A Pocketable Printer

Pocketable printerPolaroid is abandoning instant film, but if you?re going to miss the feel of getting a small print in your hand a minute after snapping a picture, the company has a solution: a battery-powered printer that fits in your pocket.

Called the PoGo, the printer spits out 2-by-3-inch color photos that can be peeled apart to reveal a sticky back. It can receive photos wirelessly from some cell phones, or via a cable from a digital camera.

Don?t expect great picture quality from the $149 PoGo.

The colors are a bit whacky, which is especially noticeable in the skin tones. There are faint lines across the print, artifacts from the printing process. But who cares? Consumer Polaroids were always lo-fi, and that was part of their charm. The PoGo prints look like leaves from the Polaroid family tree. In fact, they?re reminiscent of the small, sticky-backed prints from the i-Zone, an instant-film camera of the ?90s.

But the technology in the PoGo is quite different. The printer uses paper with billions of embedded dye crystals. It selectively heats them up to produce different colors. There is no ink, toner or liquid chemical in the process. The prints come out dry.

With no ink to buy, the only cost of using the printer is the paper, which it eats in packs of 10. These cost $3.99 each, or $9.99 for three. That?s a little steep compared to regular photo printers, but cheap compared to instant film, which costs around $15 for a 10-pack. (Polaroid film is still in stores, but stocks are expected to run out next year. After that, Fujifilm will be the only maker of instant film.)

The thermographic, or ?heat-writing,? technology of the PoGo is also somewhat hackable. Flitting the tip of a soldering iron across a PoGo paper produces streaks of yellow. Slowing down yields red and pausing produces blue. Set a clothes iron to low heat and pass it over the edges of a photo to apply a blue-green border.

A simpler form of thermographic paper has been used in fax machines for a long time and it?s not known for holding up over time. It darkens with heat, which can make it illegible. That makes me a bit concerned with the longevity of the PoGo prints, yet Polaroid says they will last 15 years in normal indoor lighting conditions. A clearer disadvantage of the thermographic process is that it needs a lot of heat, and thus energy. The rechargeable battery in the PoGo is good for only 15 prints. I could easily see myself bringing the PoGo on vacation, printing out photos to put in a journal or stick on postcards, but the need to bring a power adapter that?s as big as the printer itself is a turnoff.

Then there?s the question of compatibility. For a cell phone to connect to the PoGo, it needs, first of all, a Bluetooth chip. But not all Bluetooth-equipped cell phones work with the PoGo, and it?s not easy to figure out which ones do, because printer compatibility is not something many phone shoppers ask for. Out of 12 Bluetooth cell phones I tried, half worked. There didn?t seem to be any particular trend in the results. An advanced phone like the iPhone failed, while a simpler one like the Samsung Trace worked. Polaroid has a compatibility table online at www.0polaroid.com/pogo/us, but I found it didn?t match my results in all cases: It says the LG Voyager doesn?t work, but it did for me; and that the LG Venus does work, while it didn?t for me.

Mating the PoGo to a digital camera is easier. It will accept a connection via USB cable from any camera that adheres to the PictBridge standard, which has been widely adopted. To make things even more convenient, it would have been nice if the PoGo had a memory card slot and an LCD screen, so you could pick the picture to print. Some photo printers have these features. Until then, the PoGo will fill a niche for those who need prints on the fly.