Polaroid’s Zip mobile printer channels instant photo heritage for new generation

As a consumer electronics company, the new Polaroid is plastering its name on everything from TVs to smartphones and tablets (Polaroid’s well-recognized name is owned by a company that licenses it out to others). But the firm still makes cameras and photography accessories, like the new Zip Instant Photoprinter ($130), a mobile printer that calls upon the company’s instant photo spirit. Polaroid unveiled the Zip earlier this year at CES. The final product hasn’t changed from when we first saw it, but we recently played with one for a few days and came away with some new impressions.

The portable printer is designed not for traditional cameras, but for mobile phones, which account for many of the casual photos now being taken. Like Polaroid’s instant cameras of the past, the Zip lets users make small prints (in the Zip’s case, 2×3), which they can physically share with friends, put in a scrapbook, or use as decorations. Polaroid is clearly positioning the Zip as a fun gadget for millennials, particularly those who have never experienced a Polaroid instant photo before.

The printing technology, from ZINK (Zero Ink), isn’t new. The thermal-based, inkless system uses specialty paper that contains color crystals which, when activated by heat, change their molecular structure to reveal the color image. Polaroid already uses it in some of its digital instant cameras, and it’s the same technology employed in LG’s Smart Mobile Printer. In fact, LG’s printer is nearly identical to the Zip in terms of form and function, but with different designs and companion apps (iOS and Android, via Bluetooth).

Related: Polaroid’s Cube action camera gets more mobile with Wi-Fi, smartphone app

The Zip measures just a little less than 3 x 5 inches (about the size of an iPhone 6), and weighs less than half a pound. Design-wise, it’s fairly minimal: It comes in four colors (black, turquoise, red, and white), and has a Micro USB port for charging, status LEDs, and a power button. The top cover lifts open for inserting paper (the printer comes with a starter pack, and a 50-pack costs $25 at Amazon; Polaroid also sells 3×4 ZINK paper, but those are incompatible), while the slot at one end is where the paper exits.

Operating the printer is easy. After it’s fully charged, you simply lift off the top cover to insert the paper. Unlike LG’s printer, we found the Zip’s cover difficult to open and close. Once you power it on, the printer enters a Bluetooth pairing mode. In your iOS or Android device’s Bluetooth settings, the printer will appear as a new device. The Zip also supports Android devices with NFC (near-field communication) for quick pairing.

To print, you need to launch the Zip App after the printer and phone have paired. You can make quick prints of photos in your camera roll, but the app offers a few other options: you can edit a photo (rotate, tint, draw, frame, customize, etc.) before printing; print a QR code that, when scanned, leads to secret, password-protected texts or audio messages (adults will roll their eyes, but kids will find this fun); print collages of photos; or print a custom name card. The app will only work with the Zip printer; it won’t recognize the LG Smart Mobile Printer, even though it uses the same printing tech.

Each print takes about a minute to pop out (the photo slowly feeds out of the opening), which isn’t exactly instant, although it’s about the same amount of time that old Polaroid photos took to develop. As for print quality, it’s fine, but don’t expect the same kind of accurate color reproduction you’d see from a home inkjet or dye-sub printer. ZINK prints aren’t known for vivid colors, but for what it is, they aren’t entirely bad. The prints are small, so they’re more for fun than for any other purpose, and they have a sticky back, which does give them another fun element. At 2×3, you will have to do some cropping if you want a full-bleed image that covers the entire print.

Photo printing is enjoying a bit of a renaissance lately, particularly with youngsters who think the technique is novel. Fujifilm has been successful in marketing its Instax brand to a new generation, while it’s also selling a Zip-like printer called the Instax Share SP-1. While the Zip doesn’t truly mimic old Polaroid instant cameras (the SP-1 actually does a better job at that), it’s a fun and alternative way to share, although paper can be costly to replace if you print a lot.

But it does bring us back to the days of old Polaroid cameras. Sure, the quality may not have been as strong as images taken with 35mm film cameras, but they were magical and fun to use. You can think of the Zip along the same lines.

Product Review

Ring Video Doorbell 2 is the simplest entry into a smarter doorway

The Ring Video Doorbell 2 may lack the style and sophistication of premium door-dingers, but few can match its simplicity and versatility. The device, available in both wired and wireless configurations, is easy to set up and adds instant…

Walmart Presidents’ Day sale: Instant Pot, Google Home, and 4K TV deals

Presidents' Day weekend is one of the best times of the year to find deep discounts on 4K TVs, laptops, Instant Pots, clothes, mattresses, and furniture. And Walmart is offering deals on all of those things and more.

Fujifilm XP140 squeezes more durability, low-light ability into a waterproof cam

Fujifilm's waterproof compact can now head even further underwater. The Fujifilm XP140 features several upgrades, including a more durable body, a wider ISO range for low light, and expanded auto modes.
Home Theater

Netflix vs. Hulu vs. Amazon Prime: Battle of the on-demand streaming giants

Trying to figure out which subscription streaming service to use while sticking to a frugal entertainment budget? Check out our updated comparison of the big three: Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, and Hulu.
Emerging Tech

The best drone photos from around the world will take your breath away

Most of today's drones come equipped with high-end cameras, which are quickly revolutionizing the world of aerial photography as we know it. Here are some of the best drone photos from around the world.

Using A.I., Lightroom can now boost the resolution of RAW photos

Need to eek a bit more resolution out of a RAW file? Adobe Lightroom and Camera Raw can help with a new feature called Detail Enhance. The tool uses A.I. in the demosaicing process to enhance details and reduce artifacts.

Corel VideoStudio adds tools for customizing color in simple video edits

VideoStudio is Corel's more consumer-oriented video editor but the software recently gained advanced color correction tools. The update adds custom transitions, along with speeding up performance, and adding new shortcuts.

Tight on space? Here’s how to transfer photos from an iPhone to a computer

Never lose any of your cherished selfies or family vacation photos from your iPhone again by learning how to transfer photos from your iPhone to a computer, whether you want to use a cable or wireless transfer.

500px reveals almost 15 million users are caught up in security breach

Almost 15 million members of portfolio website 500px have been caught up in a security breach. The hack occurred in 2018 but was only discovered last week. Users are being told to change their 500px password as soon as possible.

Olympus packs an enormous zoom ability in its latest interchangeable lens

The Olympus Digital ED M.Zuiko 12-200mm F/3.5-6.3 has the widest zoom range of any interchangeable lens with a 16.6x zoom. The lens, which covers a 24-400mm equivalent, is also weather sealed.

Nikon brings a classic workhorse lens to the Z series with new 24-70mm f/2.8 S

The Nikon Z series finally has a bright zoom available without an adapter. The Nikkor Z 24-70mm F/2.8 S offers new coatings and more customizable controls in a smaller, lighter body than the comparable F-mount lens.

Nikon will bring eye-detection autofocus to the Z6 and Z7 in May

An upcoming firmware update will bring Eye AF to the Nikon Z6 and Z7 -- along with improved autofocus performance in low light. The update will also give the cameras support for the CFexpress format.
Product Review

Canon democratizes full-frame with the EOS RP, but keep your expectations low

At just $1,300, the RP is Canon's least expensive full-frame camera yet, but it was born into a world of high-end, high-cost lenses where it doesn't yet feel at home.

Fujifilm’s X-T30 is a semi-pro, feature-rich camera that’s affordable to boot

Fujifilm's newest mirrorless camera delivers the premium features of the X-T3 without the premium price, giving aspiring enthusiasts a lower-cost option that can still match the image quality of Fuji's flagship.