Portable Printing with the Polaroid PoGo Printer

I just spent the last week motorcycling from San Francisco to Oklahoma, (to teach at the Oklahoma Summer Arts Institute) camping and motelling along the way. As is usual on a motorcycle, I tried to stay on the smallest roads possible, and so ended up in some fairly interesting locations. I was probably supposed to be blogging, tweeting, and Facebooking my exploits as I went, (Karaoke night in Roswell, NM will definitely make you believe in alien visitations) but to be honest, one of the nice things about such a trip is to be out of the media bubble, not engaging in it further. So rather than trying to provide heavy coverage of my trip, I decided to simply enjoy myself. But also, I have a penchant for mail – the physical kind made from crushed wood pulp. Sitting in a forest or remote desert at night, writing letters and postcards, is a pretty nice way to spend an evening, but just because I’m using analog communications doesn’t mean I have to scrimp on imagery. Thanks to the amazing Polaroid PoGo printer, I was able to print images in the middle of nowhere!

A little bit bigger than a deck of cards, but slightly smaller than a paperback book, the Polaroid PoGo printer prints 2 x 3″ prints that have peel-and-stick, self-adhesive backs. While 2 x 3″ may not seem very big, it’s actually an ideal size for sticking on a postcard, pasting into a letter, or placing in a journal. The fact that the prints are self-adhesive makes all this even easier. And come on! The printer’s barely larger than a pack of cards!

The PoGo can run off of AC or its own proprietary battery. There’s no ink or ribbon type consumable, instead you simply load up the printer with a ten-pack of Polaroid’s special paper. That’s it – there’s no other maintenance or consumable need. Print cost works out to a little over 30 cents per print. While this might seem a little pricey, given the print size, I actually think it’s a reasonable fee, especially since the printer itself is only 50 bucks.

The printer has both a standard USB connection and supports PictBridge, so you can plug almost any camera into it and print directly from the camera. The PoGo also has Bluetooth, so if you have a Bluetooth device that supports the standard Bluetooth Send File feature, you can send images to the printer wirelessly. I had no trouble Bluetoothing images to my PoGo from my Mac. Most cell phones also have this capability. However, if you’re an iPhone user, you’re out of luck, as the current version of the iPhone OS does not support Bluetooth file transfers. Hopefully this will be fixed in iOS 4.

Print speed varies depending on how big the image is that you’re sending. Printing an image directly from my Canon PowerShot S90 took one minute and eight seconds from the time I hit the print button, until I had a finished print. Print speed can vary depending on how big your original images are.

Battery life is so-so. Polaroid claims twelve prints from a single charge, but I have yet to achieve this. Also, either there’s no auto power off, or cold nights of camping drained my battery while on the road. Either way, you’ll want to travel with a charger, which is unfortunately large. That said, this is still the most portable printer you’ll find.

Don’t expect high-end photo printing quality. This is output from a fifty dollar printer, and to a degree, it shows. There can be strange streaky patterns in areas of solid color and other weird artifacts, and the images have something of a “crunchy” look to them. Not quite like oversharpening, but some kind of noisy pattern on them. In the end, though, I don’t find that any of this matters. Sure, I’d love the same quality that I get out of a high-end Epson inkjet, but since this thing’s so cheap, and so portable, I’m pretty happy with the image quality. Also, when printing in the middle of nowhere, it’s actually kind of nice that the image looks a little grungy. It somehow makes it seem like the image really has come from a remote, distant land.

As should be obvious, I’m very pleased with my PoGo, but there are a few caveats.

* You can’t print raw files directly from a camera. So, if you’re browing through your images and find a raw file you want to print, you’ll need to transfer it to your computer, convert it to JPEG, and print from there. You won’t find a printer driver for the PoGo, so you’ll have to print via Bluetooth from your computer. If you normally only shoot in in raw, and printing from your camera is your only option (because, say, you’re not travelling with a computer) then you either need to stay in Raw + JPEG mode, or think carefully when shooting, to ensure that you capture a JPEG image in addition to your raw file.

* The PoGo prints at a 3:2 aspect ratio. If your camera shoots at different aspect ratio, such as 4:3, or square, the printer will automatically crop it to fit the 3:2 size, which means you’ll lose a little at the top and bottom. Unfortunately, there’s no way to tell the printer to maintan your original ratio.

* The printer can’t run on standard AA or AAA batteries, only its proprietary battery. So, if you need extended battery power, you’ll either need to buy multiple batteries, or find a car or solar charger that will work with the unit.

OfficeMax sells the printer, as well as the consumables, and since OfficeMax is all over the place, you shouldn’t have any trouble finding paper as you travel around. (Or you can stock up at Amazon.) The paper packages are very small, and easy to pack.

As you can see, I’m very happy with my tiny printer. Of course, it won’t replace my larger printers, even for times when I want to print tiny prints. But the PoGo is certainly more fun than any of my other printers, thanks to its portability, the self-sticking prints, and the general cool factor. Sure, there are other battery powered printers, and most yield better-quality prints. But none of them are small enough to actually be portable when motorcycling, bicycling, camping, or just hanging around in cafés.

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