The LG Pocket Photo mobile photo printer has been around for quite a while already, though it’s still very much a niche device these days. On this edition of Technomadica’s Throwback Thursday, let’s take a detailed look at 2014’s second-gen reiteration of the LG Pocket Photo, and see if the tech behind it deserves a spot in the arsenal of today’s Tech Nomads.
The first-generation LG Pocket Photo was launched in 2013 as one of the first wireless “pocket” printers leveraging the emerging Zero Ink printing tech developed by Polaroid at the dawn of the new millennium.
More popularly known as Zink, Polaroid’s new tech made it possible to print photos on dye-impregnated paper, thus getting rid of need for ink or any external sources of dye whatsoever. As such, this meant that you’ll only need to carry around the printer itself and a stack of Zink paper to be able to print any photo, at any time.
However, there were limitations to the technology, including material costs (the Zink paper itself wasn’t exactly cheap) and limited print quality, so it wasn’t exactly a true rival to the next best thing in mobile photo printing, the dye-sublimation based Canon Selphy series. Zink prints were also less durable than dye-sub prints.
However, unlike dye-sub printers, a Zink printer could be made to be much, much smaller, and the LG tried to capitalise on this by making a printer that was barely larger than your average powerbank.
That printer was the Pocket Photo, and while didn’t become the global runaway success LG thought it would be, the device ended up selling well enough in LG’s home market, South Korea, to warrant no less then four product refreshes.
The device you see here today, the LG Pocket Photo 2, is from the second reiteration of this long running family of device.
DESIGN / BUILD QUALITY
The Pocket Photo 2 (PD241) is actually the second refresh of the second-gen Pocket Photo (lol), with the PD239 being the first. That said, in terms of design, the two are practically indistinguishable apart from the NFC receiver mounted on the lid of the PD239 (and yes, I have had the pleasure of owning both).
Far from the boxy design of the first-generation Pocket Photo, the Pocket Photo 2 was designed to be more ergonomic and easier to use. The somewhat elaborate design of the first Pocket Photo (the PD211/221) was simplified, and it’s actually pretty easy to figure out how to operate the Pocket Photo 2, even without the instruction manuals.
Which was just as well, as LG pretty much stopped exporting the device globally after the first-generation device flopped in the global market, thus no English instruction manual was ever supplied together with these newer Pocket Photo printers.
Built primarily out of sturdy plastic, the only visible bit that’s metal on the Pocket Photo 2 the feed ramp presser, like the PD211/221 before it. While this might not sound impressive, keep in mind that in later devices (generation three forwards), even this little bit is plastic.
That said, it’s actually put quite well together. My previous PD239 survived a large number of knocks and tumbles without failure and I would expect the PD241 to be able to do the same.
However, unlike the largely gender-neutral design of the PD211/221, the PD241 is only available in pink, or white – and is a whole lot more feminine-oriented then its predecessors ever were.
In terms of controls, you only really have two. One is the on-off slider (which also functions as the locking latch for the loading flap) and the flap eject button to open the printer flap for paper reloads.
Also, a set of indicator lights help show status, battery level and if any errors have occurred. Thankfully, these are pretty easy to decipher as well.
So yeah, it’s pretty easy to use and durable too boot.
The Pocket Photo 2, like most other modern smartphone oriented accessories, requires an app to function, and thankfully the app – while not perfect – works pretty well. At least it supports photos shared directly from your gallery app, unlike the app for the Polaroid Zip.
With it all hooked up through Bluetooth and with the printer itself loaded with Zink paper, it takes roughly 5-8 seconds for the Pocket Photo 2 to spit out a fully printed photo… with another 2-3 seconds PRIOR to the first photo to process the calibration “card” needed for it to ensure that it prints correctly aligned photos.
So yeah, about 5-10 seconds a photo. Nothing fast about that.
As for the photos themselves, they are pretty low res (not to mention, at credit card size they’re TINY) and are capable of very low contrast, but when adjusted right, they’re actually pretty decent when compared to its biggest rival, the Fuji Instax.
It loses badly in terms of image quality to the Prinics Pickit (which will soon enter the global market as a Kodak branded printer), though the Pickit is relatively bigger and you need to carry around combo paper/ribbon carts for it.
As for battery life, LG rates the Pocket Photo 2 for about 30 prints, though I can really only get around 20-25 prints out of it most of the time. You can charge it while using it though, and this helps a lot while on the move.
Being a 3 year old product, you can easily find the Pocket Photo 2 (PD241) for about $60-70 online, which is a far cry from the $170 MRSP the first-generation Pocket Photo debuted with.
At these prices, the Pocket Photo 2 is pretty much a steal, especially considering that later models don’t really bring much to the table besides “refreshed” outside designs and only very slightly improved performance anyway.
Also, the current prices for LGs Zink paper ($5-10 for a pack of 30 sheets) isn’t all that much more expensive than a similar amount for Instax films anyway, though you might balk at the thought of getting small, 2×3 pieces of paper at 30 cents a piece.
Oh, there are “sticker” versions of the Zink paper as well, if that’s more your thing.
The LG Pocket Printer 2 is undoubtedly a very nifty little device. Being able to print ANYTHING onto a credit card sized piece of paper (or sticker), ANYTIME is actually quite awesome if you actually have a use for it.
Personally, I use it for insta-printing business cards, labels, schedules, notes, bookmarks and a while lot more. While the Zink paper isn’t exactly cheap compared to normal photo paper for printing the stuff above, being able to print ANY of those things at ANY time is still very useful in my book – and the fact that Zink paper costs have been declining lately does help make it less painful.
So, it’s actually pretty hard to recommend the Pocket Photo 2 unless you, like me, value the ability to insta-print anywhere. If you DO, however, there probably is no other pocket printer as compact or as easy to use as one of the printers in the LG Pocket Photo family.
What about the Polaroid Zip, Dell Wasabe and the HP Sprocket then, which are all really just the same tech in different clothes?
Personally, I find that the LG app is actually superior to the Polaroid, Dell or HP offering. Also, there’s the fact that both the LG Pocket Printer 2 AND the LG Zink paper is easier to find AND cheaper then the others, at least where I’m at – plus there’s not really a picture quality difference to justify getting the others either.
So yeah, all in all, the LG is still pretty superior against its rivals – and it really doesn’t matter which Pocket Photo either, as they’re pretty similar anyway barring the small iterative improvements that come with each successive version.