A Sprocket in your pocket: Hands-on with HP's tiny photo printer

Back when I was growing up in the 60s and 70s, taking selfies wasn't done with an iPhone. Instead, we usually had at least one friend who owned a Polaroid camera -- usually the Polaroid Swinger that was popular with teens. There's something really engaging about having a hands-on printed picture that you can keep or give to someone, and that's the idea behind the $129.99 HP Sprocket Portable Photo Printer (affiliate link).

HP Sprocket photo printer, iPhone 7 Plus, and a printed photo. Photo ©2016, Steven Sande

HP Sprocket photo printer, iPhone 7 Plus, and a printed photo. Photo ©2016, Steven Sande

Design

You always have your camera with you with the iPhone, and the HP Sprocket can fit easily into another pocket. It's smaller in terms of surface area than the iPhone Plus models (4.53 x 2.95 inches) and .87 inches thick. Weighing in at just 6.5 ounces with 10 sheets of paper installed, it's not going to weigh you down.

On one end you'll find a standard micro-USB port for charging (it takes about 90 minutes for a full charge), and there's a power button on one side. The "top" of the Sprocket slides off to reveal a small paper bin into which you slide the Zink Zero Ink print paper. The photos aren't big -- just 2 inches by 3 inches in size, just a half inch shorter than a business card.

HP Sprocket in my hand (and I have small hands). Photo ©2016, Steven Sande

HP Sprocket in my hand (and I have small hands). Photo ©2016, Steven Sande

Zink paper doesn't require toner or ink of any sort; instead, the paper contains heat-sensitive cyan, magenta and yellow layers that melt and then retain their color when they cool. It's a one-pass printer, and the paper included with the Sprocket has a peel-off sticky back so the photos can be used as stickers -- great for kids. Harkening back to my youth, Zink paper was developed by none other than Polaroid.

The Sprocket comes in either gloss black or white, complete with a 10-pack of photo sheets and a charging cable. 

Function 

Setup of the HP Sprocket takes no time at all -- it's too bad that all other HP printers are usually a bit more difficult to set up on any platform. I took the Sprocket out of its package, used the USB to micro-USB cable to charge it until the charging LED turned green, then pressed the power button until it began flashing white. 

Once that was done, I went to Settings on my iPhone, selected Bluetooth, and then tapped the HP Sprocket listing once it showed up. That's all it took to pair.  

Next, I slid the top of the printer off, grabbed the foil package of Zink paper, opened it up, and placed the stack of paper into the little bin with the blue calibration sheet down. Closing the top of the printer, I then went to the Sprocket app, pulled up an image, and sent it to the printer. The calibration process takes just a moment, just long enough for the bar-code covered blue sheet to be fed out of the printer. After a short pause, the printer started printing the photo and it took perhaps 30 seconds for the image to be printed. 

How's the image quality? Pretty darned good. The test images I printed were a bit on the dark side compared to the matching screen images, but that's something that can be easily compensated for in the Photos app by just cranking up the brightness a bit. Color matching was excellent, and the images don't have any of the lines or banding that are associated with inkjet printers. 

The Zink paper isn't exactly cheap -- you're going to pay about $5 for a pack of 10 sheets, so each 3 x 2 inch image printed cost about $0.50. But there are advantages to the paper; it's basically smudge-free and water-resistant, and the adhesive-backed paper can be used to make fun stickers. Unlike those old Polaroid Swinger cameras, you don't need to peel apart the "film"! 

The free HP Sprocket app is also quite well done. You can select a photo from your Camera Roll, Instagram, Facebook, or Flickr account, or take an photo from within the app. Once a photo is selected, you can edit the photo by cropping and/or adding a filter, a frame, stickers (which are all white for some odd reason...), or text. Then with a tap, you send it to the Sprocket printer. The app also lets you do important things like get online help or order more Zink paper. 

Conclusion

For printing off small, fun photos that can be given to others, there's honestly nothing better than the little HP Sprocket. I actually purchased a Sprocket with this in mind -- I'll be traveling to some villages on the Amazon River next month, and I thought it would be fun to give some of the locals photos of themselves and their friends. The Sprocket is going to be in my camera backpack everywhere I go from now on.

Apple World Today Rating (out of 5 stars): ★★★★★