A snappy wee photo printer that does its job with no ink? PAT PILCHER road-tests HP’s diminutive Sprocket.
Photos taken on a smartphone rarely get printed. This is a shame as phone cameras have improved hugely over recent years. I’d also wager that many of the photos sitting on our phones need to be seen instead of being tucked away on a micro-SD card or Google Photos, only to be forgotten.
This stray thought must have also occurred to the team at HP. They’ve crafted the rather nifty Sprocket Printer, which has a retro cool factor.
Portability is key when you’re talking about gadgets to be used with a smartphone. This is definitely the case with the Sprocket, which is small enough to slip in a pocket or handbag. There are no leaky ink cartridges, and its battery is sufficiently long-lived that photo printing on the go is no chore.
At around about the size of a deck of smallish playing cards, the Sprocket printer is tiny. It is quite incredible to think that this wee widget can crank out quality photo prints. It may be finished in plastic, but it feels like it should be able to take the odd knock or bump. Its controls are about as simple as it is possible to get, consisting of a power button and indicator LED, and a USB port for charging. In fact, they were so idiot proof that even I got it right first time with no RTFM (read the f*cking manual) involved.
Setup was dead easy using a Samsung Galaxy S8+. After charging the Sprocket, I paired it with my phone via Bluetooth and installed the Sprocket app (there’s also an IOS version available). Using the Sprocket app makes printing shots from my phone’s camera or gallery (or Facebook, Instagram and Flickr) possible. Because the app relies on unintuitive pictographs, printing a photo from my phone’s gallery initially involved a small amount of trial and error. (Some text under each pictograph would make a tonne of sense, HP). App grizzles aside, it also provided photo effects (borders, text and filters) and even some basic photo editing functions.
Printing takes about 30-40 seconds as the photo is beamed from your phone to the Sprocket over Bluetooth. Print quality through the Zink “Zero Ink” technology is on par with most small photo printers. And while the 2×3-inch prints are too small for professional portraits, they’re zippy wee casual camera phone snaps. The clever thing is that no ink is used at all. This is all thanks to what HP call ZINK (zero ink) paper. It is embedded with cyan, yellow, and magenta dye crystals that lie underneath a protective polymer layer. The Sprocket heats the dye crystals to activate them. Clever, eh?
Priced at S249, the sprocket is an affordable way of transforming smartphone snaps into permanent memories. While you can get desktop inkjets for less, the sheer portability and ease of use of the Sprocket makes it a fun buy. The real value however, comes when comparing the cost of ZINK paper to ink cartridges. While replacement ink costs more than the same volume of a high-end 50 year-old single malt whiskey, 20 sheets of 2×3-inch Zink paper can be had for under $20.