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Fujifilm Instax Mini Link hands-on review: Wiggle it

fujifilm instax mini link review hkg 9611
Fujifilm Instax Mini Link hands-on review: Wiggle it
MSRP $99.95
“The Fujifilm Instax Mini Link makes mobile printing fun.”
  • Easy-to-use app
  • Motion controls
  • Small, minimalist design
  • Battery life is less than indicated

Despite what OutKast said, shaking instant film is actually bad for the photo. But perhaps Lil Jon was correct when he said to wiggle it. When you wiggle Fujifilm’s new Instax Mini Link mobile printer, it performs tricks, like zooming in or changing modes. The Mini Link uses the same Instax Mini instant film as Fujifilm’s Instax cameras, but prints straight from your phone. It even adds a few motion-control options, including flipping the printer to change the print mode.

The Instax Mini Link is basically the Instax Mini LiPlay, minus the camera functionality. Using Bluetooth, it turns digital images stored on your phone into instant photographic prints with a 2.4 x 1.8-inch image area. The Mini Link can print a photo or a frame from a video in your phone’s camera roll, or it can control your phone’s camera directly using the Instax Camera mode within the app.

With image quality being limited to the print medium itself (in this case, Instax Mini film), choosing a mobile printer comes down to the quality of the app, printer design, and price — a trifecta that the Fujifilm Instax Mini Link gets right.

The Instax Mini Link app

Many camera and photo printer apps are pretty basic and feel a little clunky, but the Instax Mini Link is an app we actually want to spend time in. For starters, the app allowed us to connect to the printer using Bluetooth without leaving the app to go into the smartphone settings and without typing in a long convoluted password.

Once connected to a printer, the app opens to a home screen that houses several different printing options. At the bottom is the Fun Mode, a series of different types of print — some are a little gimmicky, but Fun Mode mostly lives up to its name. A frame print adds a graphic or sticker to the photo, like a Mardi Gras mask, a pair of angel wings or, yes, even a graphic of an Instax frame within the actual Instax frame. The next Fun Mode is a self-explanatory collage print, with a good selection of layout options.

Match Test is Fujifilm’s attempt at matchmaking — yes, that type of matchmaking. You upload two separate photos or a photo of the two of you together, and Fujifilm tells you how compatible it thinks you are. You can increase the “accuracy” by answering a handful of questions. Gimmicky and strange, yes, but you have to wait for the results to appear on the print, which adds a bit to the mystery.

The app is well-designed, from the organization down to the animation as the photo prints.

In Party Print, you can invite friends to send a photo to your printer. Half of the fun is waiting to see what develops, so there’s no option to preview the print ahead of time. Up to five friends can be invited to print in this mode. (You probably shouldn’t invite your friends with a crude sense of humor to use this feature, or you may be looking at the business end of a full moon).

Outside the Fun Modes, there’s a simple print option, a tool for printing a video frame, and an Instax camera mode.  The Instax mode allows you to shoot the photo in-app, but unlike a true Instax camera, doesn’t automatically print every image — there’s the option to preview before printing. That of course avoids wasting film, but negates some of that Instax feel.

Within each mode, the app offers a handful of editing tools prior to printing. A trio of sliders adjust the brightness, contrast and saturation. The filter tool offers black-and-white, sepia, and auto adjustment options. Pinch to zoom gestures crop the image or rotate the photo with a twist. The photo is displayed in a preview that includes that iconic white instant film frame to offer a better idea of what you’re actually getting out. And while there’s a big red button to print, you can also swipe up to send the image to the printer.

Besides the plethora of different shooting modes, the app is well-designed, from the organization down to the animation as the photo prints. The controls and options are either self-explanatory or explained on screen with quick tutorials ahead of the more obscure features like the Party Print.

A compact, motion-controlled printer

Hillary Grigonis/Digital Trends

The on-screen controls aren’t the only options to control the printer. Pointing the printer up, instead of leaving it on a flat surface, goes back to the home screen to choose a new print mode, saving three or four taps of backtracking inside the app.

These motion controls also make the Instax Camera mode more fun. Tilting the printer in and out adjusts the zoom. If you want to print a second copy of the previous image, the sole button on the printer — hidden by the Instax logo — will do just that.

Whether you print with the app or the physical button at the front, the print comes out surprisingly quick, in just a few seconds. The Mini Link feels faster at printing out back-to-back images than a Zink printer. Using real Instax film, though, means that you have to wait for the image itself to develop, but you can clear the image from the printer after about 12 seconds.

We printed out a whole ten pack of film and left the printer on for more than an hour before the battery indicator on the app read fifty percent — we don’t think many users will get the 100 prints per charge that the tech specs indicate though. The built-in battery is charged through a USB port at the side.

Hillary Grigonis/Digital Trends

The printer itself weighs 7.3 ounces. The Instax Mini Link measures 4.9 inches long, 3.5 inches wide and 1.3 inches thick — it’s shorter and narrower than a basic iPhone but much thicker. That’s small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, but you’ll need cargo pants to tuck it into a pocket.

The exterior is lightly patterned with stripes, and despite being made of plastic, doesn’t feel chintzy. Buttons are kept to the bare minimum — the Instax logo is also the on-off button, while the film door is on the opposite side. Film spits out the top, and there’s a hidden door at the side to charge with the provided USB cable.

Prints from the Fujifilm Instax Mini Link look like prints from every Instax Mini printer. They aren’t exceptionally sharp, but just how sharp do you need a two-inch photo to be? Shadows sometimes come out too dark and highlights too light, but that’s all part of the instant film fun.

Our Take

With little difference in print quality from one mobile printer to the next, the Fujifilm Instax Mini Link hits all the right points to compete as one of the best photo printers available. The app is both straightforward and packed with extras, and the printer itself builds in fun motion control and a minimalist interface. At $100, it holds up well against the competition.

Is there a better alternative?

The Mini Link brings some of our favorite features of the Fujifilm Mini LiPlay into a device that’s just a printer, no camera — though there are some differences, like trading the “audio print” feature of the LiPlay for the motion controls. Ditching the built-in camera drops the price by about $60.

The mobile printer category is full of options. Most of them are good, but the Fujifilm Instax Mini Link stands out because it offers that real film experience and one of our favorite app interfaces. The Link outshines the previous Instax Mini printer, the SP-2, with extra features, but the SP-3 does print to the larger Square format if you’d prefer bigger prints.

Competing Zink printers don’t use real film, but ditch the white border for a larger surface area and have a sticky back. Options like the Canon Ivy Mini, Polaroid Zip, HP Sprocket, and Kodak Smile also sit at right around $100.

How long will it last?

That’s hard to say. The product itself seems durable and should last many years. Software support and print media that will determine its ultimate lifespan. Still, you should get at least a few years of use from it.

Should you buy it?

Yes. If you want the experience of instant film with the simplicity of smartphone photography, and some extras you didn’t even know you wanted, the Fujifilm Instax Mini Link will entertain you.

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