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Polaroid’s digital camera with a built-in printer is best avoided

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Polaroid’s shiny new camera with a built-in Nink printer, the Snap Touch, is available on pre-sale today, although if my experiences with it at Photokina are anything to go by, it’s probably not worth your hard-earned cash. Run the other way, and buy yourself an Instax Mini 70 instead, for the same price.

The Snap Touch is basically a Polaroid Snap digital camera surgically combined with the company’s Polaroid Zip printer, with a 3.5-inch touch-screen LCD display on the back. In theory, it’s a fantastic idea for a little camera. In practice… wait, I’m getting ahead of myself.

I wanted to love the camera, I really did, but trying to get a good feel for what the Snap Touch is capable of turned out to be an exercise in frustration.

Great on paper. Not in Print

The camera’s 13 megapixel sensor is ridiculously over spec for the little printer. Without getting too geeky here; 13 megapixels printed on a 3×2-inch print means that the camera has 1,500 dots per inch (dpi) to play with. For comparison, super high resolution magazines are typically printed at 300 dpi. I’ve seen photos shot on an iPhone 6 (8 megapixels) printed in 3×2 at 300 dpi that look unbelievably gorgeous. On paper, this should be a winning combo. In print… It wasn’t.

Well isn't that just a little bit, ahem, erotic-looking. Do forgive me.
Well isn’t that just a little bit, ahem, erotic-looking. Do forgive me.

“I’m sorry the photo isn’t so good,” Holger Post, the boss-man at Polaroid’s German PR company told me, after I finally managed to convince him to pose with me for a selfie. “But it’s just because the lights here are terrible. They are flickering so much.”

Curious, I thought, especially given that presumably the company chose the lights on the booth, but to be fair, the lighting could have been better. I had a solution, however: Print a photo directly from my iPhone. The Snap Touch comes with a Bluetooth connection, enabling users to use it as a printer for photos taken elsewhere. Quite ingenious, really.

Mr Post wasn't wrong... The quality of the print wasn't awesome. Of course, the subject matter doesn't help, but that's not the point.
Mr Post wasn’t wrong… The quality of the print wasn’t overwhelmingly encouragin. Of course, the subject matter doesn’t help, but that’s not the point.

“I am afraid you can’t print from your phone, sorry,” Post told me. “You can’t connect it.”

“Really? So what is the Bluetooth for?” I replied.

“It doesn’t have Bluetooth,” came the reply.

From Polaroid's Snap Touch camera website
From Polaroid’s Snap Touch camera website

Which I thought was curious; I had read the company’s press release, which reads “Thanks to Bluetooth connectivity and integration with the Polaroid Print App, users are no longer limited to just printing photos captured by the camera itself. Using Bluetooth and the app, users can now pair the Polaroid Snap Touch with other devices such as smartphones and tablets to transform the device into an instant photoprinter. The app, available free for iOS and Android (…)”

SO COLOURFUL
SO COLOURFUL

“Then what is the setting in the menu that says Bluetooth for?” I asked.

“Uh… Okay, maybe it has bluetooth, but you need an app.” he said.

“Well, can I download the app?” I asked.

“I suppose you can.” he said.

So I tried to download it, and failed due to Amazing Wi-Fi Fail. Fair enough, that’s not Polaroid’s fault. So I went back to my hotel and downloaded the app, dug out some photos I wanted to print, and headed back to the Polaroid stand at Photokina.

Bad prints, even from good source material

Back at the booth, I was greeted by the Polaroid team, who apologetically told me that I had an iPhone, and that the app wouldn’t work.

“But the press release and your website says iPhones are supported?” I queried.

“Well, yes, but right now only Google Android is supported.” said Stephanie, the poor lady who drew the short straw due to her language skills – i.e. being able to speak English.

“Wait, is that official?” I clarified. “Only Android is supported?”

“Yes. Well, for now. The technical people are still working on an iPhone app,” she said.

That’s not completely unusual; the camera is only available on pre-order and Polaroid’s engineers still have a few weeks to get their t’s crossed and their i’s dotted.

But I still really wanted to try out the printer with a photo that wasn’t taken on the camera itself — I wanted to test the printer, after all. So I asked Stephanie if she could please print a photo from her phone. She agreed, and took a selfie of us with her Samsung S7. The photo suffered from bad lighting, of course, but on the phone’s screen, at least, it looked well-exposed, crisp, and as good as you can expect from a trade-show selfie.

After a number of attempts to actually connect to the camera using Bluetooth, she succeeded. But the app crashed. When she tried again, she was able to print off our self portrait.

I should add at this point that if I hadn’t been hell-bent on getting this print, I’d have given up a long time ago. I’ve seen some bad Bluetooth implementations in my life, and this is up there with the worst. It’s possible that Polaroid will sort that out by the time the camera ships, but it’s irrelevant: the photo quality was still woeful.

The print of the image taken with the Samsung smartphone? Yeah, not much more encouraging than the shot taken with the Snap Touch.
The print of the image taken with the Samsung smartphone? Yeah, not much more encouraging than the shot taken with the Snap Touch.

Ugh.

It’s not all bad, but for every good thing I can think of to say about the camera, something comes along to ruin it. It’s nice that the camera has a 3.5-inch touch screen (although the resolution and quality of the screen is significantly sub-par to every other screen I’ve used in the past year). It’s nice that the camera has Bluetooth (although it’s flaky, the Android app crashes, and there’s no iPhone support). It’s cool that the camera has a built-in printer (although it’s woefully bad). It’s nifty that the prints are also stickers so you can stick your face in interesting places. And I suppose it comes in nice colors, so there’s that.

But ultimately, no amount of sticky-backed pictures and colorful borders can save the Snap Touch from its own flaws. You already have a better camera than this thing on your phone, so you shouldn’t buy it for the camera. The printer it is, then, but that isn’t good enough either.

This Instax photo -- taken on Leica's Sofort camera -- also isn't perfect, but at least its quirks are charming and Polaroid-like.
This Instax photo — taken on Leica’s Sofort camera — also isn’t perfect, but at least its quirks are charming and Polaroid-like.

Polaroid isn’t meant to be a bastion of image quality. That’s a good thing; the lo-fi look is undeniably part of Polaroid’s charm. Unfortunately, the famous Polaroid look is comprehensively stripped away by the company’s Zero Ink (ZINK) printer: even beautifully exposed high-resolution images from a current-generation Samsung smartphone are reduced to garbage that looks like it belongs in the 1990s.

Hell, even the company’s own PR company is basically phoning it in on this one. If I’m being charitable, the PRs were unaware of the camera’s selling points and unable to demo its functionalities to eager journalists. If I’m not being charitable, it’s entirely possible that they knew that the Snap Touch is utter garbage and did everything in their power to prevent me from seeing it.

The Polaroid Snap Touch is available for pre-order today, with a delivery date some time in October. Instead of separating yourself from $180 worth of your hard-earned cash, however, do yourself a favor and buy an Instax Mini 70 camera. The prints are about the same size, but if you’re going to go for the lo-fi novelty of an instant-print camera, you may as well embrace the real Polaroid look.

Ultimately, it’s ironic that a camera carrying the Polaroid brand is unable to deliver Polaroid charm. Until the company is able to deliver a camera that can, find other ways to get your instant photo kicks.

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