social media sharing. Even better, while attached to your phone you can scan a print made from a video and the print comes to life on your phone’s screen, playing the full video from which it’s saved within the borders of the print. It’s a really cool effect that our kids loved. They also loved that if you scan a dollar bill, we could then superimpose their headshot (even a video) over George Washington’s.
However, these features seem more playful than essential. Keeping with the toy-like theme, while the Pocket feels solid once hooked up to our phone and fills your hand well, the unit itself feels rather flimsy — like a hollow, colorful plastic box, which is pretty much what it is. The thin, click-in paper cartridge only holds about 10 sheets of Zink paper, and could easily snap right off. And the lightning port jiggles; while this feature is clearly intended so the Pocket can accommodate multiple phones and various cases, it seems frail, as if it could easily break off, too (and we still had to take our phone out of its rubber case just to get it to fit into the Pocket, anyway; we wouldn’t want to imagine what would happen to it — or our phone, or both — if the Pocket got dropped.) All in all, the Pocket is a fun gadget. But we’re rather leery of its entrepreneurially ambitious price tag ($150 at Urban Outfitters).
The HP Sprocket, meanwhile, is a sleek box, about the size of an iPhone 7. It also charges via a mini USB plug, but in addition to being less toy-like in feel and appearance than the Pocket it connects to your phone via Bluetooth, eliminating the clip-on aspect. This is a big improvement for a couple of reasons.
Where the Pocket becomes part of your phone that you have to attach and hold onto to operate, the Sprocket functions as a separate unit, resembling a tiny flatbed printer without the flip-up top. The same 2x3-inch Zink paper is loaded and, once the image is selected, filters implemented, and frames or effects added, the print spits out in just a few seconds. Yes, it’s another device to carry around, but the Sprocket is sharper, sleeker, made with harder plastic and feels less bulky and flimsy than the Pocket. More importantly, because of Bluetooth connectivity you’re not married to the Lightning prong, so A) you don’t have to attach your phone to a bulky plastic box, and B) the Sprocket is applicable to both Android and iOS devices. (Prynt has promised an Android-compatible Pocket later in 2017.)
Interestingly, instead of printed instructions, the HP Sprocket relies on IKEA-esque cartoons to demonstrate how to get started. We half-expected that from the kid-friendly Prynt, but not from the more refined Sprocket. We’re sure it’s intended to be a universal approach but the pictures here were anything but easy to decipher. Give us a quick-start guide booklet any day.
Ultimately, choosing a preference between these two mobile mini-printers wasn’t too difficult. Both units produce prints practically instantaneously; both use 2x3-inch Zink sticker paper, originally manufactured by Polaroid but now that mini-paper has become a sort-of standard size, it’s becoming more ubiquitous (Polaroid also makes a mini instant printer we couldn’t get our hands on in time for this comparison); and both feature passable but hardly perfect color and image quality — to be expected with something so immediate and small.
We really wanted to cheer for the little startup over the tech giant, but in our opinion the big boys got the product right this time: The HP does away with many of the juvenile aspects of the Prynt, and that's why we prefer the grown-up Sprocket. The HP Sprocket retails for $127 at Amazon; for a device that feels more like a tool than a toy, it’s where the smart money should be spent.