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TUAW review and giveaway: Polaroid PoGo Instant Mobile Printer

This review has an interesting history. Back at the end of January, Polaroid sent a note to TUAW requesting that we ask our readers to join in asking Apple to support Bluetooth printing from the iPhone. Polaroid had a very good reason for doing this, since the iPhone is a phenomenally successful smartphone. Those millions of iPhone users would make a very good market for Polaroid's new PoGo Instant Mobile Printer, a tiny pocket-sized photo printer that prints out 2" x 3" borderless prints.

I asked Polaroid if we could test a PoGo for our readers who don't own iPhones, and also to see how it works with the Mac. The results of our tests follow, along with details of a giveaway where two lucky TUAW readers can win a PoGo and a 30-pack of the special paper that it uses.
Meet the PoGo, Polaroid PoGo...
Gone are the days of the old Polaroid cameras and their chemical-based instant film. The PoGo Instant Mobile Printer uses a technology called ZINK, a trademarked term meaning Zero Ink. This technology uses a special composite material as "paper" that contains 100 billion yellow, cyan, and magenta dye crystals that are activated by heat pulses. The printer zaps out 200 million heat pulses in 30 seconds to create the image. What's great about this technology is that it requires no ink or special cartridges; the crystals in the paper do that job quite well, reducing the waste from consumables.

For those of you who are old enough to remember people waving the old Polaroid prints in the air to "speed up" the developing process (it actually had no effect), you'll be pleased to know that the photo is fully imaged when it comes out of the printer.

The printer is definitely pocket-sized; 4.7" (120mm) X 2.8" (72mm) X 0.9" (23.5mm). It's lightweight as well, tipping the scales at 8 ounces (227 grams) with the lithium-ion battery installed. If I have any complaint about the PoGo, it's that the recharging brick and cable are larger and heavier than the device itself!



Using the PoGo
The first thing you do after pulling the PoGo out of the box is slap in the Lithium-Ion battery pack and then plug the PoGo in. You can use the printer as it's charging -- it takes about 2 hours to get a full charge. To load the paper, you press a button to unlatch the paper door, then drop the ZINK Photo Paper and a ZINK Smart Sheet (a blue "business card" festooned with bar codes that appear to tell the printer how many sheets of paper are in the pack, as well as calibrate the printer) into the paper bin. A quiet whirring sound begins, and then the Smart Sheet slowly ejects itself from the printer.

Since I knew that the PoGo wouldn't work with my iPhone 3G, I decide to have a little fun and use it with my MacBook Air. You need to pair the two Bluetooth devices first, so I enabled Bluetooth on the MacBook Air, and then opened up the Printer / Fax System Preferences pane. One of the printer types listed is Bluetooth, and upon choosing that type I saw the MAC address for the PoGo appear. The PoGo uses 6-0-0-0 as a standard pairing code, so I entered that into the Mac and was happy to see that the pairing succeeded. The printer setup tried to find a printer driver, but since one doesn't exist for this device, I simply closed out of printer setup.

To print a photo, you don't actually use the print command in a Mac application. Instead, you send the file to the Bluetooth device by selecting the Bluetooth menu, choosing the Polaroid device, and then finally choosing the Send File item. I decided to have some fun by shooting a picture with Photo Booth and send it to the printer. The transfer of the jpg file took only about 2 seconds, and about 30 seconds later I was rewarded with a photo of myself that I had distorted with one of the effects in Photo Booth.

The iSight camera isn't the highest resolution camera in the world, so the print seemed rather grainy, although perfectly suited to a snapshot printer. I decided to try printing from my Canon PowerShot S3 IS. To connect the camera and printer, I used a standard USB cable with a mini-USB connector on one end. Upon connecting the camera and the printer, the camera immediately displayed a PictBridge icon and prompted me to print a picture.

The camera files are much larger in size than the Photo Booth pictures, so the transfer of data from the camera to the printer took about 15 seconds. I printed a number of photos to get a feel for the color accuracy and look of the pictures. The results? The pictures were still somewhat grainy, although the target market for the PoGo may not necessarily care. Colors seem to be a bit on the cool (blue) side as well. However, if you're not planning on making archival high-quality prints and just want to print out fun little pictures, this is a fine little printer. Take a look at the gallery for high-resolution scans of the prints from the PoGo.

Last but not least, I wanted to see if I could print from any camera-equipped smartphone since the iPhone could not. My T-Mobile G-1 Android phone was not compatible, although it happily paired with the PoGo. The next try was with a Nokia N95 (yes, I have a ton of smartphones that I use for writing user guides for a software developer...), which not only paired up, but had a Send via Bluetooth command for photos. It worked perfectly and within seconds of sending the photo file, the PoGo was happily whirring away printing the photo. Polaroid provides a compatibility list for checking to see if a given mobile phone works with PoGo.

Polaroid warns that you will need to occasionally take a break from printing photos, since the print head can overheat. I was able to print six pictures within about 10 minutes with no issues.

What's the market?
With the composite material, sticky-backed ZINK paper, it appears that the PoGo is primarily targeted to the "tweens" who love anything that comes in sticker form. That's sad, since the PoGo be useful in other markets. For example, I often attend meetings and conferences where the attendees wear nametags with their picture, name, and company listed. Polaroid could easily come out with Mac and Windows software that would take a phone or built-in computer camera photo, plop it onto a nicely formatted label, and then squirt the image over to the PoGo for printing.

The PoGo would also be great for people who miss the ability to take a photo and immediately give it to somebody. For example, that used to be a great way to have fun when meeting new friends on vacation. Since the "real" Polaroid cameras have disappeared, most people who want this functionality have turned to bringing small picture printers from HP and other manufacturers on trips with them. These printers are usually still too large to take with you everywhere, though, so the PoGo fills a niche that might be attractive to this group. If you have a child and a compatible mobile phone, camera, or computer, the PoGo could be a fun way to provide photo handouts to kids at birthday parties or other gatherings.

One area that I think might be an unexplored market is the art community. I can imagine artists who are into photography and collages shooting hundreds of low resolution photos, printing them on a PoGo, and then sticking the printed pictures onto a prepared surface. This could develop into a new art form - PoGo collages!

Another area that I don't think Polaroid may have considered would be printing instant business cards. The PoGo prints are a bit smaller than standard business cards, but it would be cool if the PoGo's firmware could recognize vCards being sent to the device, and then print those in a business card format.

iPhone 3.0 and PoGo -- a better match?
It was Polaroid's plea to TUAW to see if we could get Apple to come up with better Bluetooth connectivity and print drivers for the iPhone that started off this review. Since then, of course, Apple has announced iPhone 3.0, which of course provides much better Bluetooth connectivity.

All it would take, given the way that the PoGo handles printing from other mobile phones, is OBEX (Bluetooth Object Exchange) support. If that functionality is built into iPhone 3.0, then printing to a PoGo or other devices will work. At publication time, I was not able to verify whether or not iPhone 3.0 is expected to support Bluetooth OBEX.

The giveaway!
We love giving away stuff to TUAW readers, and I was very happy when Polaroid offered not one, but two PoGos for our readership. As with most of our giveaways, you can enter the drawing by leaving us a single comment below. What would we like to see in your comment? How about telling us your ideas for what you'd do with a PoGo and the ability to print instant glossy color photos from a pocket printer?



Here are the rules and a link to the obligatory legal statement:
  • Open to legal US residents of the 50 United States and the District of Columbia and Canada (excluding Quebec) who are 18 and older.
  • To enter leave a comment telling us how you'd use a Polaroid PoGo Instant Mobile Printer.
  • The comment must be left before Saturday, March 28, 11:59PM Eastern Daylight Time.
  • You may enter only once.
  • Two winners will be selected in a random drawing.
  • Prize: Polaroid PoGo Instant Mobile Printer and a 30-pack of ZINK Photo Paper (US$113 value)
  • Click Here for complete Official Rules.
Good luck!

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