From our earliest existence, mankind has harbored a desire to preserve moments in time with whatever technology that's been available - from crude drawings in the sand, to chiseled figures on a cave wall, to the increasingly sophisticated digital cameras found inside practically every cell phone, there's now no shortage of ways to share and disperse our creativity in the modern world.
Despite the relative ease of sharing photos on the multitudes of social media platforms and image hosting websites, there will always be a desire to create a physical manifestation of a moment in time; something with texture, weight, and immediacy. Of course, we've had in-home printing for many years, but HP's new Sprocket aims to make sharing photographic mementos easy and fun. You've just got to be prepared to pay the price of admission.
It's not until you get the Sprocket in hand that you actually realize how small this little device is. Seriously, it's tiny. And that's great, especially when it's a device that's meant to be ultra-portable. But the rather unavoidable downside to is the size of its prints. To be clear, these aren't your typical 6x4 sized photo prints - at 2x3, they're considerably smaller, but they're not really meant as a replacement and more like a fun alternative.
If I've lost you already, it's probably because you're not in the target audience. You see, this is a product aimed fairly and squarely at the last of the millennials; that is, the pre-to-early-teen demographic, whose interests seem more and more foreign to me with each passing year. And when you start playing with the app, its youth orientation becomes all the more clearer.
While the days of consumer electronics coming with copious documentation well behind us, HP have taken it to the next level here, with not even the barest hint of instructions to be found, bar a prompt which encourages you to download the app, in your flavor of Android or iOS. Once that's done, the app will talk you through the setup process so easily and pain-free, you'll feel as stupid as I did that you ever doubted it. After relinquishing control of your social media accounts to the Sprocket, as well as the storage devices on your mobile device, Sprocket makes it incredibly easy to sort through your collection of images.
Manipulating them with a multitude of filters and multiple screens of different shapes, objects, and cutesy overlays are also incredibly intuitive, as you pinch and zoom to overlay your pictures with images and text. Once you're done, hit send to add the image to the print queue and in approximately 20 seconds you'll have your own little masterpiece. As a bonus, you can also peel off the thin layer of backing paper to turn it into a sticker.
The technology behind the Sprocket is actually pretty cool. Originally developed by the Polaroid company (remember them?) before branching out as a separate licensing company, the Zink paper technology doesn't require the use of any printer ink or toner, but include heat sensitive crystals which form primary colors when exposed to varying levels of heat during the printing process. While it's nothing to write home about, Sprocket's print quality is certainly adequate, although I must admit I was a little disappointed with the brightness of the images. Still, you've got to keep in mind that this isn't meant to be professional grade stuff - convenience and fun is the aim of the game, and Sprocket features both in spades.
At $199 AUD for the Sprocket printer (which includes a pack of 10 Zink paper to get you started) the barrier for entry is certainly reasonable but must take into account the on-going costs of $20 AUD per 20 pack of additional photo paper. So after the initial flurry of excitement dies down, you're probably going to want to be a bit more selective about what makes it to print. It might have been nice to feature the capacity to export the images back out to social media after editing to add some extra value, but alas that's not supported.
While HP's system attempts to muscle in on a market already littered with a number of established competitors, based on the strength of its app, as well as its strong youth appeal (and not to undersell the fact they're also stickers, too), Sprocket does more than enough to justify its entry. Odds are it's probably on your younger sibling's wanted gift list.
The Bottom Line: Sprocket is a fun and convenient little photo printer (with an emphasis on little), that provides reasonable, but not mindblowing print quality, in a system that's easy to like.
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