TINY MOBILE PRINTERS are nothing new, but HP’s Sprocket has seen some popularity since launching in 2016. This palm-sized photo printer is designed with the Instagram generation in mind, and everything from the software, to the hardware and even the tiny prints bear out. I’m a big fan of making physical photo prints, and the Sprocket lets you do just that. While it hasn’t won my heart like the Fujifilm Instax Share SP-2 did, the HP Sprocket has its own unique strengths that make it perfect for many people. If you want to just share selfies with friends and use the Sprocket and its app to create a fun photobooth anywhere. If it’s on your phone, you can print it.
Photos take about a minute to print, and the small, 2-by-3-inch photos the Sprocket creates are even sticker-backed. When I figured that out, I was instantly taken back to 1999, remembering Polaroid’s last hit camera, the iZone, which made tiny prints onto special sticker-backed film strips. Thankfully, since HP has adopted the widely used Zink technology, you’ll have plenty of paper options to choose from and little risk of buying into a dead-end proprietary format. At $130, the HP Sprocket is properly priced. It hits the sweet spot of gift-giving, especially considering it comes with 10 pieces of Zink-compatible paper included. Batteries won’t be an additional expense for whoever you give this to, since the Sprocket has a micro-USB plug and a built-in rechargeable battery. All this stuff sounds pretty appealing, and for teens and tweens, it totally should. But, one thing that really bugged me about the HP Sprocket is that the image quality is occasionally kinda bad. Images with subtle gradation tend to step between tones in a very blocky way, and dynamic range is poor. Highlights look like big white blotches and detail in the shadows often goes missing entirely.
Since I was more accustomed to the eye-poppingly gorgeous Instax Share prints, the tiny HP just couldn’t put up a fight. In order to get decent-looking photos, you’ll have to tweak your images before printing. Generally, though, I think that even after playing around with images in the Sprocket app, the analog nature of Instax Mini prints makes the SP-2 the superior printer when it comes to raw image quality. At least the consumables are affordable: packs of Zink paper make each print cost around 50 cents, compared to 70 cents when using Fujifilm Instax film in the SP-2.
Where the HP wins over the Fujifilm hands-down is when it comes to app ability. The Fujifilm printer has a pretty barebones app, with some cute filters, stickers, and frames you can put onto your prints. I found image editing to be easy and I loved adding emoji and stickers to my prints. The app even uses AR technology to let you scan printed photos that then let you flash back to the day you took the photo, threading together videos and photos into a digital scrapbook. Even if I personally prefer the prettier shots of Fuji’s Instax Share, I think that the HP Sprocket deserves the fanbase it has. Its sticker prints look good enough for most people, and as a simple way to share a memory on the fly, it succeeds.